Jamaican Witness

By Philippa Hadlow

Reading time: 12 minutes

Harlesden, London, is a fair distance from its antipodes in New Zealand – 18,779 kilometres to be exact, depending on your stop-offs during transit. In some countries, though (if you have the cash), you can catch a ride with a chartered aeroplane or Airbus and do an antipodean flight in one fell swoop.

The word antipodes is derived from the Greek: "with feet opposite ours" and the United Kingdom isn’t perfectly diametrically opposed to New Zealand (Spain takes that hypothetical spot). Even so, if you were mythic enough to shoot an arrow from the city of Wellington, straight through the centre of Earth, across Greenwich mean time, hemispheres, and seasons, you’d pretty much end up smack bang in the middle of west London where Craig Dias was born.

It seems uncanny that Craig’s ancestral home of Jamaica is antipodean to New Zealand, too – give or take around 7,000 kilometres. That dissecting line ends up in Australian

By Philippa Hadlow

Reading time: 12 minutes

Harlesden, London, is a fair distance from its antipodes in New Zealand – 18,779 kilometres to be exact, depending on your stop-offs during transit. In some countries, though (if you have the cash), you can catch a ride with a chartered aeroplane or Airbus and do an antipodean flight in one fell swoop.

The word antipodes is derived from the Greek: “with feet opposite ours” and the United Kingdom isn’t perfectly diametrically opposed to New Zealand (Spain takes that hypothetical spot). Even so, if you were mythic enough to shoot an arrow from the city of Wellington, straight through the centre of Earth, across Greenwich mean time, hemispheres, and seasons, you’d pretty much end up smack bang in the middle of west London where Craig Dias was born.

It seems uncanny that Craig’s ancestral home of Jamaica is antipodean to New Zealand, too – give or take around 7,000 kilometres. That dissecting line ends up in Australian territory – Christmas Island, in fact, so you might be forgiven for thinking that Craig’s arrival in this fair land was due to fate. Well, add and subtract a couple of letters from that noun, add a few more words, and you’d come up with the real reason for his migration: faith, love, and new beginnings.

In Craig’s case, those words are not that far removed because his destiny included marrying a Kiwi woman who shared his faith, called Lisa.

This happy situation eventuated only after teenager Craig went through a dramatic, inspirational change.

Some of the Jamaican sounds Craig grew up listening to

The burbs of northwest London are not the easiest of playgrounds if you hang with the wrong crowd. During the ‘90s, Harlesden was one of London’s main crack cocaine trading centres and one of the yardies’ (Jamaican gang) strongholds. But tempered with Craig’s mischief came music. Craig has it in his soul and he was brought up with it everywhere. He chats about his D.J. dad, who would take youngster Craig to gig after gig, party after party, squashed in the back seat beside whopping-great speakers.

The British Empire invited Caribbean music to Harlesden, U.K. In the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s, new immigration from the Greater Antilles West Indies – countries such as Cuba, Colombia, Puerto Rico, and Jamaica changed the cultural fabrication of the area. It also introduced a whole new style of music never heard before.

Caribbean influences like reggae helped dub Harlesden as the U.K.’s Reggae Capital. During the ‘60s, it was the heartbeat of reggae recording, releasing and distribution. In the ‘70s, Jamaican rocksteady (slower-paced) bands like Toots and the Maytals and Bob Marley and the Wailers played and had their music covered left, right and centre, all over Harlesden. (And ultimately, all over the world, for the unforeseeable future.)

Craig loved it. He and a couple of talented mates set up their own D.J. business on the side. They travelled around the city, hosting gigs, radio stations, raves and house parties stylised on artists like rappers Dizzee Rascal, Sean Paul, Shaggy, Daddy U Roy; and emulated sounds like ‘toasting’ (rapping or rhythmic talking over a musical beat).

Musical genres roll off Craig’s tongue, sounding a lot like the music they denote: Ska (‘50s), rocksteady and dub (‘60s), hip hop and dancehall (‘70s), ragga and house (‘80s), jungle, drum and bass and U.K. garage (‘90s), grime (2000s) and the reggae fusion which melded them all.

These days, Harlesden is still un-gentrified but is certainly more on the up and is one of the most culturally diverse cities in the area. Craig’s mum has lived there for many years, but she was born in Savanna-la-Mar (Plain by the Sea), a coastal town in the Caribbean Island nation of Jamaica.

Records of the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean date back to 650 A.D. The people who decided to make these beautiful islands their home were thought to have originated from South America. In 1494, when Christopher Columbus claimed the island for Spain, he called it Santiago. Then in 1655, when it was captured by the British, Santiago was renamed Jamaica – however, because of its early Spanish colonisation, the towns and cities retain their Spanish identity.

Whilst living in the U.K., Craig visited his ‘Plain by the Sea’ ancestral town many times. Each visit, he would throw himself knee-deep into the music that his uncles and cousins loved, and unsurprisingly, felt right at home. Now in New Zealand, he and his mum talk every day – generally in Patois, the English-based creole dialect that most Jamaicans speak as a native language. Craig’s kids love listening in on their phone calls. The lilt and rhythm of the language are hypnotic – so perhaps it goes without saying that Jamaican Patois is also used to give reggae music its distinctive pulse and tempo.

Craig now relies on Spotify to help him reminisce about his beloved music genres, because life today couldn’t be more different.

Craig’s mum and dad brought him up in the Jehovah’s Witness (JW) faith. Mums usually know better than their children, but when Craig was going off the rails as a teenager, he refused to heed her pleas to read the bible. By the age of 21, he was almost a lost cause. He finally picked up the bible, threw away his phone, ditched his friends, and disappeared into a theological study period lasting three years.

He emerged figuratively and literally transformed and was catapulted straight into the arms of the local JW fellowship. Then, not long after, and equally significantly, into the social circle of another JW, his Kiwi-born future wife.

Lisa and Craig travelled to New Zealand to attend a family affair at Craggy Range Winery in Hawke’s Bay. The weather was superb, the scenery even more so. Craig fell in love with both woman and wine, and the couple married and settled in Naenae, just out of Wellington.

Off with the casual Jamaican U.K.-style garb: the typical London trainers, jogger bottoms and cap, and on with a smart dark suit and tie, ready to do battle with the fickle, amorphous Immigration New Zealand. Paperwork: tricky, demanding, complicated (Craig sympathises with immigrants who have limited English skills). The process was also intrusive, invasive, and suspicious and Craig had to track and submit years-worth of email trails and photos of his relationship with Lisa and her parents to validate his situation. He spent many hours ‘on hold’ both during telephone calls and waiting for approval and action.

But while all this was going on, Craig wasn’t exactly sitting around.

Detailing cars to perfection for Show and Shine Competitions

A mobile car detailing business ensued, then another more high-end car grooming endeavour – opportunities he wouldn’t have encountered in London. “Going into business is too tough there; the economic pressure is huge, taxes are biting, and the cost of living astronomical,” says Craig. “In London, people are ‘just able to’ … pay bills, buy food, pay for petrol, cope with tax. It’s not easy! In New Zealand, business is easier and it’s good.”

One fortuitous day in 2011, Craig had all his residency documents coherent enough to be presented to his immigration lawyer. The man warned him that the application process could possibly take months, if not years. Craig looked him in the eye and said: “Well, I believe in a God called Jehovah!” When his application was approved and residency granted four days later, his lawyer was astounded: “In all his life, he had never before seen such a fast response,” chuckles Craig. “He saw Power at work, right there!”

All Godspeed aside, if the documentation side of immigrating was challenging, the change in cultural lifestyle wasn’t a walk in the park either. Craig struggled with his new way of life – still does – and misses the music, food, street slang, and common thread of his Jamaican-U.K. roots.

He’s since entered a professional career in real estate – a far cry from the foretold life on the streets back in the U.K. He’s also now doing his bit to lessen the volume and effects of hazardous waste disposal. Last year, his company (Filter Disposal Services) prevented an incredible 3,000 litres of oil from leaching into the environment.

Craig feels privileged to have had the welcoming support of the JW scene in New Zealand and he’s since helped other immigrants and lost kids find their way to physical comfort and spiritual enlightenment.

This approach helps him engender tolerance towards the prejudice that some immigrants encounter. He knows it comes from folk who feel threatened by the dilution of race as the world becomes smaller – more inter-connected, and cultural identity is blurred.

“These people are witnessing phenomenal change worldwide. Countries are becoming more mixed-race than anything – it’s all the more reason to cherish the cultural differences between nations! I’m hoping the world will soon be able to give every individual the benefit of the doubt and realise that we all have a part to play in accepting and respecting others,” he claims, and continues: “The world and life are not as they should be right now; but show humility, have faith, keep hopeful, be encouraged, and be positive that things will get better.

“Let’s learn about each other and have these kinds of conversations.”

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