Grime watch: Jeffrey Boakye explains roots of music phenomenon
English teacher and music enthusiast Jeffrey Boakye will be revealing what Grime is and why it matters at this year’s Archway With Words festival, which runs from September 21-28
14 September, 2017 — By Dan Carrier
Grime: an extraordinary genre of popular contemporary music that has taken its cue from global musical trends and put it through a British sieve before sending it out again to all four corners of the world.
But while it is arguably the biggest music movement of our times, little work has been done on considering what, how and why Grime has become the lingua franca for a generation – until now, that is.
English teacher and music enthusiast Jeffrey Boakye’s new book, Hold Tight: Black Masculinity, Millennials and the Meaning of Grime, takes us on a journey from the roots of the music to today, its main proponents and players, and the influences they draw on.
Jeffrey is speaking at the Archway With Words festival in two weeks’ time, and will be revealing what the music is and why it matters today.
His book runs through a series of chapters that take song titles as their starting points to describe an artist and what they have created: an appendix then adds another thick layer on top, explaining the evolutionary path the music genre has taken. It is brilliantly written, informative and above all very funny – giving it a sense that not only does its author have a forensic understanding of this genre of music, but has managed to capture in literary form what its attraction is.
He starts off with a tune written in 1969. “You have heard the Amen break,” he writes. “You have heard it hundreds, if not thousands of times. You have heard it so often that you do not recognise it as a distinct part of a distinct song.”
It was created by a drummer called Gregory Sylvester Coleman and has been sampled so many times as to be recognisable without people knowing exactly where it originated.
“Grime, in its lineage, is inextricably linked to the Amen break,” he writes, “the conflation of Dancehall / Ragga sound clash culture with Amen-bred breakbeat sparked a revolution in UK dance music that spidered off into Jungle and eventually Grime, via Dubstep, IDM, Breakcore and many others.
“Any book about Grime has to mention the Amen break because it is instrumental to genres of electronic dance music that Grime branches from.”
He speaks of the politics of Grime and how it has provided a voice for people.
“The tension between marginalised youth and governmental authority is well documented in Grime,” he writes.
“Suspicion of, and antagonism towards, the police is almost a tenet of the culture, stemming far back into the historical relationship between police and urban, predominantly black communities.”
And he also has a lovely sense of humour that runs through each chapter, coupled with a sparkling turn of phrase. Writing about Tinie Tempah, he starts the chapter with his top five moments he has been mistaken for Tinie Tempah, which included being spotted by Leeds United fans on their way to a match at Arsenal and the chant “Tin-ie, Tin-ie” echoing down the road at him.
A chunky appendix explains his own work in greater detail and takes us through issues on race, education and more.
He reveals that teaching a class of Year 8 pupils about hip hop he saw just how much Grime mattered to them.
“Skip forward a few months to the end of term and the obligatory classroom party, complete with Doritos, Haribo, party games and YouTube playlists,” he writes. “After minor protestations I quickly capitulated and let the kids take the helm – and weren’t the results interesting?
“As expected, the playlist was entirely black music, with no exception, confirming what we already know – black culture and its various off-shoots is the dominant youth culture.
“Slightly more interesting was the provenance of music being chosen. It was about 90 per cent British and almost entirely current. And of this selection, exclusively Grime. I find this telling. My class, predominantly Muslim, about 60 per cent UK-born, speaking a total of 11 different languages spanning Eastern Europe, Asia and West and North Africa) are in firm agreement that the hottest music is Grime music.”
He says he understands why. “What excites me so much about Grime is its energy, wit, underlying social protest and unashamed Britishness, which makes it a compelling incarnation of UK youth culture – not to mention it has evolved from a very British heritage (Ragga, Dancehall, Jungle and Garage) harking back to the Windrush diaspora and proliferation of black Britain via the West African migration of the 1970s. So when I find myself shouting the lyrics to Man Don’t Care by Jme alongside three or four overexcited 12-year-olds, maybe I am actually celebrating black UK music and black UK culture.”
• Jeffrey Boakye is speaking at the Archway With Words festival on Sunday, September 24, at 3.15pm at Hargrave Hall, Hargrave Park N19. £5. www.archwaywithwords.com
• Hold Tight is published by Influx Press, £9.99
Word on the street, from Bard to brollies
From the “rock star of the literati” Will Self to actor Dame Harriet Walter on playing male Shakespearean characters, the annual Archway With Words festival has a packed schedule with a huge range of talks and events.
Creative director Stephanie Smith started the festival five years ago – and it stemmed from her job as the manager of Archway market.
“It struck me that you couldn’t throw a stick on our Saturday market without it hitting an author or actor,” she says. “We were thinking of ways to celebrate our neighbourhood and it seemed obvious a festival celebrating its creativity would be brilliant.”
This year’s festival features more than 20 events, ranging from Self talking about his new novel, Phone and Walter on what it is like to take on the roles of Brutus and Prospero, to the award-winning authors Alex Wheatle and Patrice Lawrence on writing for young adults.
With tickets ranging from free to a fiver, it is affordable, too. As ever, Stephanie has created a programme that also has a strong slant on science. “I love popular science writers and every year we get some really interesting people to speak on their work,” she says.
Professor Steve Jones
“Professor Steve Jones will be presenting his book about science in the age of the guillotine, while we are pleased to also welcome Dr Emily Shuckburgh from the British Antarctic Survey to discuss her book on climate change with projected images. In our day of non-fiction delights, we are looking at the history of umbrellas in literature with ‘brolliologist’ Marion Rankine, and a talk and exhibition from photographer Chris Low, Exhibiting Subcultures, followed by a deconstruction of the film Mulholland Drive with film researcher and cinephile Mary Wild.”
• For full programme and ticket details, see www.archwaywithwords.com