What is the link between Grime music, Religion and Academia? As juxtaposed as these subjects may initially appear, one young woman is keen to illustrate how Grime represents a musical genre that is worthy of serious study, and how its existence not only represents a significant part of the history of British music, but also the African Diaspora. Monique Charles is currently studying for a PhD. Her thesis, entitled ‘Hallowed be thy Grime? : A musicological and sociological genealogy of Grime music and its relation to black Atlantic religious discourse’.
Yaaya caught up with Monique in North London, in Part 1 of this 3-part interview, to discover what motivated her to undertake a PhD, why Grime music is her topic of research and what exactly is this music genre.
And so the conversation begins …
The race, culture, sociology, class and gender topics in my degree really intrigued me. I could see how it impacted on me, and on other people. I also like music, and have been singing since I was a child, but I’ve only started to pursue this more seriously within the last 10 years. So my decision to undertake a PhD was kind of like an appreciation of music, enjoying singing, enjoying studying, and the fact that when I was growing up I wanted to know everything. I now realise that this steered me on this path. I suppose that I want to have something that I can share with others to inspire them, and get them to question things, think about things differently, and not accept everything that they see or hear.
It is also influenced by Jungle music as well - a genre of fast tempo music similar to drum and bass. I suppose its (Grime music) relatives are Jungle and Garage. But Garage not so much, as Jungle has got the percussive poly-rhythmic layering, which Tricia Rose says are sound signatures of African Diaspora. These are the kind of influences that are most strongly known. You know it’s quite loud. You can feel it. It’s something that they say started in Bow, East London. We have, and had, artists like So Solid Crew, Ms Dynamite, Oxide and Neutrino. These artists mixed Garage and Hip Hop before it became known as Grime.
What I found was that the most successful black artists that were young and female conformed more strongly to the stereotypes that were around during slavery. You had the 'Jezebel' stereotype of black women during slavery. When I was doing my Masters, the most sexualised black female artist during that time was Lil' Kim. Even Nicki Minaj fits into that category. 50 Cent was also popular at the time and he fit into that 'coon' stereotype. When I was doing my thesis, my Godmother was like “you really shouldn’t listen to Hip Hop. It's the devil music”. So I then started to realise that Hip Hop was often attacked for being immoral. It kind of gets the blame for a lot of things. The religious community have been condemning it as well. I was thinking about all these sort of things, and spoke to a couple of people, and discovered that no-one has really done anything on British (urban) music. In the States you have an extensive body of work on Hip Hop. They’ve got scholars like Cornell West, Michael Eric Dyson and Tricia Rose, but here (in the UK), there isn't really anybody. So I thought to myself - that's a gap!
I also wanted to see how I could bring that element (religion) in, as my research has shown that interest in religion has declined in Europe. Since the 1980s it has dropped from around 68% to around 53% as shown by the BBC's religion and ethics survey. So I thought to myself, “could this possibly be a new religion?”, “what meaning can we get from it?”, and “what significance does it have to young people?” So there were lots of questions surrounding this topic, which made me commit to this subject. As I thought about it more, I came across people that made me think about the sounds of music like the bass and percussive sounds. So I’m trying to draw on that element as well, and put it in its chronological place with genres like Jungle and Grime. It’s becoming a firmer idea as I prepare for my upgrade. But these are all the influences that have fed into it (my decision). I don’t know if I’m taking it on single-handedly, but I want to show that it (Grime music) is not all bad. There has got to be some good in it, and I want to see if I can find it.
I’ve got a cousin that wants to study vocal performance, and she was going to do a diploma in it. You study Rock music, and then you’ve got options to study Reggae or Blues, but you can only choose one of these options. I like Reggae a lot, but there’s other music genres here in the U.K. such as Drum and Bass, Jungle, and Garage. These genres are not taught. I’ve had a look at some courses to help my argument that British music isn’t really out there. When you talk about Reggae and Blues you’re taught that it’s music from over there. It’s not British but just from over there. There’s no body of work on garage or Drum and Bass, and all of these music genres have the sound signatures of the Diaspora. For example, the heavy bass drumming, if we go back far enough, is the African drum. Similarly, the MC-ing heard in Jungle music and the chatting (spitting or rapping) with Garage, if you again go back far enough, are the influences of the Griots.
Part of what I want to do, and I guess this is my afro-centric side, is start to draw these dots together so that people can hear it and recognise it. No music is essentially Black or White, but we need to trace the cultural influences that have led to its existence. Especially nowadays when young people hear music, they have no idea of where the inspiration comes from. It is useful for children of the Diaspora to have a real understanding of their connection to music, and how their heritage has influenced music. That’s something that I hope will come out of my work.
Look out for Part 2 of this 3-part conversation on Thursday 23rd May, where Monique opens up about the challenges of being a PhD student, the importance of finding and utilising support networks, and her views on why ethnic minorities and women are under-represented in Academia.