When Joy White delivered her revered presentation ‘Newham the East London grime site of a place of emancipatory disruption’ for Black history month 2019, detailing the foundations of grime, which sprouted from the roots of reggae after our grandparents migrated to the UK and laid the soil, from which a myriad of black British music genres such as reggae, jungle, DnB, Garage and grime could sprout, we have now reached a place of poetic justice. At Joy’s presentation in conjunction with journalist Chante Joseph and in association with the grime archive, to commemorate black history month 2019; Sociologist Dr Joy who also attained a PhD in the entrepreneurship of grime and black British music, closed her informative event with a quote from her fellow Newham, native Kano – “It feels really good when you’ve had a few years in the game, starting out as kids, putting in work…It was just a hobby, we didn’t know it would turn out like this, it was purely just for passion.” I also began the same piece documenting Dr Joy’s impactful presentation, with a Kano lyric – “Cos Newham, what the f*ck happened to Newham man?” from his pensive track ‘Good Youtes Walk amongst Evil.’
Fast forward an exact year later it is as though we have witnessed a celestial planetary alignment of Mars and Venus, which is a fitting metaphor for Kano as Mars – one of the rulers within grime and a god of (lyrical) war, and Dr. Joy as Venus – the nurturer of her students and a healer in attempting to repair the damage of injustices suffered by our youth. It was only a matter of time before these giants in their respective fields; orbits aligned. Luckily for us Kano and Joy decided the time was right to trade words of wisdom. Dr Joy was the 2nd person from Newham to be interviewed by Kano about the East London borough from which they hail. The interviews have allowed Kano to deliver the philanthropy inspired series; ‘Newham Talks.’ Each conversation hosts an array of diverse people, from scholars to artists to authors to celebrated cultural influencers, whose humble beginnings were also in Newham manors. Kano aims to raise funds for charities across the borough, which is very much in keeping with the D.I.Y essence of grime itself, because if we don’t unify with a view to uplifting our deprived communities; the government won’t.
I had watched Kano’s first ‘Newham talks’ with Ghetts prior to Joy’s, as they reminisced on gigs they did together, the shift in sonic (grime to drill), and how they had adapted to lockdown, I couldn’t help feel as though I was eating a bowl of corn meal porridge leaving a warm glow in my belly, as the overarching theme of their conversation, was one of friendship. You could not help but smile when Ghetts asked Kano if he had his toes out, as he noted Kano had perched a cuppa tea on the glass coffee table, where Dr Joy’s book lay, to which Kano responded by lifting his leg to show his friend of over 20 years that he did indeed, have his toes out. The overarching theme of Kano’s chat with Dr Joy was academia meets artistry and the commonality shared between both, having tread the same streets of their beloved Newham at differing points in time in their lives.
Kano began the conversation with Joy by utilising the ‘new normal’ as we have all found ourselves reluctantly submitting to since being cast adrift by an increasingly callous government; via Skype / Zoom. Kano confessed he felt like a fish out of water, presumably because he was about to have a conversation with an academic with a PhD, perhaps because he was on the other side of proceedings with himself as interviewer, when he is accustomed to the role of interviewee, but knowing Joy quite well to the point I often affectionately call her ‘The grime Doctor’, he needn’t have worried, as Joy warmly responded – “There is no out of water or comfort zone, the world belongs to us and when we find ourselves outside of our comfort zones it does not mean we shouldn’t be there, it means we have to get used to it.” Kano resonated with Joy’s observation so much, he declared he would be using it as the intro to their talk. Once Joy admitted to Kano she was a shy person (to which I nearly painted my walls with Nescafe expresso smooth blend, as I’ve witnessed Joy captivate an audience of 30+, and talk with enthusiasm during one of our catch ups at the rum kitchen in Brixton) any doubts Kano had disintegrated, as he discovered another commonality with Dr Joy – They are both introverts.
Joy and Kano began to discuss the freedom of expression via written words as introverts, which resonated with me as a word collector and creator, and also as someone who has become increasingly low key since lockdown. Joy shared that her love of words began when borrowing stacks of library books, absorbing the knowledge nestled within their pages, again a trait I recognised within myself instantly, with books borrowed from Peckham library! Joy made the powerful statement that “When we occupy places and spaces where a lot of things are taken from or refused to us, having knowledge and holding onto it is really powerful.” Surprisingly Joy explained, her route to higher education was far from standard, and had many in between jobs, including one in a sausage factory, before she decided to embark on her journey as a mature student to obtain her PhD in grime, entrepreneurship and black British contemporary music. Joy told Kano she is the most unusual grime fan he will ever meet, as her love for the genre developed when she worked as a teacher, and young students from differing cultures were flocking to update their my spaces with the same style of music, which would later become known as grime.
What’s endearing about the conversation between Kano and Joy, is that you can see Kano relax and get into his stride, as he discovers Joy did field research in Ayia Napa, Kano’s face lights up as he exclaims “Whaaaaaatttt?”, and recounts how his time there in 2003 shaped him to become the MC we hear today, as it was on his return from Ayia Napa he begun to take his craft more seriously. Joy responded by telling Kano, Grime has opened up the world to young artists allowing them to travel to Europe and beyond to perform. One of the most important questions put to Joy by Kano was -“Where do you think fear comes from when mainstream media reports on black music, whereas we see the positive aspects such as the artistic expression and entrepreneurship?” Joy strongly stated she believes it is an ongoing issue which is not confined to grime and now drill, but appears to be an issue with black creative expression in general. Joy amplifies her point by sharing her memories of the scrutiny reggae and sound systems endured in the 1970’s and 80’s, and stressed the importance of her role as an academic to write about black British genres in a respectful and positive way, ensuring that she challenges narrow-minded opinions levelled at her, such as “Do you think that this (grime) is a suitable subject for academic enquiry.” Joy recognises that the cultural impact of grime is now accepted, but notes the same disdain grime faced in its inception, is now aimed at drill.
Kano nodded earnestly whilst considering Joy’s previous answer, and asked Joy which part of Newham she is from and what inspired her to write her book – ‘Terraformed: Young black lives in inner city?’ Joy proudly claimed Forest Gate as her stomping grounds for 40 years. Being a long-time resident of the Newham Borough has allowed Joy to observe how the area has changed over the last 4 decades, but she also recognised the struggles that young black people face which are a sign of today’s times, look very different to Joy’s class of ’91. Joy stressed how the typical societal linear structures to ‘success’ (school, college, uni, work) is not always as easily accessible to young black people, owing to the structural barriers often erected, when attempting to achieve our aspirations. Joy explained to Kano her book was difficult to write as she had to travel back in time in her mind’s eye, and relive painful experiences of hostility faced as part of a marginalised community. Kano addressed a particularly shocking story within Joy’s book, and was surprised at how blatant racism was in the 1970’s and 80’s, to which Joy confirmed it was an everyday occurrence, with no sympathy offered if you dared to complain. I thought about the various Equality, Diversity and Inclusion networks and the Black, ethnic minority groups and forums in my own work place and thought about the mental strength required to survive Joy’s era.
I don’t know about you, but someone who is sick on the mic and is well read is elevated to a higher plane of existence in my book, so when Kano asked Joy about gentrification and what she had witnessed first-hand in Forest gate, hark the angels sang as halo’s formed atop king K-A’s crown! Joy divulged she was curious about the intricacies of gentrification and the notion that policies formulated by the local authorities and government were somehow making the area ‘better’, she contemplated why it is deemed as ‘better’ than what was there before, because without the backdrop and character of Newham, we would not have had all the unique elements which were in place to cause ‘the big bang affect’ that created grime. Joy stressed it is just as important to attach value to the location from which grime was borne, as well as the sound. Kano and Joy also discussed how differing demographics do not appear to co-exist in the borough of Newham, but instead live in siloes, Joy delved deep into why it is imperative that this must change.
Towards the end of their insightful conversation Kano recalled a chapter of Joy’s book, detailing people who had lost their lives in police custody in the UK, Kano sensitively asked Joy whether English people are only just realising the extent of excessive force used by UK police officers, and the inequalities plaguing black communities in this post George Floyd era. Joy poignantly pointed out the world wide reaction of horror, and how it encouraged discourse regarding other areas of inequality (namely structural in the UK), and her hope for the next generation as she witnessed their heartfelt response compared to the disingenuous, often performative ally ship of large corporations. To which I nodded so vigorously, Busta Rhymes would have been proud at my near neck breaking agreement! (If you know, you know!) At this point in their luminary discussion, Kano and Joy comfortably bounced around ideas of the long-term changes which could be implemented. (Find out what their suggestions were by hitting the link below)
As I basked in the warm glow and embers of mutual respect between Kano and Joy, as the conversation neared its close, the most important take away for me was Joy’s explanation of how important it is to assist young black people in discovering their creative niches, whether it be conversation, writing, making music, dancing or even knitting; residents of the community have a responsibility to nurture the creativity of young people – “They deserve it, and we owe it to them.” Joy also calls upon local authorities to redistribute the economy’s wealth fairly, to fund after school clubs and youth centres. Kano shared how he often wonders how he can inspire the next generation beyond his art, Joy reassured him that he is using his platform responsibly and shouting as loud as possible for the people (aka pompous Tory MP’s) in the back. It is evident on the second episode of Kano’s ‘Newham Talks’, Joy bridges the gaps between academia, black British artistry, and socio economic marginalisation, as she speaks with complete conviction and passion as a person who has grown up in ends, and faced her own set of challenges; and triumphed.
As we all move towards a new world ravaged by a virus, a country torn to tiers, with a barrel full of Brexit hurtling towards us at full speed to bruise Britain further, we all have to be brave and fight back to survive, as we’ve witnessed with the onslaught of worldwide protests this year as a cataclysmic response to George Floyd’s murder; I think we all echo the parting sentiments of Joy and Kano –
Joy, “It HAS to be a different world after doesn’t it? It HAS to be?”
Kano, “It HAS to… *wistfulness with a hint of weariness*, it has to”
*DONATE* to Kano’s ‘Newham Talks’ fundraiser here:
*WATCH* Kano interview Joy White here:
*BUY* Joy White’s new book ‘Terraformed: Young Black Lives in the Inner City