Girl Power, Girl Power,
Oh Yeah, Oh Yeah
The Brilliant Banging Blues* (a class of 30 children aged 9-10 years participating in Cable Street Songwriters) were working in small groups of their choice. Each group could choose between writing lyrics that could contribute to verses for their class piece The Power of Yet, or lyrics that could extend a rap section entitled ‘Upgrade yourself’, which could feature in their joint school song The real and the imaginary. Field recordings of the finished songs can be found below.
The class song - A field recording of The Brilliant Banging Blues performing The power of yet .
The joint school song – A field recording of Cable Street Songwriters’ performance of The real and the imaginary at Idea Store Watney Market, June 2018.
A view from a Brilliant Banging Blues' school window
A clear or visible ’say’ over what they were doing was important for this group. Choice making as a pedagogical scaffold helped with this. It supported the children’s engagement in music co-creation by holding the relative freedoms of the work. It also felt appropriate to this context since undertaking the project as a whole class required a continual addressing of the process as opt-in. Whilst there were times when choosing was met with an excitement and energy that could be counterproductive (for example, occasionally the possibility to choose who you worked with was perceived by the children as synonymous with an overexcited, rather than focused, playtime) this week it seemed to work well. The classroom was noisy, but it was a productive noise as multiple groups vocalised ideas. Whilst visiting each group I played a simple 4/4 groove on Cajon at a tempo that worked for both songs. I joined a group of girls (pertinent to this context there were no mixed gender groups) and asked them to share what they had been working on so far. The girls giggled and drew closer together. They looked at each other, then some group members looked at me and said – we’re saying girl power,
"is it ok if we use
I was keen to encourage the girls’ reshaping of the topic. Girl power was their interpretation of The Power of Yet – a lyric writing theme that was initially chosen by the class because it was an approach to learning that they were exploring – developed from psychologist Carol Dweck’s growth mindset (2017). I understood their reshaping as making visible issues that were important to them.
Beatboxing and rapping about girl power was significant for several reasons. Almost all children that attend this school identify as Muslim. Whilst there are varied use and attitudes to music in Islam, during my time as a teacher at this school I was engaged in many conversations with pupils, parents and carers, and staff around the appropriateness of Muslim participation in music. Notably the notion that music can be perceived as haram.** For related discussion see Berglund, 2008; Izsak, 2013; Jacobsen & Vestel, 2018. Further to contentions around their participation in music-making as Muslims was their participation as girls – particularly through their choice to rap. From my former experience at this school, and throughout the CSS project, rap was the domain of boys. Most boys frequently expressed preference for rap over singing, often volunteered for solos or class sharing through rap, and explicitly articulated it as ‘cool’ - giving kudos to those that could accompany rap through beatboxing. Whilst there are Muslim women rappers, this is understood as breaking new ground. Gender inequity in the rap industry has, as McCoy explains, “[…] led women artists not only to use rap to critique sexism within the culture, but also to contribute to the development of intersectional feminism” (2017). Many Muslim women rappers also use rap to challenge negative narratives about Muslim women and Islam. For example, rapper Mona Haydar explores intersectional identity through her song American (Haydar, 2018, 2019). From this context, and in the context of The Brilliant Banging Blues’ classroom (incidentally this session fell during UK celebration of 100 years since some women were given voting rights) I felt it all the more important to support this groups’ confidence to pursue their rap and to share it with the class.
A field recording of the girl groups’ early sharing of Girl Power, Girl Power.
Childrens art work on display at the Brilliant Banging Blues' school
As the girls shared their rap there was audible resistance from some boys including laughing, derogatory sounds, and the absence of applause. I intervened. With a view to opening conversation around this response and to support the girl group in this position of vulnerability, I reminded the class of our work on being a respectful audience with the intention that it would set the tone of engagement. I also asked the class if they had seen a recent Newsround report on 100 years since votes for women (I was aware that Newsround reports are sometimes watched during PHCSE classes). The class seemed interested and ideas for ‘cross-curricular’ explorations entered my train of thought. However, in my capacity as a visiting community musician, not class teacher, the extent of our explorations needed to remain within music-making (and specifically making the songs we had set-out to make since we had an impending gig). I asked the girl group if they would share their rap again. The recording to the right is of this second sharing. This was followed by muted applause, and a quietness in the room alongside some facial expressions that appeared to me as a sense of working-it-out. Then we had a short discussion around women and voting. This felt a palpable moment, a shift of some kind.
Whilst this experience is not uncommon to my practice, I highlight it as a critical incident because: (a) it was a critical moment for the group through the surfacing and addressing of conflict that marked a shift in their CSS participation; (b) I was surprised by my response in this moment. I was direct and I voiced my opinion. Previously I was hesitant to respond in this manner because I considered facilitator neutrality as an approach to support space for participant ideas and opinions. Furthermore, as a teacher in this school, I would have been mindful of the ways in which this interaction might impact boys participation in vocal work, since alongside the perception ‘girls can’t rap’ was the notion that ‘boys don’t sing’; and (c) it offers a lucid example of the community musician as intervenor in their role as facilitator, alongside spotlighting community music practice in dilemmatic spaces (Preston, 2016) and highlighting the significance of facilitator contextual engagement and reflection.
*pseudonym. The Brilliant Banging Blues was chosen by the class as their band name.
** haram is a ‘Legal term for what is forbidden or inviolable under Islamic law. Also describes the area around the three holy cities of Islam—Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem—indicating their role as sanctuaries where no one may be killed. Hunting, uprooting trees, harvesting grain, violence toward humans except in self-defense, and carrying weapons are forbidden in these areas. Entry of non-Muslims into Mecca and Medina is also forbidden. Haram is the root of the word harem, referring to women's quarters that are forbidden to any males except relatives and husbands. The word is used as an exclamation in Arabic in reaction to bad news, meaning “God have pity!”’ (Oxford Islamic Studies Online, 2020).
See for example Muslim women rappers Mona Haydar https://youtu.be/5oLa7jZKlbk, Mina La Voilée a member of Genji Hip-Hop https://youtu.be/HAbX5sHg9xY and Muneera Williams and Sukina Owen-Douglas https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bR9VGHDuKqg.
We had previously worked on respecting the contributions of others, even if it was not our preferred music, and on giving feedback in response to the questions – what did you enjoy and why? What could be better next time and why?
Berglund, J. (2008). Teaching Islam with music. Ethnography and Education, 3(2), 161-175. https://doi.org/10.1080/17457820802062409
Digirepository. (2016, May 28). Poetic Pilgrimage - Sukina and Muneera (left) @ Rich mix, Shoreditch [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bR9VGHDuKqg
Dweck, C. S. (2017). Mindset – Updated Edition: Changing the way you think to fulfil your potential. Robinson.
Haydar, M. (2018, August 23). Mona Haydar, The Muslim Rapper | Perspectives [Interview]. Huffington post. https://youtu.be/5oLa7jZKlbk
Haydar, M. (2019, August 2). Mona Haydar – American [Official Music Video][Video]. YouTube. https://youtu.be/bnKeJMSo1WA
Izsak, K. (2013). Perspectives on Muslim Participation in Music Education in Ontario. Canadian Music Educator, 54(3), 38-43. https://openmusiclibrary.org/article/52378/
Jacobsen, C. M., & Vestel, V. (2018). “Look into My Eyes”: Music, Religion, and the Politics of Muslim Youth in Norway. Journal of Muslims in Europe, 7(1), 47–72. https://doi.org/10.1163/22117954-12341344
La Voilée, M. (2019, December 31). The veiled rapper breaking taboos for women in Senegal [Interview].The Guardian. https://youtu.be/HAbX5sHg9xY
McCoy, A. (2017). Rap Music. In The Oxford Research Encyclopedia, American History. Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/acrefore/9780199329175.013.287
Oxford Islamic Studies Online. (2020). Haram. The Oxford Dictionary of Islam. Retrieved January 12, 2020, from http://www.oxfordislamicstudies.com/article/opr/t125/e808
Preston, S. (2016). Facilitation: Pedagogies, Practices, Resilience. Bloomsbury Methuen Drama.