At school I quite enjoyed English, but the same can’t be said for most of my mates. A quick scan of the room and you would see heads laying on desks and palms firmly pressed on faces to cover earphones that were carefully weaved through blazer sleeves. I mean most of us still associate Shakespeare plays with sleepless nights of revision rather than appreciating them as great literary works.
Perhaps the reason for the lack of interest was because we couldn’t really relate to what we were being taught. Honestly, we connected more with Stormzy than Lady Macbeth; and whilst we may not have known Wordsworth’s poetry off by heart, we could reel of Dave lyrics without a second thought.
Just like the Renaissance that inspired this country’s greatest poets and playwrights, the UK’s education system needs its own cultural revolution to catapult it into modernity. One music education charity called Roadworks is helping to do just that.
Founded by writer and youth worker Ciaran Thapar and MC turned lecturer Mehyrar Golestani (better known as Reveal), Roadworks revitalizes the teaching of social sciences by looking at them through the lens of drill music. And it works, really well. By putting a contemporary twist on traditional teaching, the program helps galvanise an otherwise disenfranchised youth who are being left behind by an education system that has been criticised for not facilitating social mobility.
A new six-part video series titled ‘Drillosophy’ will be uploaded weekly onto the Mixtape Madness YouTube channel, as the programme shifts its focus to producing online content. Each 15-minute episode will be accompanied by additional resources, such as further reading and tasks (available on the Roadworks website), making the program suitable for teachers to use.
Each week I will review the latest episode in this blog, looking at my own personal highlights and reflecting on what I have learnt.
The first episode of the series called ‘Skengdo’s Cave’ explores Greek Philosopher Plato’s allegory of the Cave by unpicking lyrics from UK drill duo Skengdo and AM. The Brixton pair even make a special appearance in the video to explain the meaning of their lyrics, whilst Ciaran and Reveal encourage viewers to challenge their ideas of media manipulation- an appropriate message given the medias recent demonisation of drill music.
“You don’t even know this guy, he wears a tracksuit so you think he’s trappin’,” is a Skengdo bar that Reveal zooms in on to explore ideas of perception. This is a discussion that really resonated with me: I have a penchant for a nice black Nike tracksuit, but the article of clothing does not have the greatest connotations in the current climate of rising youth violence in the capital.
It’s not just how I dress. As a black teenager living in inner-city London, I feel like I’m judged wherever I go- you get used to it. However, as the episode explores, it would be nice if more people were more perceptive as to where their prejudices stem from, or as Plato would put it, contemplate on who is casting the distorted shadows on the walls of the cave.
One of the best things about Roadworks is its hosts. Down to earth and enthusiastic, Ciaran and Reveal have both the character and credentials to deliver this essential program. Having volunteered at Marcus Lipton Community Centre in Brixton since 2015 and exploring his youth work in his writing, Ciaran Thapar knows all too well that the education system is failing disadvantaged pupils. Whilst Reveal, an ethnomusicologist at SOAS university and previously part of rap collective Poisonous Poets, is also well informed on the cultural significance of hip-hop and drill.
Interweaving classical concepts with contemporary cultural discussion is both genius and necessary. I mean in an age where drill lyrics dominate the playgrounds of UK secondary schools, it makes sense that it’s used as an engagement tool to ensure that this enthusiasm diffuses into the classroom.
And with attempts to push drill back to the fringes of UK music (through cancelled showed, redacted lyrics and videos being taken down from YouTube), it’s important that the programme encourages children to think critically about music and its influence in wider British society. The next episode ‘Therapy In The Trap’ will look at how Aristotle’s concept of catharsis underpins the storytelling in UK music. Looking forward to it.