Photo: Ellie Ramsden
Girls of Grime
It’s one of many hot summer days in London when The Doyennes meet up with Girls of Grime founder Shakira Walters for a pint, near the offices of her day job in Farringdon. Like many of our favourite concepts, Girls of Grime was started as a passion project, and Shakira works full time in the fashion industry in addition to running the Girls of Grime social media, checking out new artists, planning and going to gigs. Born and raised in East London, she grew up on grime and UK garage, but always felt it was a very male dominated field, and that as a woman, it was hard to get accepted as part of the scene. Now, times are changing, and not only are we seeing more female MCs making a name for themselves, but there’s also more room for women being passionate about music and contributing with their knowledge and talent, whether as artists, DJs, organizer or writers.
So first of all, what is the Girls of Grime concept, and how did it all start?
I started Girls of Grime just under a year ago, because there wasn’t a lot of visibility around women being grime fans, as far as I could tell. I just wanted to do research and put them all in one space, that was my initial thing. I thought, “I’m a girl of grime, I like grime - this is what I do. I need to find other people like me.” And the more I did that, the more I reached out, the more I found people like me. At first, I didn’t know what I was doing; I was just doing it for the fun of it. It’s about making a space for women in music in general, but being of grime myself and having grown up with grime, I wanted it to be very grime specific.
Girls of Grime was a very personal project at first. I mean, in the back of my mind, I may have thought it could turn into something else, and that is actually what’s happening now, which is amazing - bringing all these young women through. Just creating a space for women in music is very difficult in the UK. I’ve spoken to a few people who have bigger platforms than mine about it, and a lot of them say that women don’t tend to come forward as much. So I thought, fair enough, I’ll go find them and bring them to me! So Girls of Grime is a platform for women, I’d say urban UK artists, to share. Rap, grime… even if some people are singing, I like to share it.
“I’m focusing on homegrown talent, by women, for women, supporting women”
The genres are kind of mixed now anyway?
They are, especially here in the UK. I mean, the reason I chose grime is because it’s UK-based, no other country can claim it, it’s ours, we made it – in Bow E3 like we were talking about earlier! I wanted to stick with something that’s really homegrown. So I’m focusing on homegrown talent, by women, for women, supporting women. A big aspect of my platform is that I’ve been around music for a long time, and I know a lot of people in music always had the perception that women don’t support each other, so I was really conscious about that. I mean, if you’re good at what you do, I’ll support you, regardless of what gender you are. I’ve actively gone out and been like, I’m a woman, supporting women, and if you’re a part of this tribe, come and join me. So that’s what we’re doing; just pushing forward and supporting each other.
C Cane at Female Takeover @ Birthdays in Dalston. Photo: MediaPaige.
Very cool, that was basically our idea with The Doyennes as well!
Exactly! I think the more we support each other, the more we can grow and the better we’ll be at reaching out for resources and stuff. Women in particular are, I would say conditioned a little bit, to be competing with each other. Especially in London, I don’t know if it is the racy kind of atmosphere or… I mean, it’s like that anyway, competing against another person, but when you’re a woman, even more so, because you’re less likely to get the role or whatever it is. So I think it’s really important, as someone who’s a little bit older, to be a positive voice – because there’s a lot of young people in the music industry here.
How do you work and how do you find artists and events to feature?
When I started initially, I would spend hours and hours… During the three first months after I decided to start the platform, I would spend every single weekend and evening scouring Instagram and the big music platforms online, as well as find artists through friends of friends and go to shows and meet people there. When I first started, I would spend every waking minute outside the hours of my day job on that, and then, eventually, they started coming to me! I also started getting a lot of recommendations from other people, once they knew what I was doing. It’s all about connections - just networking, I guess!
Lioness at Female Takeover @ Birthdays in Dalston. Photo: OROWGIN88.
For those who aren’t familiar with the genre, who would you say are the top women on the scene right now?
Shakira laughs - there are too many talented women out there doing well right now to be able to mention all! We insist on a few names though, and she replies:
I can say the girls that I’ve been working with – some girls that are long established, like Lioness, are amazing! Lioness is incredible, definitely one of the top artists, I have to say. And Lady Lykez – you know what it is with her as well? She’s so humble, and when you see her perform, it’s mind-blowing! She has just done a play as well, and she produces music, so when I see her, I call her “my triple threat”! These are girls that already are quite established, and for other names: C Cane, she’s dope! She’s also bilingual, and the last time I saw her, she started MC’ing in her native tongue, which is Lingala. And for the up and coming MCs… There’s a girl called Lost Souljah that we’ve been working with very closely, she’s tiny, but once she gets on stage, it’s crazy! She’s one to watch, definitely, and so is Taliifa. They’re just people with really kind hearts, I feel like it’s a little family over here!
It’s kind of a community thing I guess, you do get to know each other.
Yeah, and I think especially with music, people are pouring out their hearts, people are sharing things they’ve kept hidden, so the more you listen to someone, the more you get to know them anyway.
"It’s always in some dingy, dark club somewhere, or it’s on radio sets
with a tiny little room full of fifty people or so, nothing’s really changed."
In general, British urban artists have gotten a breakthrough worldwide now, especially with Skepta, Giggs and Stefflon Don. Do you think that’s had an impact on the scene, having a more international audience now?
See, I think that was inevitable anyway. But if you go to a grime set now, it’s the same as it was 20 years ago, really. It’s always in some dingy, dark club somewhere, or it’s on radio sets with a tiny little room full of fifty people or so, nothing’s really changed. I think the idea that you can escalate to a certain level might help people to kinda push a bit harder… but I don’t necessarily think that everyone wants to take it that far. It doesn’t detract from what’s being done here.
So it’s kind of cool if it happens, but it’s not about working towards that?
No, I think a lot of people often are just making music to get something off their chest. They don’t want fame and fortune, they just want… music is therapy, and some people just do it for fun too. Having something to aspire to is always great, I mean Stefflon Don, she’s massive and she’s gone abroad, but I don’t think that’s even the grime angle, she’s gone more with the R&B, dancehall kind of vibe, a completely different angle. I think that to break how she’s broke… none of the girls have quite broke it yet, but I think Girls of Grime can make that happen. We wanna take this international, 100%! At least to Europe, by next year, definitely.
Yeah, you do your own club nights too, right?
Yeah, we had our first club night a few weeks ago, the 17th of June. I’ve never done an event before, except for coordinating one, but I’m kind of a bossy, management type of person, always having everything in order, so it wasn’t that difficult. It’s completely different when you’re planning your own event though, it’s lots of prep in terms of getting all your artists together, making sure everyone’s there on time, that kind of stuff, so it was kind of like a personal challenge doing the event. And it couldn’t have gone any better! It was amazing, the crowd loved it, and everyone’s given us great feedback. Girls of Grime is still in an early stage, so we’re very humbled by people even paying attention to us at all, but yeah – the show was amazing, and we’re already looking forward to the next one!
In addition to hosting club nights, Girls of Grime have already been featured on London radio stations Rinse FM, Déjà Vu FM, Kiss FM, Soho Radio and Reprezent Radio, as well as had a show at the Wireless festival. We can’t wait to see what they’re up to next - check out some of their talented MCs in the video from their visit to Déjà Vu FM below, and find the handle @girlsofgrime on Instagram or Twitter to stay up to date on news and events!