It’s been a while since a Jew won The X Factor, [Steve Brookstein was victorious in the first series, and mystery still surrounds his kosher roots]. But this year it could happen thanks to Honey G. Or, for the purposes of this article, Honey Jew.
In case you’ve recently been living in a cave, Honey G, or Anna Georgette Gilford as she is on her birth certificate, is a rap artist from North Harrow (North Wheezy in her street terminology, or ‘Striddish’ as I like to call it) who has made it all the way through to the final five acts on the show. And yes, she’s Jewish. Very Jewish, in fact. “My mother is Sephardi,” she tells me. “She comes from a French speaking family, and my father is Ashkenazi. His family is from London and Wales. When I was 16 I went on Israel tour with Hanoar and I remember thinking how amazing it was. I also played tennis at the Maccabiah Games. I was a flag holder at the North American games and the Amsterdam European Games where I was a tennis quarter finalist.”
So far, so fairly typically north London Jewish. But then there’s the rap music, which doesn’t quite fit the picture.
“I’ve been into rap music since I was young. I used to rap along to Snoop Dog albums, Ice Cube, you know. Bone Thugs N Harmony, Salt n’ Pepa, loads of groups that I grew up with.”
Now I’ll be honest, I’d never heard of Bone Thugs N Harmony, and, I ventured, neither have many other north London Jewish girls of Anna’s generation. Nor, I further dared to suggest, were many of them in to rap in general. It seems I was wrong.
“Well, I know quite a few north-west London Jewish women who really love urban music and really love rap music, so I don’t know which north-west London Jews you’re referring to.”
I am slightly taken aback by Anna’s answer, partly because I don’t know many of the Jews she’s referring to, but mainly because of the somewhat strident tone in which she says it. But that seems to be part of her character, or possibly, an affectation that’s come about due to the vicious media attacks she’s suffered.
In the press and, inevitably on Twitter, she’s faced criticism ranging from her being nothing more than a spoof act being used to boost TV ratings to accusations of cultural appropriation and “raping” of black culture.
It’s a tricky one to be fair, akin to a non-Jew performing a klezmer act. But then if it’s being done because the person genuinely loves the music and not to mock or stereotype, regardless of how good they are, it would seem to be fair enough.
And, as well as loving rap since an early age, the 35-year-old has a degree in music technology and production and says she’s been involved with the UK’s biggest black music station, Radio 1Xtra, since it was founded. Needless to say then, her reaction to the naysayers is similarly bullish.
“Yeah, I’ve read all of that crap. And as I said, I’ve been involved in urban music all my life. I’m a producer and natural born performer, so for people to say to me that I’m raping black culture actually feels like it’s them discriminating. They’ve got a problem with a white person rapping. The people who’ve come out and insulted me are not exactly spokespeople for the black community. No one’s said, ‘I’m speaking on behalf of the black community.’ These people are just haters, they’re never going to get anywhere with preaching hate. It’s literally ridiculous. The most ridiculous thing I’ve heard in my entire life.”
Clearly a chord has been struck, But perhaps some of Anna’s anger and indignation can be put down to her experiences with anti-Semitism. “I’ve experienced it the whole of my life. When I was growing up people used to make fun of me, referring to me as a ‘Jewish princess’ or talking to me about me looking Jewish, having a Jewish nose, you know. It’s quite insulting.”
All of which would seem to be great fodder for rap. After all, many rap songs deal with difficult issues and have a powerful message. For Anna, though, it’s a delicate subject and one that isn’t commercial enough to market. The message aside though, I’m sure the ‘Jewish community massive,’ as she fabulously refers to them, would love to hear her rap in Hebrew or perhaps Yiddish.
“I know one Yiddish phrase which my grandpa taught me: ‘Gai shlog dein kup en vant,’ which is, ‘Go bang your head against the wall’. But as for rapping in Yiddish or Hebrew, I could always have a crack at it, but it’s not really on the top of my to-do list at the moment.”
• Watch The X Factor on ITV1 on Saturdays and Sundays.