The words of Victorian author George Eliot have been married with drill music in a project “breathing new life” into Coventry as this year’s City of Culture.
Local producer Coolie, 31, has created a soundtrack to a film titled Timeless Words Made New that takes inspiration from Eliot, the pen name of Middlemarch writer Mary Ann Evans, who lived in the city.
He told the PA news agency the up and coming Coventry drill scene had more in common with Eliot, who lived between 1819 and 1880, than might first appear, because they both had the odds “stacked” against them.
The film, which marks the start of Coventry’s year as City of Culture, takes viewers on a journey around the city led by Coolie.
Famous local figures including Selecter frontwoman Pauline Black, Hollywood composer Clint Mansell, The Specials’ Horace Panter and author Lee Child read the words of Eliot as they are projected onto landmarks in the city.
Coolie told PA: “The Coventry City of Culture Trust approached me about breathing new life into the words of George Eliot and felt that was really relevant and it made sense.
“The words really related to what is going on now as we come out of lockdown.
“We realised she has a lot of quotes about music, poetry, determination and resilience, which are all as relevant to today as much as they were back when she was writing in Victorian England.
“We wanted to make it even more relevant to today and more accessible to today’s society – so I decided to make the music in a way where it is a unique fusion of something quite anthemic and orchestral but also a mixture of a UK urban genre called drill.”
Eliot, who adopted a pseudonym due to the barriers faced by female authors, lived at Bird Grove House in Coventry in her 20s during the 1840s, and was earlier schooled in the city.
Speaking about the combination of literature and drill, Coolie added: “What we have to remember is that George Eliot was an artist who had a lot stacked against her in a time of extreme patriarchy, being a female writer.
“And so Coventry artists today and the whole drill scene and the UK rap scene, the odds are always stacked against us, especially at times when the media can be on the wrong side of us.
“But every time we shine through and come out on top, just like George Eliot did with her writing. I felt a lot of relevance between both worlds.
“For me there was a lot of emotion in what she says and so I encapsulated that in the melodies used in the music.”
Rappers including BBC Sound of 2021 winner Pa Salieu and Jay1 have emerged from the city in recent years and Coolie, who has produced music for both, predicted more would join them in the mainstream.
“I believe you are going to see a lot more artists coming out of Coventry,” he said.
“There is a great hub here for it and this is only the beginning.”
Chenine Bhathena, creative director of City of Culture Trust, said: “Timeless Words Made New will put the words of one of our amazing women at the centre of the emotional and cultural renewal of our nation.
“This dynamic film and its compelling soundtrack, speak to who we are as a city, putting our powerful social history at the centre of our future.
“It marks the start of what will be an incredible year for Coventry and the restart of our cultural lives.”
The film will be released at 20.21, reflecting the year, on the City of Culture website.