2020’s been a milestone for Irish music, even in a year without gigs. Denise Chaila’s gone from underground to RTÉ darling, while artists like Jafaris and Nealo are making airplay and playlist waves, disproving notions about race and heavy brogue in Irish rap.
But meanwhile—and more importantly—the fight against Direct Provision has become more prominent, with the government committing to end it by the end of its term.
Direct Provision is Ireland’s system of housing people seeking international asylum. Migrants are placed in housing and hotels in groups en masse and must wait, often for several years, for their papers to be accepted or rejected. Canteen mealtimes are strict, privacy is minimal and supports are non-existent. It’s drawn widespread criticism worldwide: New Yorker magazine describes it as a “strange, cruel system”.
But this doesn’t diminish the creative power of the people inside and outside. Whether as a form of expression, community or resistance, each new perspective adds more to the Irish music scene. The musical legacy of Cork is based off of migratory musical movements: If not for the blues, Rory Gallagher might’ve stayed in a journeyman’s showband until the day he died. Today, that spirit is carried by the musicians setting stereos on fire across the country.
Nothing binds people like sharing a musical connection, whether it’s bringing together an audience or a band. It’s part of music’s power. That’s what Citadel, a world music group made up of residents of Kinsale Road Direct Provision centre, is all about.
Established by D.P. activists Roos Demol and Norbert Nkengurutse last year, the roster is constantly in flux by the nature of the asylum-seeking process, but is always made up of between eight and twelve musicians. The type of music, too, is fluid. People play the music and instruments of their homes: Roos notes “You’d have the guy from Ukraine singing, playing guitar and then accompanied by an Indian tabla player, a Russian accordion player, and Burundian guitarist. And where do you see that? It was so special.”
From small beginnings playing across the road in McCabe’s pub, the band picked up steam quickly, leading to national media attention and gigs in Limerick, Dublin and Cork City Hall. Plans for a collaboration with UCC Music students were scuppered by Covid, but they’re looking forward to reforming as soon as possible. We can only hope so: All footage I’ve seen is powerful.
Citadel can be found on YouTube, Facebook or Twitter. Support it through the ‘Guitars for Direct Provision Centres’ Facebook group, which is looking for acoustic guitars, bass guitars, keyboards and djembes.
Occupational Therapy in UCC, rapping, spoken word, activism and working in a nursing home in one of the most challenging times to do so: Raphael Olympío’s a busy man.
He describes himself as still being in his experimental phase, playing with influences in search of his unique style. Each single stands on its own, but together they make up a study of different flows. New single ‘Broski’ is a party banger with a slow-then-fast style, lines coming in on unexpected, half-conversational beats: Drake. ‘Rockstar’ has the melodic hooks, guitar plucks and strained repetitions of JUICE.
It’s something he’s been doing since he was a kid, but it’s all leading up to his own statement of intent: A.B.C.D. [A Black Child’s Dilemma], a debut LP planned for early next year. “I’ve been having fun with music, but with this album I think you’re gonna be getting a taste of every aspect of who Olympío really is, and you’re gonna hear about my childhood, you’re gonna hear about my family background, you’re gonna hear about me, as a black child or male figure growing up in Ireland.”
It’ll includes his viral spoken-word piece on facing racism in primary school, but Olympío stresses that it’s both sides of the coin: “I don’t want to bash—with all the incidents that have happened to me, but I also want to praise the good that I’ve gotten from growing up in Ireland.”
But first: ‘Debonair’, another experiment in upbeat flow. Coming soon!
Olympío’s music is available on all streaming platforms. Follow him at @olympio_official.
“For the music, I just say how it is. I’m a confident, sexy, talented and intelligent black woman so when you hear my music you’re going to hear that.” So says Alicia Raye on her developing style. On tracks like ‘Close To Me’ she sounds just like Rihanna, but the Drogheda-based singer/rapper cites influences ranging from Afrobeats to 00’s pop, and with a prolific sixteen singles released this year she’s making the space to show them off. And there’s more to come: “I was staying with my boyfriend all through lockdown and he has a studio set up in the house,” says Alicia, “I literally made music and food every day […] I have enough unreleased music to last me two years.”
New single ‘M.I.A.’ is a perfect example of the lyrical style she’s been developing. It’s sexy and smart, throwing mixing big imagery with a hook that has yet to escape this writer’s brain. While she’s focusing on engaging with her fans through social media at the moment, a collaborative mixtape with other Dublin artists will be out by the end of the year. Bringing together some of the most talented artists on the scene, it’s sure to be one to watch.
Find Alicia Raye at her Instagram @aliciataqueilla_, and check out her latest single ‘M.I.A.’ on all streaming platforms.