Six Voices Re-Shaping Ireland’s Musical Identity

From stark poetry to rugged hip-hop and more...

Irish identity is up for grabs.

St Patricks Day emphasises the island's global reach, the manner in which the diaspora has survived and thrives in corners around the world.

Yet Irishness has become increasingly hard to define, with new generations, political developments, and increased immigration causing the country to take a step back, and look at itself once more.

The process has been mirrored and enhanced in the country's complex network of music communities. Simply put: Irish music is thriving, but there's no one defining sound or idea. Indeed, diversity is its strength, whether that's the rollicking post-punk of Fontaines D.C. or the verbal dexterity of Kojaque

Celebrating St Patricks Day, Clash spoke to three writers from both sides of the border about the musicians who are re-shaping the country's sense of self in 2021.

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Tolü Makay

Born in Nigeria and raised in the midlands of Ireland, singer Tolü Makay has been capturing the hearts and minds of the people of Ireland ever since she released her acclaimed debut project ‘Being’ last year. The project touched on everything from her changing relationship with her faith, heartbreak and the uncertainty that comes with being a young person today.

More recently, Tolü has teamed up with songwriting partner delush and signed to his record label Welcome To The New World. 2021 started in roaring fashion, with her cover of the Saw Doctor’s track ‘N17’ becoming an anthem for Irish expats across the world, unable to return home for the new year.

Her latest EP, ‘Used To Be’ continued that form, and her soulful vocals and soaring melodies highlights once more why Tolü Makay is attracting so much acclaim both at home and further afield. (Cailean Coffey)

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Relatively new to the Irish music landscape, producer/songwriter Kynsy has sparked the imagination of all who listen to her highly personal and reflective brand indie-pop tracks. The Dublin-based artist is the maker and breaker of her own rules, taking inspiration from songwriters such as David Byrne, Damon Albarn and Irving Berlin.

Her work touches on the true depths of human emotion, and her debut EP, ‘Things That Don’t Exist’ is an exercise in isolation. Tracks such as ‘Happiness Isn’t A Fixed State’ and ‘Elephant in The Room’ showcase an artist searching for meaning in all around her, while simultaneously experimenting with style and format.

Few make music as raw and as breathtaking as Kynsy, and with only a year of releasing music behind her, she is set to continue to improve as the years go by. (Cailean Coffey)

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For Those I Love

It is impossible to listen to For Those I Love without feeling something. David Balfe has been described as a poet, compared to The Streets, lauded for a pulse-quickening performance on Later… with Jools Holland and while all of these tags make sense, the whole picture is decidedly more intimate, because you’re there with him.

Much has been written about what For Those I Love represents, how both moniker and music stand as a greatly affecting tribute to a departed, never-forgotten best friend. Under this lens, Balfe’s work feels almost peerless in terms of sensitivity, invention and brutal personal catharsis. Much like life experience, this context can never be overlooked.

What makes For Those I Love transcendent, however, is the communion in Balfe’s unvarnished words, the immediacy of his distinctive Dublin tone, colloquialisms and locations you don’t need to have knowledge of to find yourself lost within them. And then there’s the construction of these songs; full-pelt barrages of emotion, nostalgia, adventure, love, loss, hope, pain, truth and chaos.

Controlling it all, the bruised but still-beating heart of David Balfe; a shockwave that sounds out your own. (Dave Hanratty)

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Denise Chaila

Choice Music Prize winner and Zambian-Irish rapper-singer-poet Denise Chaila is redefining what it means to be a black, female Irish artist. After featuring on Limerick trio Rusangano Family’s 'Let The Dead Bury The Dead' album she released a two track EP that injected a breathe of fresh air into the Irish scene with its rallying lyrics (“don’t talk about female rap like I’m an extra in the scene), before releasing 'Go Bravely' at the start of the year.

Ireland has long had an issue with parts of the population asking questions such as “where are you really from?”, to people of African descent. Denise breathes a deep sigh of despair as she announces on ‘CHAILA’ a track that fixates its aim at those who won’t learn to pronounce her name properly.

Denise Chaila is flying the flag for black Irish identity and representation. (Andrew Moore)

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Hazey Haze

Also hailing from Limerick, Hazey Haze is one of the more recognisable faces from the PX Music crew thanks to his wizard beard and menacing demeanour. As part of PX Music, Hazey has been re-imagining his favourite transatlantic hip-hop rhythms through an anxiety-fuelled, working class lens, with tracks that mix the very best of traditional Irish music with his own unique take on hip-hop, referencing drug culture and social issues in an encapsulating, experimental blend.

One of Ireland’s most exciting free spirits, and one who – alongside his PX Music family – is redefining what it means to be an Irish hip-hop artist. (Andrew Moore)

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Limerick is fast becoming the creative capital of Ireland, if you hadn’t already guessed. Another artist residing in the Treaty City is Murli, who also forms Narolane Records alongside Denise Chaila and God Knows.

Murli’s latest offering – 'Til The Wheels Falls Off' ilustrates grime, hip-hop and footwork influence through an oxymoronic sense of control and looseness. A master of the craft, Murli flows through the record with lyrical finesse and importance; tackling issues of racism whilst refusing to conform to current contemporary trends and crafting a lane that is entirely his own.

However, the real beauty here is in collaboration. When Murli wins, so does Denise and God Knows. Collaboration is the reason that Limerick is standing tall with its chest out right now, and I can’t wait to see what comes next. (Andrew Moore)

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