Toe-tapping and Kneecapping
A Letter from Ireland
When I am on leave, I like to get away from politics. Greg from Friends of Sinn Féin USA knows me and my love of all kinds of music. He bought me a copy of the brilliant, “Please Kill Me”, an oral history of punk rock by Legs McNeill and Gillian McCain, and I've been reading it while away. Music has no respect for borders. The first album I bought was, “Elvis, the Sun Collection”. Bought from a record shop on Andersonstown Road in West Belfast. That Christmas I got “Parallel Lines” by Blondie. Memphis and New York were worlds away, but the music made them home. I was going to write about music and avoid politics this week, but then events intervened. A band from West Belfast, called Kneecap played at the weekend as part of Féile an Phobail in the Falls Park. They are a rap band that moves effortlessly between Irish and English. Driven by a more dance than a hip-hop beat, they are incredible live. In the best tradition of a new musical generation, they are provocateurs. Named after a type of punishment shooting during the times of conflict. Their songs are a hyper-reality of growing up Irish in a post-conflict and imperfect Belfast in a state where some refuse to acknowledge the rights of Irish speakers. Sometimes challenging, sometimes funny, and always entertaining, they speak not for my generation but their own.
The reaction from unionists’ political leaders and the establishment was shock and horror. A rap group complaining about policing in Irish. An uncompromising band asserting their identity while laughing at the status quo!? Yes some of their lyrics are offensive with
references to drug taking, but it is hardly the end of civilization. It is young people finding their voice. It’s punk, it’s rap, its rock and roll. It was the same for Elvis moving his hips in Memphis, Iggy and the Stooges stalking the stage in Detroit, Blondie bringing the new wave to CBGBs or The Ramones selling more T-Shirts than records. Civilization did not end with NWA. Thirty years later they were the subject of a bio-pic.
I may not agree with all that they say, and that’s OK. I can enjoy them without fully understanding what it means to be young in Belfast. The Belfast I grew up in is gone. I remember playing the Pogues for an old aunt of mine who said they sounded like, “a drunk céilí on wet Wednesday night”. Which always seemed about right, playing for themselves as if no one was listening. As the old ballad goes, “Let the people sing”. The kids will be alright. Have a great weekend and take the time to play some loud music. Is mise,
Ciarán Quinn is the Sinn Féin Representative to North America. Each week he writes a letter from Ireland with news and analysis. It is featured in the weekly Friends of Sinn Féin USA Newsletter. Be sure you are subscribed to stay up to date.