Poets and rappers of the spoken word breathe new life into Irish tradition | Ireland

The senchaithe were traditional Irish storytellers, traveling poets, artists and historians who traveled the island to feast the audience on ancient traditions.

They thrived for centuries, custodians of a rich oral tradition, before dying out in the age of radio and television, their charm broken, their services seemingly no longer needed.

Turns out that wasn’t the end of the story: the senchaithe are back. A new generation of poets, spoken word performers and rappers have emerged with tales for and about modern Ireland, creating a new oral tradition.

They perform on stage, on television and in the streets, pubs and clubs, some reaching huge audiences via social media and viral videos.

“There is definitely a renaissance. You can really see it all over town, ”said Cian O’Brien, artistic director of Project Arts Center Dublin. “It’s the younger generation trying to find a way to tell their stories in a way that is meaningful to them and their audience.”

Emmet Kirwan’s Old Dublin School. Photography: Ros Kavanagh / Culture Ireland

The spoken word artists electrified the audience, he said. “It brings an extraordinarily different audience to the building that we don’t normally have, which is young men. They are interested because they see themselves or see themselves representations of their life on stage.

The multiplying voices and places point to the source of Irish poetry which was to bring people together to hear stories, said Maureen Kennelly, director of Poetry Ireland, a non-profit organization supported by the Arts Councils of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

“It’s absolutely real. Any night out in Dublin, you’ll find an open mic night or a slam night with energetic participation and no shortage of artists. ”

In addition to festivals and concerts, spoken word artists are invited to speak on sporting and political events and to participate in television talk shows. Unlike the old senchai who often served Gaelic leaders, however, the new generation often berates and denounces Irish rulers.

Under a booming economy and social liberalization, some see a venal and unequal society ruled by hypocrites.

” Since [2008] crash, a slew of poets are more dissenting. They are suspicious of the government, of old structures, ”said Emmet Kirwan, 38, writer, actor and social activist. “It has become much more political – class struggle, deprivation, poverty. There is an anger, an articulated rage.

Monologues titled Heartbreak and I just say performed by Kirwan, crude and lyrical emergency exhibitions filmed in the streets of Dublin, have racked up hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube and made him a revered figure of young artists.

The skyrocketing GDP growth, gay taoiseach, and referendums legalizing same-sex marriage and abortion make foreigners feel like a wealthy and enlightened country, but political elites pamper bankers and big techs while ordinary people are experiencing a housing crisis and a dysfunctional health system, Kirwan said.

“Poetry is the new medium that gives voice to the voiceless. Poetry is our version of the Paris riots. Young people here don’t burn cars, they write poems, they bring rhythm and energy to the political turmoil.

Stephen James Smith in Dublin.
Stephen James Smith has a new book of poems called Fear Not. Photography: Rory Carroll for The Guardian

Stephen james smith, 36, a leading spoken word artist, recently published a book of poetry called Fear Not, has completed a tour of Britain and Ireland and has a huge fan base – but can barely afford rents in Dublin, so surf with friends.

“We must see beyond the [government’s] RP. For a small nation, we could probably do more with the resources we have. If you are given a platform, you should use it.

The muse is not always political. Smith, who is on an American college program, is just as likely to write about family, scenery, sex, bus rides, and mental health. A recent poem concerns a Portuguese custard tart.

A Poetry Ireland Review editorial by the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, Eavan Boland, praises the “democratic brilliance” of artists who have broadened the meaning of who is a poet, who can be a poet, and who looks like a poet. “The new energies have arrived at the threshold of an old art,” he said.

Rap and hip-hop in particular have shaken up the image of Irish storytelling with artists like Mango and Versatile, hailing from the working class of North Dublin, and Rejjie Snow, Celaviedmai and Jafaris, children of immigrants to Africa and the Caribbean.

Outsiders take note that the land of Yeats, Joyce and Heaney is producing a new type of blacksmith. A New York Times headline this year marveled at “hip-hop with Irish accents”.

At the end of January, the Barbican Center in London will host a concert of lyrics and music exploring Irish life in England, the latest event of GB18, a yearlong focus on Irish arts in Britain sponsored by Culture Ireland.

Felicia Olusanya on stage.
Felicia Olusanya on stage. Photography: Culture Ireland

Unlike Gaelic senchaithe, which have spun out folk tales, the modern variations tend to be more personal.

Felicia Olusanya, 22, a Nigerian-born spoken word performer who spent her teenage years in County Longford, said her themes were growing up and experiencing life.

“There is a nudity that I feel every time I take the stage. There is a rawness. I can tell the truth to my audience and to myself.

Olusanya, who performs as Felispeaks, began performing after attending a poetry slam event at Maynooth University in County Kildare.

Self-expression on social media, even Twitter, inspired her, she said. “Conversations bring up subjects, ideas. It’s like a gas pump, a brain pump.

She performed on behalf of the campaign for the legalization of abortion and recently co-wrote a play about the coming of age of a Nigerian man.

“I appreciate the duality of being Nigerian and Irish because storytelling is important to both traditions. This is how we share secrets, this is how we comfort each other.

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