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“I have other reasons to get out of bed, and they are probably less selfish and more worthy, but for whatever reason I can’t shake music.”
Tumult is necessary for true existence.
Or perhaps it’s only necessary to give context to moments of tranquillity, in order to be the antonym to bliss.
For Shookrah, the Cork-based band with a unique soulful sound, you’d imagine the endeavour to continue in the same vein which saw them included in a 50 to Watch in 2018 list by the Irish Times would have an undercurrent of bliss. However, as with all creatively-in- clined people in Ireland, tumult tags along for the ride.
Shookrah’s ride, or more specifically the ride of lead singer Senita Appiakorang, is unlike most. Appiakorang cites “being raised in Post-Apartheid South Africa, moving to Ireland and living in direct provision for a short time, before finally settling into rural living in south Kerry with a foster family” as the inspiration behind her musical creativity.
She has found a degree of organisation in West Ireland, “a better appreciation of order, chaos and that middle discordance between the two”. However, tumult still exists.
Drummer Emmet O’Riabhaigh describes Shookrah as being a luxurious, isolated R&B yacht, anchored in Cork, trying to call for help to “the eye of the storm that is Dublin”. Both O’Riabhaigh and Appiakorang, along with synth player Diarmait Mac Cárthaigh, glowingly talk about Cork and its effect on the band. Mac Cárthaigh cites the “cross-pollination” of Corkonian bands as being beneficial to Shookrah’s sonic development. This is a sound which meanders through genres seamlessly, arriving at an R&B, soul hotel where all of the influences sleep soundly. But reaching this juncture was anything but seamless.
The band had to mutate in order to develop, with bassists coming and going, the arrival of Mac Cárthaigh on keys, and the removal of saxophonists and vocalists necessary in order for Shookrah’s exponential growth to continue. Appiakorang states that with every development, there has been a sense of definition as to what Shookrah’s sound is, or at the very least an education on what the band doesn’t want to repeat.
“Our biggest challenge and focus in writing tunes comes from marrying our respective notions of where the sweet spot lays,” she explains. “It’s a balancing act, but I think we’ve represented ourselves and all the influences we’re most stirred by well on the album.”
Even when things fall into a positive groove, there’s still recognition that more can be done. “Classic amateur mistakes of throwing too many ideas and sounds together in one song, not having a coherent arrangement, and arrangements that are too dense and chaotic” are all issues, according to O’Riabhaigh, that Shookrah have overcome to be where they are today. Appiakorang thinks the band’s now natural flow is satisfying, but only to a point. Often, they’ll revisit music to work out the kinks, revising material and trying to “shape it up a bit better”.
“I wouldn’t say we could even agree on one solid definition of what our sound is or what it will stay, so we generally bate the tunes into shape based on what we don’t want it to sound like and what feels right at the time.”
Regardless of the blanket agreement on their overriding sound, there’s universality in opinion over the difficulties involved in being independent musicians. Save from getting the group together for writing and rehearsal, which according to O’Riabhaigh is the “easy part”, the true difficulties for Shookrah lay behind the scenes.
“No one sets you up for the time dedicated to being your own secretary, but it’s part and parcel and you could literally spend your whole day doing it”, Appiakorang tells me of the necessary admin duties required to manage the group.
Shookrah, according to O’Riabhaigh, are “in that little painful sweet spot” where they don’t have, and perhaps don’t need, a manager. However, “organising things and trying to get this album done could be a full-time job for at least one of the members”.
The DIY aspects of band management means more time spent away from creative pursuits. Coupled with, in O’Riabhaigh’s words, “little to zero actual music industry opportunities within Cork”, they’d be forgiven in seeking pastures new in order to turn Shookrah into a full-time job.Yet, they find themselves staying and thriving in Ireland, more specifically in Cork.
“It’s helpful to live in a country where music is very much part of the culture and it’s not so uncommon or shameful to be a musician,” Mac Cárthaigh says. Appiakorang echoes his sentiment, although recognises the environment wasn’t always as healthy.
“Five years ago, I would have said that Ireland somewhat suffered from a stifling level of self-deprecation that forces people to try and do well abroad to get the validation they deserve from their home crowd. Nowadays I think the opposite is the truth.
“Ireland’s musical landscape has drastically changed from when we started as Moustache Latte. There was a general disbelief that Irish music could hold up against the international main players that we typically hear on the radio, never to mind if you’re an indie artist. However, the sheer volume of artists emerging from Ireland in the last couple of years, the calibre and the audacity with which folks are doing so across all artistic disciplines is challenging our preconceptions of what we’re capable of both locally and internationally.
“I think we’re creating a cultural shift, and more opportunities to thrive in Ireland in varied ways. What’s more, we’re asserting for anyone who doubts that Ireland is a fruitful place to invest in culturally. The output stands out and there is a demand for it.” Unfortunately being in a successful band like Shookrah isn’t enough to pay the bills in Ireland. All members are tied to work, study or working with other bands to make money. But Appiakorang is defiant, as is O’Riabhaigh, who tells me the six-piece is what keeps him “interested in being alive”.
“Most other things are pretty shit and getting shittier as you grow up. Jobs are crap yokes completely. It’s a good thing they pay money, because I probably wouldn’t bother working for a company for free, that would be rubbish. Some people are lucky enough to love their jobs as much as I love being in this band and I envy them quite a lot.”
Appiakorang chimes in.
“I have other reasons to get out of bed, and they are probably less selfish and more worthy, but for whatever reason I can’t shake music. But on a practical note, there may be a day that I have to stop, and I want to feel that I gave it my best shot and experienced what I wanted to in doing so, and maybe someone out there would have felt something good for me doing it.”
She recognises that this continual chasing of aspirations means sacrifice in other parts of life. On ‘Reign On’ and ‘Our Own Way’, Appiakorang sings about family and she acknowledges that time spent with relatives has had to sometimes take a backseat.
“My family are super supportive and patient with me, given the level of time that I spend with the band and doing things revolved around the band. It really is no joke that relationships with artist types are trouble, because it’s a hard thing to navigate how to make the right kind of time for your ‘vocation’ and your oldest companions.
“What happens when there’s a natural shift in familial life as you reconcile that your loved ones won’t always be around in the ways they were? How do you nurture those relations and what are the commitments you take on in doing so, or what acceptances do you make in surrendering to change? I like to study how my familial ties contribute to how I relate to folks at large.”
These sacrifices combine to make Shookrah the band they are today. The tumult which may touch elements of the group hasn’t stopped the drive to create and continually improve.
From beginning as the ‘“love child of a bunch of Cork young ones in the same social scene, trying to find their voice” right up to the present, the group remains the love child of its members combined. And like with any offspring, there is tribulation which must be contended with but the love always remains.
Shookrah, are Ireland’s luxury R&B yacht and now that the waters are looking calmer, the future is exclusively bright.
Words: Sean Meehan / Photography: George Voronov
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