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Jamz Supernova & Sim Simma on the evolving Irish identity

Words: Dylan Murphy
Photo: @Sarah Harry Isaacs

Words: Dylan Murphy
Photo: @Sarah Harry Isaacs

Ahead of her all-Irish special on BBC Radio 1Xtra, Jamz Supernova spoke to party thrower and Sim Simma label head honcho Tadhg Byrne about Ireland’s evolving identity and how it is contributing to a golden age for music from the island.

It’s no secret that the hip hop scene in Ireland is having a moment. While we’ve always had rappers trading bars and producers providing their take on J Dilla’s brand of dusty, pulsing boom-bap in modest numbers since the late 80s and early 90s, the quality and quantity of music being produced right now is like nothing seen before.

The likes of Scary Eire, Rob Kelly and the Working Class Records crew laid down the foundations for the sound in Ireland and coupled with global innovations around technology and an increasingly diverse population at home, it’s resulted in a flurry of DIY upstarts pulling inspiration from sounds across the globe.

It’s not just rappers like Rejjie Snow and Hare Squead that are making serious moves. Whether it’s RnB, Afrobeat or Dancehall, success is being found across a myriad of sounds that are bleeding into each other, defying categorisation and putting Ireland on the map.

BBC R1Xtra DJ, label head of Future Bounce and tastemaker Jamz Supernova has been following the scene in Ireland closely and she routinely uses her platform to highlight a huge array of artists from the scene on her shows. With roots in Jamaica and County Mayo, she is keen to tap into the culture and explore the unique developments that are pushing artists like Monjola, Aby Coulibaly, Cosha and more to the forefront of modern music.

Following her cover feature in DJ Mag, the success of her Essential Mix for BBC Radio 1, starting a show on BBC Radio 6 and in between releasing her Future Bounce Club Series Compilation and launching her brand new podcast ‘DIY Handbook’, Jamz made time to speak to the Tadhg Byrne, head honcho of Sim Simma, one of Ireland’s foremost music trailblazers.

Ahead of her all Irish show on BBC R1Xtra, the pair spoke about identity, accents and Ireland’s connection to Jamaica. Head to the bottom for a specially curated playlist from Jamz featuring artists on Tonight’s show which kicks off at 21.00.

DISTRICT: What compelled you to do an irish based show on 1xtra?

Jamz: Over the years I’d noticed I’d been playing more and more artists from Ireland and that was exciting to me. My grandma is from Ireland. That identity in my family has always been special to us.

Tadhg: What part of Ireland?

Jamz: Mayo! I’ve never been which is obviously blasphemous [Laughs] It’s something I want to explore further, so I thought I’d start with a radio show as that is the medium that I know best. Especially at the moment with the black artists from Ireland being at the forefront which feels exciting. Cause I remember seeing Rejjie Snow, I remember working at the BBC and I remember thinking, naively – this was ten years ago – I just didn’t think there were black people in Ireland. He sort of came through and was quite a lone figure for a while but now there’s so many artists.

Tadhg: Rejjie is super young, he went to my school, I’m 31 now, he was six years younger than me and he had just started before he went to America at that time because he was a really good footballer. That was the first big moment to feel that someone like Rejjie getting signed to 300 Entertainment was mind-blowing for Ireland at the time.

For a long time, there was a debate about the accent and that was something Ireland had to grow out of because people sound all sorts of accents. So many people I work with have their accent and that’s how it is, it can just come from their surroundings, family and other things.

Jamz: Do you think we (UK)  haven’t been exposed to as many different Irish dialects, so in our head we have one way of speaking Irish?

Tadhg: For real. If you want to jump into a really extreme one, you could listen to Kerry accents. I think it’s one of the faster dialects in English. I’ve never heard of a faster one. There’s still moments when I can’t understand what people are saying [laughing].

Sim Simma

Jamz: I wanted to start with you and Sim Simma, how did it start? Because I came across you guys online and that’s the night I want to play and the night most closely aligned with me.

Tadhg: That started as a return from some of the club nights I used to run. I’ve been doing club promotion for ten plus years. Doing all kind of nights it kind of brought me to a realisation five or six years ago that what I really wanted to do is create a free party on a Sunday. One that is in a small setting, in a room dedicated to promoting black music for all kinds of people who want to just be in that room in a safe space and enjoy themselves and that took away a lot of the things I didn’t like about working in clubs.

It gave me the purest form of enjoyment. We would go in every day, carry up the sound system, the DJs were only getting paid a couple of hundred quid a week to do it. Everything about it was love. We started out without promotion and it quickly came to a point where people were turning up before 6 pm and hung out in the room whilst I’m moving the sound system upstairs.

Very quickly it became a safe space to enjoy yourself, we made booze especially cheap on that day, you were allowed to smoke weed in there because technically it was the smoking area of the old Twisted Pepper. We very quickly realized that we could get away with things that you normally couldn’t on a very student dominated night space on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday. Sunday gave us a lot of leeway to do it the exact way we wanted to – selling cans of red stripe for three euro rather than the usual ‘here’s a drinks menu with 10 for 3’. The people that went became part of everything we did on the night it really was a family.

The people that went became part of everything we did on the night it really was a family

Tadhg Byrne

Jamz: I love how you put at the forefront of it was building a community and safe space and making it accessible. It feels like the parties that anyone can go to in the Caribbean. I can speak about Jamaica, going to a party on a Sunday, Wednesday or a Monday that is probably taking place in a car park and there are vendors it’s just about hearing music it’s not about how people can make money.

Tadhg: I was young, I was 18/19 working with promoters 10 years older than me that were like ‘this is how you do it’ ‘you book the big artists and rinse money out of 2/300 kids that love that DJ’. You feel as though there’s no real connection there in the same way that you could explore this further.

At a certain point I was like I don’t wanna do it like this. I’ve had my fill of it.

Moving forward I want to get down to what I feel it should all be about. It was shockingly easy to promote a night before promoting a night was going through so many Facebook invitations when Facebook was big back then. Constantly badgering Student Union’s and always trying to get new people to come. This was a way I didn’t have to worry about any of that. It was really just a way of catering to 50 people who loved it every week. They’d tell their friends, we didn’t really need to promote that, people just did that by themselves.

It made sense when you connect with people like that you don’t need to put yourself out so much you can just focus on what you want to do, people will listen to it and go to it.

Club Comfort Carnival 2019. Photo by Katie O’Neill @oneillkt247

Jamz: What about specifically focusing on black music and music from the black diaspora, with sound system culture being at the forefront. Was there an audience and an appetite that readily wanted that, did you know there was a gap in the market?

Tadhg: In some ways, there was a gap, but knowing where I got my fix of it as well, there are some really incredible, old sound systems in Ireland. I’ll have to give shoutouts to the big three. Dublin has Firehouse Skank and Galway has Rootical Soundsystem and Cork has Revelation. Those three main ones, even 20/30 years ago they got inspired by the first time channel one and Jah Shaka visited. Since then they built sound systems themselves, they connected with Channel One and Jah Shaka and talked about where they were getting the gear from, how are we building it.

Engineers got involved and they sent parts from England to Ireland to help set it up. After a while, it felt like as I was growing up as a teenager and I knew there was one dancehall night in Dublin, ‘Worries Outernational’ in the Button Factory it was one of the longest-running club nights in Ireland.

I realised there was nowhere else that I was getting to go to see it. Me and a couple of my friends who have always loved this would go there, it felt like a niche crowd and a small community that went religiously. There was a feeling that there was a scene, but it feels completely underrepresented and it felt very young.

There was only one age there’s not a generational feeling of this is passed over such a long period of time. The passion is probably what pulled it through in the 2000s. Eventually, younger crews like myself and a few others tried to run with it and go as far as we can and now it has coincided with a big generational shift in a lot of different artists now making all kinds of music coming from the African diaspora particularly Nigeria.

There has always been a large crowd of Nigerians living here for a long time and now it’s kids growing up for the first time exploring music, being so creative and pushing what we are doing in Ireland to new levels and it is so exciting.

Jamz: You guys are really behind Denise Chaila and I think she is amazing and a real superstar. Why do you think there was such a backlash to her about who is Irish and who is not?

Tadhg: It’s a weird one cause it feels like it is only online, I know there are so many examples of that where it feels like there is someone with 100 Twitter accounts and is really pissed off about something. When it comes from an area that’s purely hate. It feels like there is not much of a possibility to engage, especially somewhere like Twitter it’s impossible. If it was real life I’m sure they’d have something else to say, but I’m still convinced a lot of it is when someone is behind a screen. I think to try and understand the psyche of where it comes from.

Even happened with Rejjie’s first single about 8 years ago, people were curious as to why he sounded like MF DOOM as opposed to rapping like he is from Dublin. It became a thing about identity and it wasn’t to say that there wasn’t hip hop being made in Dublin accents. There’s the Working-class Record Crew, Rob Kelly, there were still people making hip hop music, it wasn’t like there was a lack of it.

I think it was just about ‘why does something have to sound like this?’ I remember at the time, TY, Roots Manuva, London posse, early in the UK in terms of hip hop I feel like there might have been an element as well of trying to sound American and for the first time, there was a whole generation saying ‘ok we’re not doing that were moving into a sound and this is what our sound is’. Whether it is for artistic merit that we wanna sound in a certain way, but we also wanna show people we are from London or Birmingham and we speak in a certain dialect.

If you are being honest you are being honest. I think Irish hip hop especially being still in the early stages naturally it went through  teething periods of  understanding ‘what do I do if I’m put in front of a microphone?’ ‘what do I want to sound like?’. I even hear, not even just in hip hop circles, when people have singing voices, do people just want to sound like they are from their local town or from a city or do they want to give it a universal accent that more people can relate to?

I think you got to be honest with yourself. Why are you listening to it, why do you like it? What is your reason behind it?

Tadhg Byrne

Jamz: I guess for you guys, with Sim Simma, which is such an important hub both physically and digitally, I feel like what you do is so important – to bring that music and to shine a light and serve a community but also bring in new people and introduce it. How do you tow a line of cultural appropriation ?

Tadhg: it’s always in your mind, it’s not something you want to take advantage of. Because you are putting yourself in a space that is not yours to begin with. You are moving as fans as appreciator, not appropriator. You need to understand what you are doing. There are so many terrible examples of people that talk a good game but their actions don’t back it up. I think you got to be honest with yourself. Why are you listening to it, why do you like it? What is your reason behind it? Or could it be a personal gain, do you want the spotlight or do you want to impress someone else? I think you live by examples. 

If you are thinking about it in the right way and are giving people the right light, it’s not about me, why would I want to make about it me. Because it is actions, not words that make a difference. Sim Simma was a great example for that. Making it free, also filtering it to about what I really love about club nights… if you don’t like reggae music or dance hall then you probably aren’t going to love this club night. It’s not like most clubs nights… Everyone knows what this is. If you aren’t a big fan you aren’t going to want to go… Even working with all the different communities, like the Brazilian community, Jamaican community and Nigerian community. The proof was seeing everyone coming together in the room…

It almost feels like it’s to the point where it isn’t hip hop anymore it’s going in a completely new direction.

Tadhg Byrne

Jamz: What do you feel like the future of Irish music is, knowing generationally what we’ve been through and then thinking about the next 20 years.

Tadhg:  There’s beginning to be a real shift about letting artists do whatever they want. They don’t have to sound a certain way, this goes for every genre, its no longer this space where you are a grime mc you have to make grime music – that ship has sailed. Now people are making what they wanna make, you can stick to it or can make what you want.

Knowing what we’re making a the moment, what god knows is making, what Breezy is making, what Denise is making there’s a lot of different things going on. There’s a lot of different music being added to this bowl of Irish hip hop. It almost feels like it’s to the point where it isn’t hip hop anymore it’s going in a completely new direction. It’s funny cause I want to go back a little bit, there’s a crazy video, I was talking to my friend mick who is part of Firehouse Sound System. Back in the 2000s, he was doing a show with Eek A Mousemouse. Eek A Mouse was doing a tour and he had just finished in Cork and it was his 50th birthday and they were in the pub having drinks.

There’s a regular weekly trad session every Sunday in the pub and Mick recorded 6 and a half minutes of Eek A Mouse freestyling ‘Wa Do Dem’ and ‘Ganja Smuggling’ over Irish trad musicians. If that was 20 years ago and then where we are at now and then where will we be in another 20 years ?! It feels like it’s exciting to see… before I don’t think there was any conception of what MCs are going to be making over the next few decades and now the world is open. I can’t even imagine where we will go in the next twenty years, it’ll be creative for sure.

Tune into Jamz Supernova’s all Irish special on BBC R1Xtra at 21.00 tonight.

Listen below to a specially curated playlist from Jamz Supernova ahead of her all Irish special tonight on BBC Radio 1Xtra:

This interview was edited for clarity.

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