Immersing himself in the 80s for his role as Ngig in the recent film Sing Street, Percy Chamburuka has now experienced a slice of Irish culture across two generations. The young musician, under the name Jafaris, is one of the most promising voices on Ireland’s blossoming hip hop landscape, but he feels the heavy weight of expectation to stay on home soil, to maintain the momentum.
Creative people leaving these shores has of course been a problem for Ireland’s art scene for decades.
On a Dart journey out to Dalkey for a photo shoot, Percy discusses societal changes in Ireland since the 80s, tackling the mass emigration of Irish artists, and the rocky road to find his purpose.
You said in a recent interview that you wanted to stay in Ireland to ‘help carry it’, is that pride important to you?
I feel like it’s important because I’m told it’s important. I do feel at home in Ireland because I’ve lived here for such a long time, but it feels like the music I’m making is bigger than just repping a country or postcode. I’m trying to change the whole world, not just shed light on what’s going on in Ireland.
All of that stuff is pressure to be honest. People always say, ‘you’re not going to leave Ireland, are you? You should stay here and use the Irish accent in songs…’. I just want to make music and be comfortable doing so.
That’s interesting you say that, but in saying that no one ever sees a movement happening in front of them. It’s only looking back. Like grime in the UK. I feel like there’s something long-lasting is bubbling right now, maybe that’s why you feel that pressure?
Ireland is getting to that where people are trying to figure out who’s going to pop off next. Everybody is trying to get people to open the door so we can all run in. Rejjie Snow tried to do that, but he kept moving. Now it feels like more and more bigger acts are coming to Ireland, and more people are watching what the artists here are doing.
We just need more people to keep pushing that door open. That’s where the pressure comes in though, I remember when Hare Squead got signed everyone was asking me why I wasn’t signed. It’s not my time yet, everyone’s got their time. Everyone was pointing at me saying, ‘you’re next’, but who knows?
You mention Rejjie moving on, which is what a lot of artists do, but how do you stop that exodus from Ireland from happening?
I think it’s a mind set thing, it’s trying to find the balance of work and where you want to live. It’s down to preference. I’d be the type of person who would want to move away to England or America, when I’m in the position to do that, that could be me. If I can find a way to go there, do what I do, and still come back say Ireland is my home.
Saying that, if the scene pops off here people will want to stay, and that should be the true goal.
I don’t want to talk about your roll as N’gig in Sing Street too much, because I know you’ve probably been asked about it 100 times. But I was curious, it being a period film set in the 80s, how do you feel Ireland has changed musically and culturally since then?
It’s like a different world. I didn’t do as much research as I should have done, but from what I did learn there’s been drastic changes here. Even me being the only black person in the movie showed that the whole race thing was still an issue. It wasn’t normal for people to see a person of colour back then.
In terms of music, now black people are being played on radio, Rusangano Family won album of the year at the Choice Music Prize, that’s groundbreaking.