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Let The Dead Bury The Dead
Rusangano Family’s debut album Let The Dead Bury The Dead, like most powerful art, relies upon themes that have been around ever since people began to record their feelings in the form of the written word. Everyone from Christy Moore to Tupac Shakur has described the immigrant experience and the many difficulties that come with it. However, it is quite novel to hear an Irish group sing about it and have the destination be Ireland itself rather than London or New York. It is a poor reflection on modern Irish society as a whole that – a generation on – the children who arrived here from countries that were war or famine torn are beginning to speak about their memories of arriving and growing up here, with much of it being reminiscent of songs like ‘Missing You’ or ‘City of Chicago’.
Lead single ‘Heathrow’ is perhaps the most powerful and best song on the album. A thumping beat and a shimmering guitar set the scene for lyrics which describe the dehumanising trip that many faced while trying to reach the UK and Ireland from places like Africa, Turkey and Lampedusa:
“No English, no clue/ Just dry skin on the Airbus,
took off in Lagos/ And only Europe can save us…
Silence in customs/ Just prayers in the bathrooms”
Togolese-born MuRli draws some fascinating parallels, describing himself as “looking out of place like Columbus did” and, indeed, in a country where almost everyone was white, arriving in Ireland as a person of colour in the late 90s and early 00s must have been very daunting. Even a normal teenage experience such as trying to talk to a girl is affected, with the meagre 20 Euro a week allowance granted by the state contributing to an overall lack of confidence: “my pocket is weak so no cash is my strategy”. Everything when put in this kind of position is a struggle, even if it is better than the alternative leaving entirely.
The other real highlight is the album’s second single, ‘Lights On’. More upbeat, it reflects a different, distinctly more Irish experience. Lyrically, it is an example of the group’s warm and clever sense of humour as MC God Knows takes off the opening bars from The Game’s (a musician who, himself, has frequently reworked other people’s verses) seminal 2005 track ‘Dreams’, by rapping:
“I landed in Ireland in 2001
Bout the same time Dre dropped 2001
Thirteen years later, the album’s done
Rusangano Family presents Non-National with a Attitude vol. 1″
It is more Irish in the sense that it tackles our society’s deep-rooted inferiority complex, particularly when it comes to things that are typically dominated by other nations: “Thought I had to be American, thought I had to be English…anything else but Irish”. Once again, the lyrics and the production – provided by DJ mynameisjOhn – are on point and one gets the sense that a more radio-friendly song such as this could be the key to the group getting the mainstream attention that they deserve.
Other highpoints include opening track ‘Kierkegaard’, the witty ‘Politricks’ and the funky ‘Bon Voyage’. The trio have an ability to seamlessly switch between genres and Let The Dead Bury The Dead is rich with references to different musical styles and artists, which keeps things from feeling too linear or samey. That said, they didn’t quite nail the balance and at times it can all feel a little unfocused. Spoken-word track ‘Isn’t Dinner Nice’ featuring Denise Chalia falls a little flat and feels tacked-on while some of the other interludes (‘We All Need a Break Sometimes’ and closer ‘Eyedentity’) feel skippable on repeat listens.
Let The Dead Bury The Dead has a lot going for it. It is vibrant, with excellent production and two artists who have huge potential. Already, ‘Lights On’ and ‘Heathrow’ feel like two of the strongest songs to ever come out of the Irish rap scene while this is also one of its most memorable albums. It is an area that we have underachieved in, particularly given the gigantic Irish contributions to traditional, folk, rock & roll and other musical styles that are often adopted by the working class and marginalised. Here’s hoping that the Rusangano Family leads the way for a new generation of Irish hip hop, with its own unique sense of identity. On the basis of this, such a movement is already off to a good start.