“I landed in Ireland in 2001…” It sounds like the opening to a novel, the start of a great adventure. Which it pretty much was – a tale that took in Shannon, Ennis and Limerick; that featured collectives and workshops, basketball and tape collecting; a narrative that ended up bringing three individuals together as one – Godknows, MuRli and mynameisjOhn. While Let The Dead Bury The Dead is technically a debut for the trio in this format, the acclaimed duo release that gave the band its name (the same word in different languages) and MuRli’s marvellous solo EP have brought us to this point.
And that point is surely one of the most electrifying, intelligent, thrilling and important records you’ll hear in 2016. It comes at a time when the idea of a homegrown hip-hop scene is being accepted as an entirely natural development rather than an anomaly – something for which the Rusangano Family can take a good deal of credit, certainly in light of all the international attention they’ve received of late. Yet while a number of artists working on the scene are clearly looking to what’s happening across the Atlantic right now, Let The Dead Bury The Dead finds inspiration both closer to home and in the history of those involved.
The tone is set right from the start with ‘Kierkegaard’. With Afrobeat guitars tumbling over grime influenced production and lyrics that take in Public Enemy, the Irish crowd being as old school as the Irish pound, family disappointment, Abba, meeting Ed Sheeran, Shabba Ranks and secondary school it’s almost the whole album in a nutshell. The musical bedrock is stunning throughout, fusing cultures and eras to such perfection that it has almost created a new genre. For the only member with a non-African background, mynameisjOhn has proved himself of a master of the traditional art. Not afraid to take chances, the record flows effortlessly and
His skills are the ideal foil for the two emcees, who make full use of inventive backdrop. The dynamic interaction of their live show is equally evident here, with vocal lines intertwining and darting in and out of the beats, the two different characters shining through. Yet, despite the impressiveness of the delivery, it’s what they say that is most memorable. Much of it is based on the personal experience of finding a new cultural identity in the modern Irish society, whether it be as a musician (“thought I had to be American, thought I had to be English, everything else but Irish”), staying in touch with your history (‘Losing My French’) or simply meeting parental expectations. It’s an interesting twist on the usual migration narrative, exploring the day to day rather than the wider picture.
That’s not to say that Rusangano Family can’t do big issues, as they also possess a political heart too often missing in today’s hip-hop. References to the matters of the day abound but none nail it as much as ‘Heathrow’, last year’s single that addressed the reasons and realities behind the headlines. If anyone needed the issue clarified for them, the closing lines make it crystal clear – “this is where history finds us, our history binds us. No blacks, no dogs, no Irish.” Throw in a stark essay on feminism courtesy of Denise Chaila (‘Isn’t Dinner Nice’) and you have a record that speaks with authority, empathy, passion and sense. It’s a feat – to balance the past and the present, the personal and the political – that proves a tough task for most, yet Let The Dead Bury The Dead manages it with ease. One of the greatest stories ever told.