If Dessa is experiencing a degree of culture shock, you wouldn’t blame her. Part of the Doomtree collective, she’s rightly acclaimed in alternative hip-hop circles both in those terms and as a solo artist. Yet here she is, on her Irish debut, in a small venue next door to a room where a bunch of people are watching some men run around after a ball in thick fog, having to finish at 11pm sharp so the salsa night can start and plugging in her hair straighteners in the bar area as the audience gather. Such is the life of a DIY artist, however, and it all adds to the richness of the experience.
Indeed her visit to the capital has come about thanks to the persistence of Anti-One, who not only delivers a raging set tonight in complete contrast to his excellent yet restrained new EP but is also co-promoting the show. Thank goodness for that sense of purpose, because he and all involved have delivered and then some. Performing as a duo alongside Aby Wolf (back on stage after her charming opening turn), there’s greater emphasis on the spoken word and rap side of Dessa’s repertoire but in truth this is a masterclass in performance of any genre. Drawing in the curious observers – including, strangely enough, actress Sally Phillips – with her warmth and wit, as well as bonding with the adoring folk at the front, we are soon united as one under her leadership. She may dismiss her material as a bunch of “maudlin rap songs”, but Dessa delivers a hip-hop show quite like no other. It’s the sense of community and joy that does it really, concepts thrown into even sharper relief when we later discover what’s been happening elsewhere in the world.
With the crowd’s reaction mirrored by the two performers on stage, the vow to bring the entire Doomtree troupe back time is the icing on the cake. They’re not needed tonight, though, for this is more than enough. Negating the flashing disco lights by getting the audience to shine their phones’ lights, they finish with a spoken word piece that leads into a beautiful unaccompanied version of ‘Hallelujah’. It’s an appropriate ending, for we all feel thankful at being here, to have been part of something so special. Nights like this don’t come along that often, treasure them when they do,