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A lot of modern music in the Irish language is either covers or else “a bit gimmicky”, says Jack Delaney, sat in the Old Stand Pub on Exchequer Street on a recent Monday night.
There is very little original, modern, Irish-language music being made, Delaney says, with the notable exception of a Belfast hip-hop duo Kneecap.
“Why haven’t we got up-to-date modern music? Why does it have to be part of reviving Gaelic culture?” he asks.
Earlier this week, he released a music video of “Coincréit Fhuar” (“Cold Concrete”), an “electro-pop” song with lyrics in Irish.
It’s the first release in a project that he says will run all year. He’s planning 10 tracks in total, all exploring the theme of deoraí – the exile or outsider, he says.
Delaney plays traditional music, has backed Damien Dempsey, and can sing a bit of sean-nós if he wants to.
But he is also a house-music DJ and wants to break Irish-language songs out of their usual genres.
“I do enjoy the traditional Irish culture, but if you look at other countries, they are using their own languages for modern music too,” he says.
The Deoraí project is mostly Delaney, who plays piano and guitar, and also can switch hats between songwriter, singer, and producer.
But it is also a collaboration with other Irish speakers, including influencer and Irish-language speaker Petrolrose. A later tune will feature his friend the actor John Connors, Delaney says.
“If people do speak Irish, they have the freedom to use it in modern music. The only thing stopping you is precedent,” he says.
His main influence? Kate Bush, he says. “I like Kate Bush, Björk, Peter Gabriel, Talking Heads. I like stuff that is a little bit wacky,” he says, talking with his hands.
As this debut release attests to, Delaney has an interest in examining social issues in his music. Current housing policy, the government’s Rebuilding Ireland plan, reminds him of the Thatcher-era in the UK, he says.
“Coincréit Fhuar” is about the feelings of a man who suddenly finds himself homeless on the streets of Dublin.
It kicks off with a short poem, written by Delaney. Unaccompanied, he recites it slowly, intensely, deliberately.
It has something of an ancient sound, he says – it’s in a metre, a form of poetry with strict rhythmic rules employed by bards of old.
“It was just a little artistic challenge,” he says, laughing.
In “Coincréit Fhuar”, he is “trying to get into the mind of a person who suddenly finds himself homeless”, he says. His new environment is made of cold concrete.
The video was filmed by Conan Brophy and features Delaney as a homeless man in Dublin, including on Suffolk Street, Nassau Street, and walking along the Liffey. The tune is upbeat, the theme is sad.
“It is not purely depressing. At the end of the video he has gone completely downhill and is thinking about killing himself,” says Delaney. “But he decides to put up a fight instead.”
Of the 10 songs planned as part of the Deoraí project, most are in Irish, he says. Most have been recorded, but a few still need to be mastered.
Delaney wants to make a video for each of them, so he’ll be releasing them over the coming year, he says.
The next one is dark, too – about a woman who has spent her whole life under the control of a psychopath and is now escaping from him, he says.
Delaney says he’s had a lot of interest in Irish-language media already. The Irish-speaking community has been supportive too.
But he is hoping to reach an even wider audience. “I don’t want to be insular, I think regular radio DJs, if they like it they should play it,” he says.
Irish – and More …
Delaney says that having a bit of an obsessive streak came in handy when he decided to learn Irish at the age of 26. “I get obsessed with things, if I was into drugs it would be an awful thing,” he says.
He missed a lot of Irish because he went to secondary school in England. “I just really wanted to learn it. At one stage I was really focused on it,” he says. “Then when you get fluent you can coast by.”
He picked it up quickly, he says. It took him about a year of studying 20 minutes a day, five days a week, to be able to speak. “It was about two years when I was able to just sit there and be fully confident,” he says.
He doesn’t have fond memories from learning languages in schools. The methodology seemed to involve shaming kids for what they didn’t know, he says. “That is madness. I did French in school and I don’t understand any French.”
Learning Irish has made it easier to pick up other languages, he reckons.
“When you become fluent in a language, it changes,” he says. “I live in an area where it is mostly Brazilians now, and I’ve picked up some Portuguese from my friends.”
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