Irish-born, Liverpool-based producer SertOne quizzes RUSANGANO FAMILY, the hip hop collective of Irish, Zimbabwean and Togolese descent, ahead of their Liverpool Irish Festival outing.
Without doubt, Ireland has had the single biggest influence on shaping the city of Liverpool. Centuries of migration have percolated and crystallised in the very essence of Scouse identity – Catholicism, the high value placed on family, and even the distinctive accent are lasting vestiges of a predominantly traditional Irish heritage. It is widely posited that over half of the city’s diaspora share in this Gaelic background. Liverpool Irish Festival aims to eulogise this unique and inextricable relationship with an eclectic curation of Irish culture, spanning 50 events across 10 days and 30 venues.
Time-honoured folk elements of ceilidh bands and bodhráns will of course be abundantly represented. But the primary focus of this year’s celebration is on how a younger generation, raised in rich cultural diversity, are developing movements both across the Irish Sea and in Liverpool. Festival Manager Laura Naylor believes that an exciting counter-culture is a characteristic inherent in both Liverpool and Ireland: “One of the powerful ties uniting Liverpool and Irish culture is pride, identity and a strong, politically-motivated counter-culture. When we think of Ireland we may have a very traditional picture in our minds, but that’s often not the same as what is emerging and what the younger generation is creating. The rich diversity in both Liverpool and Ireland has led to a migrant culture, a re-purposing of old traditions that are being reinvented and reworked. That’s how culture evolves and develops.”
Laura’s sentiments about the prevailing counter-culture are no better illustrated than by one of the festival’s headline performers, Rusangano Family. As a hip hop collective of Irish, Zimbabwean and Togolese descent, Rusangano Family represent the cutting edge of Ireland’s divergent creativity. Even their name – derived from the Bantu word for “togetherness” – suggests a refreshing new chapter of culture for a historically sectarian Republic.
Rusangano Family started as a collaboration between Shannon-based rapper God Knows and Ennis-raised beatsmith mynameisjOhn. The family was complete when Togo-born rapper MC MuRli was adopted into the fold. Together they have explored issues of identity and belonging through intense lyrical realism.
Their music is a heady fusion of well-sourced hip hop production and curiously grime-inspired vocals. They are renowned, too, for channelling this brilliantly transatlantic concoction into electrifying live performances. After a year filled with astonishingly high-profile support slots – which included playing alongside Snoop Dogg, Run The Jewels and Mercury winners Young Fathers – the trio are the must-see-act at this year’s Liverpool Irish Festival.
The show, which takes place on 17th October, features support from Liverpool’s own Irish connection: the astounding SERTONE. Heralded as one of Ireland’s most promising producer talents, SertOne is a maverick on his own terms. After moving to Liverpool, he co-founded Fly High Society, a label and artist collective that continues to reboot the credibility of UK electronic music. Tune into their brilliantly Brainfeeder-esque shenanigans at flyhighradio.org.
Since the Irish are predisposed to the gift of the gab – and in sheer anticipation of their Kazimier collaboration – we asked SertOne to quiz Rusangano Family on their formation, future and life back in the old country.
SertOne: Tell us how you got together to form the project and what you’ve done together since then?
God Knows: jOhn was part of a collective that used to host hip hop shows and electronic gigs in Limerick city. He booked us for a show back in 2011/2012, and straight off we had a lot of similar tastes in music, so it just made sense to link and make it a bigger, stronger unit. Since then, we’ve had two full releases and one single. The first was titled Rusangano Family and was released back in May 2014. Then MuRli’s Surface Tension came out earlier this year in January. For the last year, we’ve been busy bringing all our work under the umbrella title of Rusangano Family, and building our foundations to make something that can evolve quite easily but keeps that core sound and belief.
SertOne: When I moved to Liverpool, one of the ways I started building connections and friendships was through music and the music scene. Have you guys experienced anything similar?
MuRli: I arrived in Ireland at age 12, so African music and world music was what I was mainly influenced by, the music my folks listened to. I definitely didn’t know anyone in school in Limerick with any interest in that type of music back then but, because I was starting to listen to some RnB, a classmate soon put me onto hip hop, and that changed everything for me. Hip hop helped me connect with people in a different way, and that still continues to this day. In a sense, music gave me an identity, and because of that, it’s helped me adapt to my new environment here.
SertOne: Are there any acts you’d recommend to anyone who might not be so familiar with the contemporary Irish music scene?
mynameisjOhn: Right now, the bands who bang on our stereos the most are Melty Brains, Girl Band, Windings and Nanu Nanu. In terms of producers, Naive Ted is the absolute king, with Graeme S and T-woc always coming with fresh beats and ideas. There’s some really interesting African music starting to emerge in Dublin too, with acts like Mandem Express and the Ajo Arkestra. Big shouts to all the promoters doing good things, like Sim Simma, Southern Hospitality, Misha Freshin’ and Bap To The Future.
SertOne: What’s next for Rusangano Family then?
mynameisjOhn: We’ve been working on our debut album, which should be released in early 2016. It’s called Let The Dead Bury The Dead, and it’s not as dark as it sounds. Basically, it’s a concept that we’ve explored throughout the writing and recording process, trying to examine different attitudes from all sides and letting go of any anchors that stall your journey. We’re hoping to be able to create something that brings you deep into the world of Rusangano Family.