You may have seen that there was some controversy a few weeks ago when the band Kneecap unveiled a new mural in West Belfast.
The mural shows a PSNI Land Rover on fire and says ‘níl fáilte roimh an RUC’ meaning ‘The RUC are not welcome’ and was unveiled just before the band performed in front of thousands of people at the Féile An Phobail in Belfast, a community arts event , played festival. There was an immediate backlash.
The Minister for Justice for Northern Ireland and Head of the Alliance Part, MLA Naomi Long, tweeted: “Normalising/condoning violence, trying to cause injury/offence is not the way to build a better future for us all.” Doug Beattie, Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, said the mural fueled hatred and “nurtured a new generation of young people with insidious messages”.
Countless citizens expressed their displeasure on social media. Kneecap responded with a screenshot of the band, which trended on Twitter, and tweeted, “GRMA to the DUP and all our loyal supporters.”
I can understand why people are upset. The affairs of sectarianism in Northern Ireland and the general political landscape are still very delicate. People’s feelings about these matters are understandably intense. However, I had to wonder if they had ever heard the Kneecap boys speak or listened to a song.
The trio, consisting of Mo Chara and Móglai Bap from Belfast and DJ Próvaí from Derry, have been making music since 2017. It’s hip-hop Irish, and it’s unique.
She describes her website as “a fusion of Irish with English, satire with socially conscious lyrics and reality with absurdity”. They say their voice “comes screaming from the too often disadvantaged areas of Northern Ireland and speaks in a language too often ignored”.
Having followed the band for several years, this description seems accurate to me. Their lyrics and performances are said to be satirical, a ‘caricature of life in West Belfast’ for young people, as they described it when they appealed a ban on Raidió na Gaeltachta.
In other words, they don’t literally want people setting police cars on fire, but the mural reflects a disconnect between young people and the police (a disconnect well supported by research).
There is no question that thousands of young Irish people feel connected and represented by the common sentiments underlying Kneecap’s music. I’ve been going to Electric Picnic for 16 years and I’m not sure I’ve ever felt the kind of energy in a tent that there was at the band’s performance in Rankins Wood last Saturday.
The place was crowded as people stood well over the edge of the tent to join the party. Thousands of people knocked along Get your Brits out and CEARTA. as Kneecap whipped up a spirit of polite rebellion in the tent. “If someone falls, pick them up,” Mo instructed Chara.
As I took it all in, it seemed obvious to me that this generation of young people would be there singing along. Although my brain still classifies me as such, I’m not a “young person” anymore.
I know that because I’ll be 40 soon, but also because I was able to move out of my parents’ house when I was 21. I didn’t make much money, but it was enough to rent a room in a shared flat and still be able to support myself and go out a few nights a week.
I recently saw an entry-level position advertised in a Dublin publishing house with a salary of €26,000. It’s a similar salary to what my friends and I were offered when we started in our respective industries nearly two decades ago.
The difference is that the cost of living as a single person in Dublin is now €964 excluding rent. Recent research (from 2020) shows that the average rent for a room in Dublin is €680, but it has since gone up. If you do the math, living in Dublin costs around €20,000 a year.
As soon as this 26,000 euro salary is taxed, you don’t have much left for one or the other birthday present, a coffee with a buddy or an evening out. But if you wanted a night out, you’d have a hard time finding a venue thanks to the spate of nightclub closures in recent years.
It’s no surprise that many young people are choosing to leave, or that those who are still here have a lot of feelings about the state of affairs and want to let out in a tent in Stradbally.
Kneecaps reflect a sense of being abandoned by a government and establishment they were meant to represent, in language actively denied to them and their community.
They defend themselves with art. Of course, young Irish people feeling disenfranchised and rejected by their country would be right there rapping along. If you love being Irish but feel like Ireland doesn’t love you, Kneecap’s music is a perfect vehicle to let those feelings out.
In the tent on Saturday it felt like a moment of catharsis. It felt like young people were happy to be Irish but frustrated by their country’s open-ended flaws.
I can’t help but think it might help those critical of Kneecap to consider the genuine feelings and beliefs that underlie her provocative lyrics. One of the purposes of art is to reflect society and its flaws, and Kneecap make art.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/kneecaps-music-strikes-a-chord-with-young-people-who-love-ireland-but-feel-like-ireland-doesnt-love-them-back-41977615.html Kneecap’s music strikes a chord with young people who love Ireland but feel Ireland doesn’t love them