The treatment of refugees in this country has become one of the many social justice issues the Irish music scene has adopted. While it is by no means a new issue, the heightened awareness of the mistreatment of refugees in Direct Provision Centres has encouraged Irish artists and musicians to campaign in both action and song.
While Direct Provision was originally supposed to be a temporary measure, it still operates twenty years later, housing over 6,000 people in 34 centres across the country. MASI (Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland) are the organisation leading a campaign to end Direct Provision. They have received the backing of countless Irish artists, particularly since the beginning of lockdown.
Since April, ‘Bandcamp Fridays’ has been used by Irish artists to raise funds for MASI. On the first Friday of each month, Bandcamp waived their fees meaning 100% of sales on the website on that day would go directly to the artist. The Irish scene, as community spirited as ever, donated their profits from those days to MASI.
Alongside this, The Scratch hosted a live stream gig in aid of the organisation; singles from HAVVK and Jess Kav, MuRli, Arvo Party and CMAT were donated; while Mick Flannery and Susan O’Neill’s Other Voices: Courage performance from the Crawford Gallery in Cork also raised funds.
While taking action to tackle the abhorrence of Direct Provision and highlight the pain of refugees across the world, this is a community that has also raised awareness in the best way they know how.
Wyvern Lingo’s ‘Brutal Lottery’ is one of the most powerful songs released this year. It doesn’t beat around the bush. Its lyrics are profound and shocking in the most awakening way possible, “There would be headlines, outcries/There would be a vigil every night/If the child was ours/If the child was white.” The stark delivery of the song only adds to its effect – Lingo’s harmonies are trademark at this stage, but there is an angry vulnerability in these vocals that enhance the message.
The Bray three-piece have campaigned in this area for years. Their 2016 campaign ‘10,000 Missing Children’ raised awareness in Ireland of misplaced refugees across Europe, children feared to be trafficked into sex slavery and other forms of exploitation. The opening line of Brutal Lottery only serves as a reminder that this four-year-old campaign is still relevant, “Ten thousand children slipped into the cracks/Missing in action while we turned our backs.”
The most recent voice to highlight the refugee experience in Ireland has done it as Gaeilge. Deoraí is a project that uses music and film through the Irish language to create innovative and contemporary commentaries on social issues throughout the world.
His latest release Páiste Bocht explores the experience of a refugee child entering into a world of entirely new smells, sounds and colours. The track is complimented by a video directed and produced by Gerard Walsh which depicts a child dressed in a spacesuit learning how to interact and communicate with Irish children.
The track itself has a pure electronic groove, kept downbeat by a ballady piano sound and alarming synths. The idea of offering this commentary through the Irish language almost reminds us of the innocence of the child. A reminder that it was the Irish who once upon a time arrived in foreign lands without a word of the native tongue, while at the same time adding a crucial voice, as Gaeilge, to the Irish music sphere.
The beauty of the Irish scene at the moment is its diverse voice. Storytelling has always been a part of Irish culture. With so many artists entering the scene from different backgrounds, we are now hearing new stories. Some of those stories began in Direct Provision centres. Some of them never reached a Direct Provision centre.
While Irish artists and musicians continue to support MASI and the campaign to end Direct Provision, the growth in releases highlighting the refugee experience is keeping a necessary conversation flowing.
To find out more about MASI and Direct Provision, visit masi.ie.
Tadhg Williams, Music Correspondent