Ireland has always been a buzzing place for creativity, but do we really know our artists? Here is the second portrait of a mini series about Irish artists opening up about their art and how it contributes to make a better world.
I think it’s a really cool time to be making music in Ireland and it’s a really cool time to be inspired by music in Ireland as well.
Shookrah is a 6-piece band from Cork composed of Senita Appiakorang (lead vocals), Imelda Cormican (backing vocals), Emmet O’Riabhaigh (drums), Brian Dunlea (bass), Diarmait Mac Cárthaigh (keys) and Daniel Coughlan (guitar). They play a mix of RNB and soul called ‘Future Soul’, made of soulful lyrics and a catchy groove. We had a funky chat with Senita, the lead vocalist.
Why did you chose the name Shookrah ?
Siùcra is sugar in Irish but we made it phonetical. It’s just a kind of a playful way to make it more accessible to people that aren’t Irish speakers. The name came when we had a annual general meeting just to reassess things because we were initially called ‘Moustache Latte’. We were thinking about renaming ourselves because of the EP. Shookrah was the only one that the seven of us agreed on at the same time. It had like a sweet, funny kinda essence, and obviously we wanted to make music that had that effect on people.
When did you start?
We started in late 2013: the original members of the band were myself and Daniel, the guitarist. Then Emmet joined, it was the second generation of Shookrah and a Moustache Latte member. Initially we were just doing covers and gigs during the weekend in Cork. Everyone was maybe studying, or interested in music, going to the same gigs, everyone has that kind of interest to make RnB. We knew each other as friends and got drunk enough with each other to say ‘Hey do you want to start a band?’. So we were just playing music that we like together. At that time, we had a different bassist who was David Carey and were 3 vocalists at that stage. Keys and bass and drums and guitar : it was a family Jackson 5 type set up, it was really big. It took different shapes through the years you know, as we started as friends, people would move to different places, doing different things and stuff.
How could you describe your music? What is ‘Future soul’?
‘Future Soul’ is, I suppose, this kind of wave of new soul and RnB that’s taking place even now. In the early 90s, when I was an adolescent getting into soul music, you had more traditional musicians and bands like Jill Scott, Alicia Keys, D’Angelo; it was new for soul music. It was more contemporary mixing influences, like hip hop, that gave birth to the RnB from the mid-nineties. It was kind of another mutation of soul and RnB, which kinda started to start probably from 2000, with people like Erykah Badu and Janelle Monaé. Musicians like this who were doing these crazy things you know, people like Amy Winehouse, who made it very popular. You had people like Jamie Foxx and Kanye at the same time doing commercial RnB to dance to in the clubs. But there was this other stuff, more observative of the world.
I think ‘Future soul’ is RnB and hip hop that really tried to steal some grassroots. People like Mos Def in the nineties were fresh because RnB and hip hop was all about consumers and there was all this other stuff. So ‘Future soul’ is pretty much what I’ve been growing up with, this introspectful music that reflects the political eras as well. You couldn’t put your finger on it and say what genre it is because it was a weird time, nobody knew what was going on. ‘Future soul’ in a sense that that reflects now, and also something looking at the future and saying ‘we need to do better’.
Where does your inspiration come from ? What’s your creative process?
Various different things. I think at the moment, because we’re writing an album, we’re kind of more or less halfway through at this stage, and it’s been different every single time. With this album I think we’re really trying to stay focused on what we want as an angle for the album, because that’s the first time we’re putting a lot of energy into it, so we’re trying to rectify etc. So, the process previously would have been that someone would have had a full song, or the skeleton of a song and we would all jam out. But this has changed different times. We can tell the difference between a song we have written intensely or if we haven’t been written in a while and then go back to a song. We all have personal demos, we have a little song bank and we pick between ourselves what we want to work on first. We’re still very much exploring. I would pretty much write the lyrics and the melodies, harmonies and stuff like that. Or we pick a snippet from a demo bank: I might not always play the demo and start writing songs, I might just play a little bit of it and get to the vibe of it. I’m a little bit of a reactive songwriter so whenever the guys are playing sometimes I’m kinda quiet for a long while. I write songs quite fast as well.
What do you think of the music scene in Dublin ?
It’s been accumulating and building momentum over the last five years, even since we’ve been playing when we started. It was way more of a microcosm in terms of the general world of music but especially urban music. Then in the matter of 3 or 4 years it just exploded, and there’s so much potential all over Ireland, even recognised outside of the country. I think it’s a really cool time to be making music in Ireland and it’s a really cool time to be inspired by music in Ireland as well. There are examples of kind of boundless possibilities in terms of genders that you are into, and the calibre of musicianship that’s coming out of Ireland at the moment. But also in terms of the community.
People are really supportive between one and other and they’re doing things to try and collaborate and bring out this scene, making something that’s noted even outside of Ireland. People like Jafaris, Soulé, Barq or Loah, are already building something towards people like Sza or Khalid from afar where it’s normalized. So Ireland could actually be a good pedestal where to look to for different kinds of music. It’s a very interesting and exciting time.
What is the feedback from people about your music?
Generally people are very kind and into it. When people are singing back or saying that’s their favorite song, it’s always heart whelming. This kind of music that is a little bit more interruptive and playful, it’s kind of getting more and more popular. People are appreciating it from like an entertainment aspect, but also from an intellectual aspect as well, which is really cool. We supported Billy Ocean last year for his Irish tour and the audience was older. It’s funny to play for people that you don’t expect and that don’t expect you.
What has been the most challenging so far?
I think that the challenge that we have, it’s an ongoing challenge, it’s something that we’re kinda still working on. It’s a challenge on one hand on backing yourself and second guessing your capacities or what you should or shouldn’t be doing. On the other hand, also balancing that with pushing yourself to being where you need to be as well. I think that in Ireland there’s a certain amount of self-deprecation that happens sometimes, I think it’s kind of an Irish culture thing. Also what this climate of music has shown is that it is absolutely possible and that you can absolutely explore every opportunity that you want and get far beyond what people expect of you. We didn’t exactly know what we wanted at the beginning, we didn’t really know if we were doing this for the craic or if there was a real scope for something. So we’ve come to that a lot more and placed our value in terms of what we do in the Irish scene. We are kind of unique, it’s something that we enjoy and hopefully that reflects other people’s enjoyment as well. We think ‘Keep on trying to make the best thing but also don’t be stuck on trying to be the best thing’, because there’s always gonna be something else that far exceeds what your expectations could be and that’s a good thing as well to try to push yourself.
What are your plans for the future?
There’s a lot. We’re probably gonna release the single in the next month and a half. We’re working on our visuals with Crooked Gentlemen, we’re playing a couple of festivals this summer : It Takes a Village in Cork, K- Fest in Kerry, … We’re going to do an Irish tour towards the end of the year also. There are loads of things in the pipeline that we are working on: we are still waiting on the album and hope to be finished in early 2019, so we are going to release some tunes before for people to have a taste of it.
How do you think your music contributes to make the world better ? What’s your message?
I’m very conscious about the lyrics I write or even the image that we have, how we perform and stuff. And also, conscious of things like where we take our inspiration from and how it affects me. I wouldn’t say that our lyrics are the most poignant things in the entire world but there are some things that I really stand strong on in terms of identity, things like being a woman or feminism, or nationality or political statuses, and things like that.
I suppose the way that I would think that our music would make the world a better place, is that by being close to things that I fell through my heart. For the last EP, there was a kind of looking at my early to mid-atwenties which were an explorative time, that was a time probably doing a lot of stupid things in the world but also possibly to myself, like emotional and mental health. Trying to figure out whether I was just having a good time, or trying to have a good time to make a lot of stuff and trying to figure out some stuff about myself, the world or relationships with people or the world at large. So it’s kind of sharing this idea of, you know, it’s good to do these things to kind of figuring out who you are and establish yourself as an adult in the world, but it’s also kind of good to realise where you’re coming from when you’re doing that. But also to make sure that the things you’re doing are not slightly dangerous sometimes, like partying for example.
So, I’d like to think that people think that there’s honesty there at the very least that they can relate to, or even if they can’t relate to, that it can cause conversation for them. People like Solange or again Erykah Badu or Janelle Monaé they have maybe coded or metaphorical songs, that’s kind of I’d like to think to trigger the meanings of the songs that I write.
In my lyrics, I try to look at the life that I have, people that I know and things that I see going on. Trying to relate myself to that and kind of going: ‘Where am I? where are politics right now? Is that doing anything right in the world?”.