By David Hennessy
A London-raised singer with Irish-Zambian heritage is climbing the charts on both sides of The Irish Sea with huge support from the Dundalk area where she has family. Stephanie McCourt, who grew up in Finsbury Park, has seen her debut single Hard Living rise to the top 5 of The Irish I Tunes chart.
The Dundalk community has been hugely supportive of the soul singer who has featured on LMFM radio and in publications like the Dundalk Democrat, Talk of The Town Dundalk and also the Argus Dundalk.
Speaking of the Irish town’s support of her, Stephanie tells The Irish World: “It’s a really good thing because you don’t think just because you’re half-Irish and go there a couple of times a year that you’re going to get that sort of support, but Irish people support their own and that’s something that I love about being Irish. It’s very much about community and I love that, they’ve been so supportive.
“I go back there quite a few times year, spend time with my family and my friends. I’m always out and about in Dundalk town, a bit of Dublin.”
Although it is now very multi-cultural, a black family like Stephanie’s would have once been very unusual to see in Ireland but the singer tells us they were always welcomed warmly: “Actually, it’s an interesting point. When I was younger, when we would go and visit with my father, we were the only people of colour. For instance, there was this guy driving and he almost crashed his car because he couldn’t believe he was seeing a black person,” Stephanie laughs with the memory. “He was like, ‘wow’, but do you know what? It wasn’t actually negative. I’ve always found Irish people to be quite embracing. At one point, the Irish weren’t welcome in certain places so they know exactly what it is to be the person out of favour.”
Interestingly someone else with the same cultural mix as Stephanie is the former pop sensation, Samantha Mumba who is also Irish-Zambian. Equally connected and proud of both cultures, Stephanie believes the cultures share qualities: “They do have very similar values. It’s exactly the same in Zambia, it’s very much about looking after their own and supporting and having a laugh, having a drink. You can see why my parents were put together.
“No one can ever guess where I’m from and the day I meet someone who guesses where I am from, I will pay them but no, I’ve never met anyone who is half-Zambian, half-Irish. I’ve never met Samantha Mumba but I know that she is.”
Stephanie has known she wanted to be a singer since she was a toddler growing up in a house full of Irish music, Zambian music and Elvis music: “My father is a fanatic, still makes me listen to it every day But Elvis is a legend so what greater person can I have influence from than him? I grew up on Elvis.”
Stephanie always had the support of her parents who enrolled her with legendary vocal coach Tona De Brett (who has worked with the likes of Seal, Lily Allen, Dido and Duffy to name just a few) at the age of nine. She was only eleven when she won a national singing competition to perform at the iconic Royal Albert Hall.
Finishing school, Stephanie left London to study at the Brighton Institute of Modern Music whose graduates include The Kooks and Tom O’Dell for four years. Stephanie was not there long when her talents were noticed by school founders Kevin Nixon and Sarah Clayman who wanted Stephanie to front a group called Mascara. Stephanie spent three years with the group before leaving as it just wasn’t for her but says it was an important part of her development as a performer and singer.
However, some dark times followed. Unsure of what direction her career was going, Stephanie endured a period of depression: “When I was with Mascara, I lived in Brighton and then it was like: Who am I? When I came home to London after four years of being there, it was like: Who is Stephanie McCourt? Who is she? Am I still able to do this music here? Am I able to compete in this competitive city of London?
“And it was just a bit of down time, unsure of the direction I wanted to go in so it was a couple of years of bad stuff but it worked out really well for me because it helped me write with more emotion, write really cool songs so I’m happy for the depression as well.
“I think it was important, I think if I didn’t have the depression, I wouldn’t be the artist I am today so I think it is actually something I benefitted from. In life you’ve always got to take the positives out of the negative stuff or what’s the point? It’s all a learning curve.”
The Irish World saw Stephanie perform at The Monarch in Camden last week where she wowed the crowd with her powerful vocals and also charisma as she, often humorously, explained the story behind each song. Her father Christopher swears, and Stephanie agrees, that this is “one hundred per cent” from her Irish side of her family.
Stephanie was not afraid to flirt for a bit of banter with the audience. Was this a restrained Stephanie due to having both parents and her sister in the audience? “Do you know what? They egg me on to do it even more because I want to embarrass my mum and dad daily so it helps when I’m onstage to have them there.
“It’s about engaging with the audience and making a real connection.”
Regarding plans for the future, Stephanie says: “We’re trying to create a buzz, build my audience, just spread the news really and then get signed to a major label, that’s the next big goal. I have a production deal, I have a management deal but a major label deal would be good for the platform.”
Stephanie’s EP Stripped Back is out now.
For more information, go to http://www.mccourtofficial.com/.