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Minding their language

Mo Chara of Irish language rap group Kneecap told David Hennessy that the hip hop trio don’t mind being labelled ‘controversial’ or having their music banned by RTE and that there should be no amnesty as ‘murder’s murder’.

Irish language hip hop trio Kneecap have had their music banned by RTE, been denounced by the DUP as ‘lowlife scum’ and been thrown out of their own gig at UCD.

But Mo Chara from the Belfast rap group told The Irish World they don’t mind their ‘controversial’ tag.

He told us: “We feed off it.”

He goes on to say that a big part of the reason the act is so controversial is because it offends the ‘pure’ idea some have of the Irish language and Ireland.

“We obviously are naturally controversial because people have  looked at the Irish language as a very wholesome, innocent thing, ‘This is our culture and it’s pure’.

“When in actual fact, there’s Gaeilgeorí running around in big cities taking drugs, and obviously converse with each other in Irish.

“It’s not just fields, turf and fiddles anymore.

“I think a lot of people couldn’t really get us because the Irish language and everything that has been put out in the Irish language for years has all been very pure and innocent, about love or being sad that one of your cows have died.

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“It’s very innocent, pure stuff.

“And the Irish language wasn’t always like that because if you go back, the Irish language was filthy 1,000 years ago.

“They were filthy f**kers and now it’s being portrayed as this pure language and that’s not the reality of the situation.”

Kneecap, made up of Mo Chara, Móglaí Bap, and DJ Próvaí, have built up quite a following and perhaps some notoriety with their unique sound that merges satire with socially conscious lyrics in a language that is often ignored.

They first began releasing music in 2017 with their single C.E.A.R.T.A..

They released their first album 3CAG in 2018, and released other singles such as Get Your Brits Out, Amach Anocht and Tá na Baggies ar an Talamh.

The group often refer to their support for Republicanism and have been described as a new kind of rebel music.

The Irish language has always been important to the Belfast trio made up of Mo Chara, Móglaí Bap, and DJ Próvaí.

There is a story behind their debut single C.E.A.R.T.A. that shows this.

Móglaí Bap was out spray-painting with a friend the day before the Irish Language Act march in Belfast in 2017.

He had scrawled ‘Cearta (rights)’ on a bus stop when the police arrived.

When the friend was arrested, he refused to speak English to the police and ended up spending a night in the cells awaiting a translator.

“It was just before Lá Dearg, the big march that happened up here for language rights in the north, an Irish Language Act.

“Móglaí sprayed on the bus stop CEARTA which obviously means rights and an arrow pointing towards city hall.

“An unmarked police car skidded up beside them, they got out and then basically a chase started.

“Móglaí got away and they caught the other fella.

“The other fella then refused to speak any English to them so he spent a night in the cells until they could get a translator for him the next day.”

Did it anger the lads to see their friend in a cell because he wouldn’t speak English?

“I think we laughed about it more than being angry. He’s a martyr now.

“He’s from Monaghan so everyone was running around that night shouting, ‘Free the Monaghan One’.

“The funny thing about it was the translator that they got the next day was actually at the march.

“The translator had to be taken from the Irish language march to come down and translate for him.

“I think they were both a bit disappointed.

“He apologized, ‘Sorry you’re missing the march because of me’.

“Very funny.”

In late 2017, Kneecap’s debut single C.E.A.R.T.A. was banned from RTE for ‘drug references and cursing’.

Kneecap defended the song as “a caricature of life in west Belfast” and “a satirical take on life for young people, particularly in west Belfast”, and fans started a petition to put the song back on air.

Mo Chara also points out that English language songs that glamorise a gangster lifestyle or are objectifying women are judged to be fine for transmission.

“A lot of stuff in the charts now is subtly or unsubtly about drugs or extreme sex.

“The reason it was banned was because they were playing an Irish language track of the week- Things that were up for the nos awards and we were up for it at that point- so it was our Friday to be played and the day it was meant to be played, RTE pulled it and were like, ‘No, we can’t play it because of the explicit undertones’ or whatever.

“We were glad of it. It was perfect PR for us.”

Did the lads really have no plan beyond that first single? “Not really. We always wanted to do something musical.

“It basically came about because we got free tickets to Electric Picnic one year and we were like, ‘How do we keep getting tickets to Electric Picnic? I know: We’ll start a group’.

“There was no plan. We were always into hip- hop anyway.

“There was no plan. We put C.E.A.R.T.A. out and we didn’t really think beyond that but it went down so well, we were like, ‘F**k it, we’re gonna have to do another one. The ball just started rolling from there.

“It wasn’t like a conscious decision, ‘We’ll do this in Irish’.

“It was just kind of like, ‘We’ll start a hip-hop group’. And it just happened naturally that it was in Irish because that’s how we converse with each other and how we speak to each other on a daily basis.

“We were surrounded by the Irish language from a young age, from nursery school right up to when I was 18 leaving secondary school.

“It was always just there at every youth club I went to.

“There’s been a big rebirth of the Irish language in Belfast from the 70s, so it was just normality for us to be surrounded by the language.

“It wasn’t until I was maybe 16, 17 that I realised that this was quite a political thing, it was just normality.

“I went to school and I learned Spanish through Irish, maths through Irish.

“Then I would come out of school and volunteer in the youth club in Ballymurphy which was an Irish language youth club.

“It was just normality.

“It was only when the DUP cut funding for the youth clubs and trying to close the youth clubs down that I realised that the language was important to a lot of people in this city.”

The lads were over in the UK in September/ October with their ‘What’s The Story Moaning Tory’ tour.

“We had been in London pre-C, pre- COVID for a gig before and it was great to be back.

“I mean we’ve been sitting for a year and a half gagging for any kind of live performance. It was like a catapult when we started in Glasgow, it was just blast off for 13 days, you know?

“And the reception’s great.

“I mean we’re a country of immigrants. We’ve flooded England with fenians over the last few years.

“There’s a big movement over in England at the moment which is very anti-establishment. They’ve seen the bad decisions made by politicians over the last load of years, Brexit being one of them. We were over during the fuel shortage and couldn’t help but laugh.”

Like many, Mo Chara sees the possibility of a united Ireland as a positive that may come from Brexit.

“That is the big benefit that looks very much possible from it.

“If the public and politicians are organized enough, there’s definitely an opportunity here.”

And the name of the tour and the fact the band have controversially featured Boris Johnson strapped to a rocket on one of their posters should make it no surprise that Mo Chara is no supporter of Boris Johnson’s proposed amnesty that has been slammed by political parties and victims groups.

“War crimes are war crimes, murder’s murder.

“It doesn’t matter that you’re 70 years of age now. Where do you draw the line?

“Do we have a cut off point for all crimes then?

“If you murder someone and whether it’s in war or not, should we have a 30 year cut-off point?

“In 30 years time, we’ll just go, ‘Oh, we’ll forget about it. He’s too old now’.

“It doesn’t make any sense.

“As she said herself, ‘Crime is crime is crime’.

“I don’t give a f**k if they’re 70 years of age if they’re slaughtering innocent people on the streets of Ballymurphy. They should be prosecuted anyway. That’s my take on it.

“It’s not the first time this has happened.

“For as long as the Empire has been going, they have always brushed their crimes under the carpet and it’s no different in the North.

“Especially in the north because it’s so recent.

“If you speak to people in England, they have no idea what happened.

“A lot of them- It’s not really their fault although the information is there for anyone that wants it- I understand.

“The fact is they still learn that the empire was the glory days. The empire was great: ‘We ruled the world’.

“As if that was a good thing, they don’t talk about the negatives that came with that and the millions of people that were slaughtered for the sake of a few English fella’s egos and a bit of money.

“It’s always happened. The English never atone for their own crimes.

“They’ve always brushed it under the carpet. It’s no different up north. It’s expected really.”

Mo Chara politely corrects The Irish World when a question refers to the six counties as ‘Northern Ireland’.

“Even the term Northern Ireland, we wouldn’t ever use that because that legitimises what we believe to be an illegal state.

“’Northern Ireland’ legitimises 800 years of colonialism.

“So we would always say either the occupied six or the North, we wouldn’t really say Northern Ireland.”

Kneecap were condemned in 2019 after videos showed them chanting ‘Brits Out’ at a concert performed in the Empire Music Hall in Belfast.

The concert took place the day after Prince William and his wife were the venue.

“A lot of people have an emotional reaction to that (chant/ phrase), ‘I’m a British citizen’.

“’Brits out’ is a saying that has been around in the north since the civil rights movement.

“Brits out means British government out of Ireland and everyone in Ireland knows that, and a lot of Brits know that too.

“People just like to have this emotional reaction like we’re talking about British citizens.

“Of course we’re not. We’re talking about the British government. We want the British government out of Ireland because it has done us no good for 800 years.

“It’s actually had a complete negative effect on the country.

“It hasn’t worked so it’s time for something new.

“It’s not working. Whatever is going on in the Dáil and in Stormont, it’s not working.

“We need a change now because it’s not working north and south.

“I don’t know exactly what we need to do but I just know we need to change because it’s not working.”

The band take on Ireland’s propensity for guilt in the new single, Guilty Conscience.

“Especially in Ireland, we just have this inherent guilt about everything.

“Of course we do and obviously that comes from the Catholic Church, ‘You’re a sinner. You’re a dirty fucking sinner’.

“Basically we just have this guilt built into us now.

“I remember making my communion at seven years of age.

“I had to go up to a priest and pretend I had sinned.

“At seven years of age? What the f**k? I was a kid.

“I remember making up something like, ‘Mam told me not to play PlayStation and I played it anyway’.

“Something ridiculous.

“Telling seven year old kids, ‘You’re a big sinner. Tell me your sins’.

“So obviously that is why we have this inherent guilt all the time.

“We’re basically just trying to encourage people to cop on, we don’t need to feel guilty about sh*t.

“Guilt isn’t a part of life. Guilt is a choice.

“Anger, sadness, happiness: They’re all emotions that are part of life, that you can’t escape.

“But as far as guilt is concerned, guilt is a choice. We don’t have to feel guilt. Guilt isn’t a natural emotion. Guilt is something that we basically choose to feel whether we like it or not.

“It’s about us just going about involved in scumbaggery, basically encouraging people not to feel guilty about anything.”

The group also have new music with the collaboration track, Thart Agus Thart made with Berlin-based electronic producer BLVTH.

“So we’re going to be dropping two new tracks with two new videos within a few days of each other.

“And then we’re just going to crack on with the album.

“That’s the next big project.”

Guilty Conscience by Kneecap is out now.

Thart agus Thart by BLVTH featuring Kneecap is out now.

For more information, click here.

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