Rolling and resonating: Cork rapper and singer Kestine exhibits a passionate pride of place

We talk to Cork rapper Kestine about his pride of place and how his work has shaped his perspective on lockdown
Rolling and resonating: Cork rapper and singer Kestine exhibits a passionate pride of place

Pride of place: Cork rapper and singer Kestine. Pictures:  IAMACOSMONAUT

While lockdown singles have helped him get attention in the city’s younger social media circles, new single ‘Tale of a Black Irish’ sees Cork rapper and singer Kestine exhibit a passionate pride of place, and confronting outdated attitudes that still lie under the surface in Irish life.

Mike McGrath-Bryan talks with him about the single, the Outsiders Ent crew, and how his work as a microbiologist has shaped his perspective of lockdown.

Seeing rapper and singer Kestine on stage, in small venues and on festival stages, your writer has thought of him as having an easy, subdued, but self-assured confidence, a charismatic counter-foil to the earnestness and ambition of his peers in Cork’s Outsiders Ent. collective.

Recent singles, rolled out in various collaborations across streaming services and even video-driven social media like TikTok and Instagram TV, have spoken to an artist playing and experimenting with his boundaries, from ‘Tangerine’ inspiring its own dance challenge, to R&B crawler ‘Roll With Me’ adding to Cork’s decidedly barebones canon of slow-jams. Newest excursion ‘Tale of a Black Irish’ is different again, a deceptively high-energy effort that bears the lyrical weight of a dichotomy of experiences.

Kestine makes his love for the Rebel County abundantly clear.
Kestine makes his love for the Rebel County abundantly clear.

Addressing a defined pride of place that comes from growing up, getting educated and working in his field in Cork, Kestine makes his love for the Rebel County abundantly clear, before turning to an issue the wider community still has to face head-on: racism, both explicit and institutional, and the attitudes and tropes that perpetuate it. In talking about the song, he employs that same easy confidence in discussing his creative process.

“I start with the beat. I hear the beat, and it ‘speaks’ to me, and conveys a certain emotion. When I heard the beat for ‘Tale of a Black Irish’, the emotion that was triggered in me was passion.

“The words just started flowing from there, and the first verse discusses my pride from being from Cork, and what triggered that from me was, Cork isn’t really given its props, like it should be. It’s the real capital. If people from London can do it, if people from America can, why can’t we?

“It came from a conversation I was having with my sister - shout out Victoria, she’s 18 right now - a lot of people her age look down on Cork, they think it’s dead, they’re looking at Dublin or London, (those places) get all the attention. So I wanted to write about representing the place you come from, and to do so from your own perspective, which for me, is being a black man from Cork.”

Seguing from that standpoint into a second-verse discussion of racism and other discrimination that persists in an Irish society that should know better given our own history and diaspora, Kestine talks about a sense of responsibility to himself and others, and of the extra work that sometimes has to go into education, employment and personal accomplishment.

“There is a sense of naiveté that Ireland is not racist, when unfortunately, that’s not the case, where maybe people in certain positions haven’t worked or interacted with people of foreign descent.

“I work in the pharma industry right now, and for me, stepping into that means I have to comport myself with a level of excellence. I can’t mess this up. If I do, that might block the way for someone that comes after me. I have to set a precedent.“

That stigma of ‘scariness’ is gonna be attached, until they experience it themselves, and then they see that professionalism, they see, ‘oh, Kestine was excellent’, and that hopefully opens up the door for the next young black man.“

Kestine: “The plan is a four-track EP, we’re going to have that by November, knock on wood."
Kestine: “The plan is a four-track EP, we’re going to have that by November, knock on wood."

Anywhere we go, there has to be that excellence. There has to be that precedent. It’s a lot of pressure, it’s a lot. But I feel it’s something we need to do, it’s something that has to be done. It’s an unfortunate responsibility, but it is what it is.”

The same sense of pride that fuels Kestine’s passion for the city of Cork fuels his contribution to its musical community. The multicultural Outsiders collective has been going for a few years now, organising gigs, talks and all-dayers, music videos and releases, and multimedia ventures like photo shoots, fashion as well as installation and performance art. The crew, among their number YP, Kestine, Olympio and MT Heart, aim high, but their roots are in the camaraderie that comes from being in the city’s sonic and artistic trenches.

“It’s been a blessing to be part of this team. We’re just a bunch of weirdos, determined not to follow the path that everyone else wants to follow. We want to do our thing. We want to resonate with people. And we want to do that in Cork.

“We all have that mindset, ‘let’s make Cork the epitome of Irish hip-hop’.

“So that when the Londoners, or the Americans come and ask ‘what is Irish hip-hop?’, they can look at us, and look at Cork, and get a taste of it.

“I’m glad to be working with Outsider YP. Iron sharpens iron. The competitive relationship I have with him, it’s shaped me, moulded my sound, made it more hard-hitting.”

While lockdown has afforded some with the time and perspective that perhaps the daily grind mightn’t have allowed for before, the restrictions and change of lifestyle have proven to be no deterrent to the pace of Kestine’s professional and creative life: while a captive online audience in search of new things has found him via social media and help spur on his conversations and processes, his work has also kept him going, but not without pause for perspective.

“I work in a lab. I’m a musician, but I’m also a microbiologist. I had to keep going to the lab, had to keep working, keep helping out. My mom and dad were locked down, they couldn’t really move, so while I was out of the house, I couldn’t really see them.

“Before, it was going grand, ‘boom, boom, boom’. Covid has slowed everything down, made me appreciate it more when I converse with my Mom, converse with my Dad, get their perspective on things. It helped me slow down, and appreciate the time that we’re in, even with the bad, and be grateful for the things that I have, especially my family.”

Kestine: 'Tale of a Black Irish' is out now.
Kestine: 'Tale of a Black Irish' is out now.

While, as we’ve said in this parish a few times now lately, it’s increasingly difficult to make any calls regarding the future in music given the circumstances, stretching from a handful of singles to an extended-player is as good a place as any to start.

“The plan is a four-track EP, we’re going to have that by November, knock on wood, and I would love to drop videos for ‘Roll With Me’ and ‘Tale of a Black Irish’, off the back of the reaction a little clip we did with emerging Black Irish sports stars got. And just prepare for 2021, and hopefully, I’ll have the opportunity to show what I’ve got on some new stages. I’m grateful for this process and grateful that people are listening.”

  • Tale of a Black Irish is available now on all streaming services, with a lyric video currently available on YouTube.

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