Cork is a port town, so it is exposed to influences from all over the world. People come and go all the time, and many people stay forever. It’s always been that way, but especially in recent years. That has led to a melting pot of people, cultures and music, and many of those who’ve been involved in music here over the years were actually born elsewhere. Similarly, many Cork people have made a musical impact abroad.
Some cities have a clearly defined reputation musically. When we think of Kingston, in Jamaica, we think of reggae, and when we think of New York, we think of hip-hop (though you could quite easily throw disco and punk into the mix there, too).
Chicago is traditionally known as the town where house music really took off, while Detroit helped create the modern genre known as techno (and also brought us Motown). None of these cities exclusively created these genres. Again, it was immigrants and culture clashes that helped develop the various music scenes here.
Jamaican music is fascinating. The tiny island was within earshot of the United States and for generations Jamaicans used to copy the R&B they heard on radio from the United States. Getting those American acts over to Jamaica was possible and it helped the music to grow, but it became too expensive and Jamaican cover bands did their own versions of the music.
As time went on, these cover groups ended up with their own style. Ska and reggae have their roots in R&B, but then, they, too, became globally popular music, as many migrants went from the Caribbean to huge cities abroad, such as New York and London.
Ska and reggae eventually helped influence music such as punk and hip-hop in these new cities, and, in New York in particular, the reggae-and-dub template was used to create the most powerful new form of music in the last 50 years. Hip-hop, or rap, is the ultimate bastardised music genre, and it comes from everything, really: Rock, pop, Latin, jazz and soul are blended together (and blending is how music always starts). The Hispanic and Carribean influence on many of the cities that became huge in developing hip-hop cannot be overestimated, including in Los Angeles, New York, Atlanta and Miami. This new music took over the world.
Cork city is a lot smaller and probably less influential, but we’ve a proud musical heritage that is respected all over Ireland and abroad. Sometimes, we don’t acknowledge ourselves, and we probably could market our heritage better. Rory Gallagher is the obvious place to start. One of our first globally recognised stars, Rory came here as a youngster and made Cork his home. He also made his own version of the blues and rock, a version that is celebrated by many aficionados of the guitar, and he is still honoured today, both here and elsewhere.
Many of our best bands had a certain Cork vibe that is hard to define, but which separates them from others. Some like to call it “quirky”, but I’d prefer to say “unique”. Five go down to the Sea, Nun Attax, Belsonic Sound, Microdisney, Cypress Mine, Frank & Walters, Sultans of Pink, Fred, and many more, should all have been bigger than they were, but they all enjoyed some success, too.
We’ve had some amazing bands and artists and we still do. Cork is known for the deep house sound that Fish Go Deep have always kept popular, even when it was unfashionable, while the reggae, hip-hop, and soul elements have been very consistent and important here, too. Most Cork artists have that independent outlook that is more about individuality than conformism.
The next wave of young acts in Cork have this, too, and it’s great that a certain type of look, sound, and style doesn’t come to mind immediately when you think of Cork.