"My Tribe” on RTÉ is proof that brave, entertaining, educational music television is possible at peak time, and the response to the latest series has been overwhelmingly positive. For those who don’t know, My Tribe is a bilingual series that takes in a different musical genre every episode, and it delves into the origins and roots of not only the music, but also the fashion, style, and culture of each genre.
Previously, My Tribe covered everything from punks to mods, but this current series takes on hip-hop, indie, metal, and dance. I was particularly impressed with the hip-hop episode, as I know, from experience, that, more often than not, journalists/broadcasters covering the genre get it wrong, and there have been some embarrassing efforts over the years. I also saw the My Tribe indie episode and it was amazing, and, this week, the show took on dance music, and, again, did a really good job.
It’s very hard to cover a music genre in a little over 25 minutes. Taking hip-hop for an example, that’s about 45 years of music in a tiny amount of time.
My Tribe went way back to the early days of hip-hop in Ireland, and interviewed many b-boys from early-1980s Dublin. I briefly took the film crew on a journey into Cork City and the back bar of Sir Henry’s nightclub, while, elsewhere, the likes of Ray Wingnut, Celaviedmai, Mona Lisa, and others offered fresh perspectives. There was a good mix of genders and ages and, in true hip-hop style, all cultural backgrounds were represented, and there were lots of speakers of Irish, too.
It was really cool bringing the film crew to the home of Cork hip-hop, at the Kabin on the northside, and local young artists, such as Ade (King Koko), Esther, Daniella, MC Tiny, Jamie Forde, and others were represented. The amazing young singing duo of Cara and Sophie were also there. Time constraints meant that not everything that was recorded was broadcast, but it was a nice snapshot of some of the great young talent here. Cork has a vibrant young hip-hop scene, which is being nurtured by GMC in the Kabin, and it was really cool seeing some of it on television.
Elsewhere on the hip-hop episode, My Tribe dug into the different styles and clothes and fashions, and it’s one of the strengths of the series that it shows how this all went hand in hand with the music, no matter the genre.
The indie and dance episodes also came to Cork and spoke to the likes of Elaine Malone, Laura and Michelle, Niamh Shúilleabháin, Michelle Ring, and many more; all voices who know their respective scenes inside out. The stories are told by people who were there, and become immediately more authentic than outside jobs narrated by people who were not part of it at all.
In hip-hop, there have been a couple of better documentary efforts lately. Origins was pretty good, though it didn’t delve too far into the origins of rap here, bar the seminal rappers Scary Éire, but it was shot amazingly well and probably deserved better than the late-night time slot it got.
We are living in a golden age for hip-hop in Ireland right now and the music and culture are thriving in the pandemic. RTÉ are finally showcasing more of our music culture and, in the last year, the Tommy Tiernan show has platformed everyone from Narolane and Kojaque to some of our soul artists and poets, such as Tolu Makay and Felispeaks. Even Ryan Tubridy has had Denise Chaila, of Narolane, on his show, so things are moving. Hopefully, we will see lots more of it.
The RTÉ Choice awards were recently broadcast as a daytime stream, and repeated late at night. It’s a pity that the amazing performances were not given more of a peak-time showcase. This is the soundtrack to youth culture and it should not be stuck on the peripheries when the talent is so strong.
It’s the same with soul and r&b and other genres. Tolu Makay has a voice as good as Alicia Keys’s and her music is as good as anything on mainstream radio right now, plus it’s accessible.
Hopefully, My Tribe will show more people that all of these amazing subcultures deserve more attention.