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Five on it: all hail Denise Chaila, Irish music’s pharaoh

This week saw Irish rapper Denise Chaila win big for her debut mixtape as well as putting out a new track. Plus, fresh releases from Ray BLK, Japanese Breakfast, Mette and more...

05 Mar 2021

I started out my music journalism career in Ireland. I was a student in Dublin, and began writing for local music magazines so I could get free gig tickets. I think I was lucky for that to be my starting place, because the Irish music scene felt like such a community. I’d go from gig to gig – often alone – and consistently meet local musicians cheering each other on, or hanging out together soaking up international artists. 

It feels weird thinking about that time now. This week marks one year since I last saw live music, having spent years generally going to a gig a week. I’ve been remembering the freedom and spontaneity of those nights and the thrill and magic of someone creating music in front of you – though, I’m an anxious enough person that I’m not in a rush to go back to it all until I know it will be safe.

Anyway, all of this is to say, I still keep tabs on the Irish music scene, and I’ve been super excited about Limerick-by-way-of-Zambia rapper Denise Chaila. She was one of gal-dem’s ones to watch for 2020, we spoke to her shortly after that, but I’m shouting her out again now because this week her incredible debut mixtape Go Bravely won the Choice Prize – Ireland’s Mercury equivalent.

I know that I am consistently someone who talks about how nonsense most awards are, but I can’t help but be thrilled when independent artists doing their own thing get properly acknowledged. Go Bravely is a really accomplished body of work with innovative production and slick bars, speaking largely on ideas of identity.  

On the incredible track ‘Anseo’ she declares herself a pharaoh, and after this week – in fact, after the past year she’d had – who could disagree? Denise Chaila is putting Irish music on the map. All hail.

Denise Chaila, God Knows and MuRli – ‘Water’

Of course, how could I not shout out Denise’s latest track? She’s part of Limerick record label narolane, and on ‘Water’ she’s shining alongside label co-founders the equally-excellent MC God Knows and producer MuRli. This is a deliciously warm track that sways and glides with something celestial. They’ve described it as a “baptism”, washing away narratives that Blackness is innately linked with suffering, and giving themselves room to breathe and celebrate joy.

Japanese Breakfast – ‘Be Sweet’

The first glimpse at the Philadelphia artist’s new album set to arrive this June, ‘Be Sweet’ has zig-zag licks of guitar and synth, choppy, slick percussion and vocals that lilt with as much sugar as the song’s title suggests. Plus the video is a whole lot of silly fun.

Ray BLK ft. Giggs – ‘Games’

The South London link-up we’ve been waiting for, a silky beat is the perfect setting for Hollowman’s sexy gruff vocals meeting our gal Ray’s assured verses. The track finds two voices coming up against one another playing games (“Don’t trust the game, baby / don’t fall in love”).

Mette – ‘Petrified’

Okay so, first of all, this video is self-directed and is so thrilling? This is Mette’s debut single (possibly you recognise her from the N.E.R.D. x Rihanna ‘Lemon’ video) and is a euphoric slice of lush pop with magic runs of melody as the artist faces her fears and accepts her destiny.

Laura Mvula – ‘Safe Passage’

One of the UK’s finest, Laura Mvula is back with a buoyant, dreamlike 80s-style bop (if the giant pink shoulder pads look wasn’t a give-away). Her vocal is powerfully refined here over lush swathes of synths and drums that leap like shooting stars.