AS recently as five years ago, Irish hip hop was regarded as somewhat of a novelty by mainstream music fans.
That is is assuredly no longer the case and on the heels of fantastic albums by Rejjie Snow and Kojaque comes a warm and open-hearted debut by Dublin rhymer Jafaris.
“I was pretty anxious about how the record would be received,” says the artist (real name Percy Cahmburuk). “I’m always very experimental in my music. I’m curious to see how people take to me trying different sounds, different genres.”
Jafaris first came to widespread attention with a starring role in Sing Street, John Carney’s 2016 film. He still enjoys acting — but sees it as secondary to his music career.
“Sing Street was a big help in terms of being an actor,” he says, ahead of a long-awaited Cork gig at Cyprus Avenue on Saturday.
“It gave me a door in. Now I have an agent and I get good audition opportunities. With the music, it has helped in terms of awareness. People will say, ‘the Sing Street guy is Jafaris’. It all works hand in hand. However, music is where my heart is.”
It is also increasingly a business for him too. As he’s discovered since putting out his first EP in 2017, a musician must be a salesperson as well as an artist and entertainer.
“Day to day, it becomes less and less like art. There is a huge other side to it. I got to drop my debut album. What I have to do now is go and promote. But I wouldn’t have a it any other way. I put out an album and it sounded exactly as I wanted it to.”
Jafaris, who is in his early 20s, spent his early life in Zimbabwe but grew up in Tallaght. He has lived in Newbridge, Co Kildare, for the past two years. Rapping started as a hobby. It was only when a booking agent in Galway, seeing Jafaris rhyme on Facebook, got in touch that he thought about it seriously as something he might dedicate his life too.
As already pointed out, it’s not long since the idea of an Irish artist enjoying any sort of success as a rapper would have been regarded as fanciful. When Rejjie Snow broke through, for instance, early press coverage in the UK centred on the bonkers proposition of an Irish person making hip-hop. What bizarre parallel universe was this? Times, thankfully, have changed and Irish hip hop is a genre on the rise.
“It was only a matter of time,” says Jafaris. “We’ve been doing this underground thing for quite a while. Making these songs and dropping them. There was a scene that the mainstream wasn’t aware of. It’s new to them. It’s not new to us. But everyone else is going ‘where did this come from?’.”
On his debut album, Stride, the lyrics are unselfconscious, confessional and often angst-splashed. Growing up, Jafarais didn’t experience any particular traumas. He did, however, suffer the same reversals as everyone else and feels it important he honestly communicates his hopes, frustrations and dreams.
“My life has been smooth sailing. My family weren’t well off. We’re just average. My parents work, we had a mortgage. It was very normal. My hardships would be more mental things — spiritual battles and stuff tending to do with emotional growth. You go through relationship breakdowns and friendship breakdowns. You get into situations where you might be depressed.”
He feels it important to chronicle these highs and lows.
“A lot of people my age are talking about those kind of hardships,” he says.
Stride is out now. Jafaris plays Cyprus Avenue, Cork, on Saturday, May 11