THE annual South By Southwest music festival held each March in Austin, Texas, has long been one of the hippest and most buzz-worthy of music industry events. Yet, as with many things in life, it has begun to attract a groundswell of jaded commentary.
But a mere week on from the event it’s clear the senses of Clare-Limerick hip-hop trio Rusangano Family have yet to be dulled by such occasions. Like kids with the proverbial golden ticket they’re still on a high from the experience.
“Life changing,” is the verdict of DJ/producer MyNameIsJohn, who goes on to relate a conversation he had that morning with one of the group’s MCs, Murli.
“It’s over a week since we came back and what I was saying was last night I was sitting down listening to the new Terrace Martin album, and there was one song on it and I was like, ‘I wonder who does keys on that?’ and then I was like, ‘It’s probably Robert Glasper.’ And then” — his voice rising in a steady crescendo of excitement — “two minutes later I was like, ‘Jeez, I had a burger with Robert Glasper like last week and I forgot about it.’”
“That’s the life-changing part,” says the other MC, God Knows. “The life-changing part was that we’re from Ireland so seeing our heroes, who largely come from all over the world, is very difficult. But now when you get to be up close and personal you realise, ‘Hold on, they are interested in who you are just as much as you’re interested in who they are.’
“They’re just like, ‘Hey, where you from? How you doing? How was your day?’”
“’Did you taste the coleslaw?’” adds John playfully.
Unfortunately, John never got to talk food with Glasper, but Rusangano Family have enough of an endearing blend of wide-eyed innocence and steely determination to make the most of these salad days.
“I would have definitely thought that SXSW might have been something that we would be doing next year and not this year,” reflects John. “And now after going this year it’s like, ‘Ah man, not only are we able for that but we’re going to go back next year and smash it.
“Now we may not,” he adds cautiously. “But one week after coming home it’s like, ‘I’m definitely going back there and if we can do as well as we did this year, next year we can do phenomenally well.’”
Back when they released their debut album in 2014 they were a duo known as God Knows & MyNameisJohn. The incorporation of Murli into the fold has seen them evolve into Rusangano Family.
Where their debut highlighted a broad spectrum of musical colours, new album Let the Dead Bury the Dead is a more pared back affair. Murli describes it as a more realistic picture of life.
“I think that’s when we are at our best,” he maintains, “when we are being real and honest. I think this album has been a depiction of things that have been happening around us.”
The single trailing the album, ‘Heathrow’, was an urgent bulletin from the frontline of the immigrant crisis and highlights a more global outlook and reflects a more serious tone.
“Outside the jumping and the energy, there is deeper meanings and deeper lyrics and a bigger story behind this,” says God Knows.
Even so, they have yet to lose their lyrical playfulness and Let the Dead Bury the Dead finds them as musically adventurous as ever.
“It’s 2016,” John announces.
“You’ve got to be open to absolutely everything. And I think that’s part of Rusangano where it’s like, ‘You know what: If you’re a jazz band, we’d love to jam with you; if it’s a reggae band, we’re totally down to do it; if it’s a country band,” he pauses for effect, ‘We’ll give it our best shot’.”
Let the Dead Bury the Dead is out now. Rusangano Family play the Kino, Cork City, today, The Sugar Club, Dublin, tomorrow, Dolan’s, Limerick, on April 22 and De Barra’s, Clonakilty, on April 23.