Senita Appiakorang finding her place in the identity parade

She was born in South Africa, and studied in Cork, but Shookrah singer Senita Appiakorang is still a Kerry woman at heart, writes Ellie O’Byrne.

Senita Appiakorang, front, with the other members of Shookrah: Daniel Coughlan, Imelda Cormican, and Emmet O'Riabhaigh.
Senita Appiakorang, front, with the other members of Shookrah: Daniel Coughlan, Imelda Cormican, and Emmet O'Riabhaigh.

GERASCOPHOBIA is an irrational fear of growing old, according to 25-year-old singer-songwriter Senita Appiakorang, for whom such a fear, at this stage in her life and budding musical career, certainly isn’t rational.

‘Gerascophobia’, penned by Senita, is the first single from Cork neo-soul outfit Shookrah’s new EP, Clichés, due for release in May. Shookrah’s uber-sassy 2014 single, ‘Woman’, was a modest hit on home turf, and Senita’s star has been rising since, as a member of Shookrah and with various other projects.

“Gerascophobia embodies this mid-twenties existential guilt at not doing enough with your life, when you have people telling you that this is the best time of your life,” she says.

Senita’s lyrics often seem more inclined towards introspection than the bold statements of empowerment Shookrah’s soul and R&B influences usually deliver. Her smooth voice entangles itself in wordy themes of identity, reflecting the experiences of her circle of friends; ‘FOMO’, with Lakerama, also has a similar twenty-something, existential theme.

Maybe this exploration of states of being has its origins in Senita’s early life. She was born in South Africa, and came to Ireland at eight with her mother and youngest sister. The Appiakorangs entered the direct provision system in Tralee, but when Senita was 11, facing deportation, her mother Nteta fled, leaving Senita and her sister in the care of a Kerry couple.

“When our mum left, it was a weird time,” she says. “I had a certain comprehension of what was going on, but also not really, if that makes sense? As a kid, you don’t really have any rooted knowledge as to what’s happening, so you just… go for a cycle!”

Her mother was found and deported, and now lives in New Zealand. They’re in touch, but Senita says the bond with the couple who cared for them is closer.

“For want of a better word, they’re our guardians, but they’re essentially our parents,” she says. “They very much tried to ground us after a very weird and destabilised time. As much as it was tough, it was made as smooth a transition as possible for us.”

With the emergence of acts such as Choice Music winners Rusangano Family, of Zimbabwean and Togolese origins, and Hozier collaborator Loah, who has Sierra Leonian roots, it might be tempting to identify Senita as part of the new Irish music zeitgeist: Immigrant or first generation voices are finally being heard.

But, for Senita, the idea of drawing on her heritage in her music hasn’t presented itself. While she admires acts such as Rusangano for delving into their experiences, she feels very much the Kerry girl from Castlemaine.“I don’t want to go down some path of being ethnic, African-Irish, because there’d be conceit in that,” the UCC music graduate says. “That’s not how my mind has developed. But it’s great that there are now those voices. Kids can turn on the radio and go: ‘Wow, is this Irish hip hop?’ ”

Other identity issues rear their head, not least in Lakerama, her collaboration with Limerick-based producer Graeme S. Senita says the producer/vocalist pairing forces her out of her comfort zone; there’s a lot more stage to cover, and a lot more spotlight.

“I’m still trying to find myself in that context; what do I present in a performance in that capacity, when you have people like FKA Twigs, these sexy enigmas who are comfortable drawing on themselves and their physicality?” she says.

“There’s loads of exploring in that and loads of fear too, which is nice.”

Meanwhile, Shookrah have a busy season ahead of them, supporting Billy Ocean on his upcoming Irish tour dates and filling their festival dance card at the Right Here Right Now event at Cork Opera House next weekend.

It must take huge ambition to fuel such a hectic schedule?

Senita smiles, shrugs: “I am ambitious, but I’m also aware that the nature of things is quite precarious. Ideally, I’d like to be able to travel the world in the next two to three years and make a living from music.

“If I can, I will, but if I can’t, I like to think that I won’t be too crestfallen and that I can go, ‘Ok cool; I had fun.’ ”

  • Shookrah appear at Right Here, Right Now Festival in Cork Opera House on Sunday, April 30, at midnight, tickets €10. Mick Flannery, Jack O’Rourke and Interference are amon the other acts playing as part of the event next weekend


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