Rusangano Family may have made the most important Irish album in years. Both as social document and artistic endeavour it certainly doesn’t have many rivals. ‘Let The Dead Bury The Dead’ may be the debut LP for Rusangano Family but in their former guise of GodKnows + mynameisjohn they had already accumulated plenty of admirers and critical acclaim. Now joined by MuRli, the trio have a unique perspective on the Irish socio-political landscape. Godknows hails from Zimbabwe, MuRli from Togo and mynameisjohn all the way from Co. Clare, but the rhythm and rhymes of the two MCs are perfectly suited to the loops, beats and samples of mynameisjohn. A harmonious coming together, unlike the immigrant experience in Ireland documented in LTDBTD.
Kierkegaard is based on a simple two-chord sample, but the song, named after a Danish existentialist philosopher, is anything but simple, setting out the plight of the struggling musician in the light of family expectations: “Got played on BBC last year / but my father still didn’t care / I’m not a doctor I’m not a lawyer / In the eyes of my family I’m still a failure”. Even as a “successful” artist they are depending on “pennies from IMRO”. Blabber Mouth is in a similar vein, this time looking at the struggles of the writer / poet who is “nothing but a blabber mouth” in his parent’s eyes.
Heathrow, the album’s first single is a powerful retelling of the refugee’s plight, complete with anti-immigration dialogue from a female talking-head who describes the “invasion” of refugees. Considering the track was written before the current refugee crisis in the Mediterranean the line “Took off in Lagos / and only Europe can save us” seems incredibly prophetic.
Meanwhile the MC-less Isn’t Dinner Nice is a moving piece of guest dialogue set to one of mynameisjohn’s mellower grooves. It manages to detail in two startling minutes the lack of voice afforded women in today’s society, both in countries where women are subjected to acid burns and child marriage to the cat-callling and stalking that is pervasive everywhere.
It’s not all heavy material though and there are moments of humour also, like in Lights On: “I landed in Ireland in 2001 / ‘bout the same time that Dre dropped 2001”; the almost Nelly-esque bounce of Bon Voyage would defy anyone to stay in their seat; and the MCs’ musical roots are acknowledged in Soulfood, which combines African-influenced beats with dancehall.
The group’s influences are worn on their collective sleeve with extensive references to their hip-hop forbears everywhere: Kierkegaard references Flava Flav; Blabber Mouth extensively quotes from Outkast’s Ms Jackson; and Soulfood repeats the trick with Andre 3000. It’s actually a bit much at times – a nod and a wink here and there is all well and good but to take two or three lines from another song and incorporate them word for word is pushing it.
That’s about the only issue with the record which is an otherwise flawless piece of work. It’s about as current as it’s possible to be with an album and yet you can’t imagine it ever sounding dated. That’s some achievement.