“Leigh anois go curamach…”
A riff that moves in a circle and hits constant and sure as a fighter’s punches. Canine-sharp words and biting delivery. Intelligence and awareness and emotion packed into wordplay, poetry, and rhythm. Denise Chaila is declaring her independence and individuality, combining these age-old desires with the brand new rhythms and sounds of hip-hop: “An bhfuil cead agam ag dul go dti, I don’t need permission to be free.” The riff walks its loop over the beat. She lets the words and notions rip over the riff like a jazz saxophonist firing licks from the bandstand.
Down was released on May 1. It had been a long time since Chaila released the “Duel Citizenship” EP, in 2019. Its two tracks were strong, independent. But Down is angrier. The riff is lower and it growls under the snarling synths as its 4-notes run through the 2 minutes and 47 seconds, repeating itself as Chaila dances her words over the beat. Copper Bullet and Duel Citizenship, from her first EP, had bite, they had confidence.
Down has venom, all the frustration of the present in a rap song. “I’m not afraid to say I have No-tions,” she declares to a place and time that is deathly afraid of a good idea. “I am the princess, the tower, the dragon, a young Bilbo Baggins” and when she says it you know she means it with “all my jazz and all my soul,” as she sings on All That Jazz. She has notions, ideas, and all the confidence to pursue the possibilities implied in her fantasy-inspired lyrics. As she says: “I know my power.”
All the sounds are deeper on Down – bass, synths, the processed, stuttering vocals and her delivery, as if they’re coming out of the deepest chamber of her heart. Chaila is fighting for the right to be herself in a country that, not so long ago, fought for that same right. But then decided that everyone had to be as it wanted them to be, and that they had to conform to the rights it had won for themselves.
Turning the rights into unspoken, insidious laws, enforced with ostracisation, suspicion, abuse and discrimination, and bouts of violence. “An bhfuil cead agam ag dul go dti, I don’t need permission to be free,” she raps in verse 1. Chaila doesn’t need to ask anyone to allow her to be who she is. As nobody should ever have to.
Read our Plec Picks 2019 feature on Denise Chaila here.