Santigold’s interest in Irish mythology is expressed in “Banshee,” a song on her 2016 album, “99 cents.”
By Colleen Taylor
Today marks the 11th anniversary of the beginning of Ireland’s Body & Soul festival, which takes place at County Westmeath’s Ballinlough Castle (bodyandsoul.ie). After attending the festival a couple years ago, I’ve been following it each year, unfailingly intrigued by its lineups. Unlike other music festivals which ornament their advertisements with big-name headliner artists, Body & Soul offers something atypical: a dedication to burgeoning Irish artists and idiosyncratic acts. Rather than seek out those standard Top 40 artists, the organizers of Body & Soul look for something particular in the musicians they solicit: a penchant for musical innovation, exploration, and unique performativity. Although my other occupational hat as a PhD student will keep me from the festival this year, which begins today and ends Sunday, I can nonetheless judge it will be a great set of concerts. In particular, two names on the schedule jump out for me, American singer Santigold, making her Irish festival debut, and Dublin group, Girl Band.
Santigold, or Santi White, is a one-woman show and tour-de-force. Electronic singer-songwriter, producer, musician and sometimes rapper Santigold seems to do it all. Santigold exploded onto the American music scene in 2008 with her single “Creator,” and before long she was opening for acts as divergent as Coldplay and Kanye West. Everyone wanted something of her fascinating sound. Her most recent album is “99 cents” (2016), her first new record in four years, which has been exciting for fans.
The latest album is more pop-like than rap-inspired, but it is no less lacking in energy. In addition, it has something Irish and Irish-American listeners will find interesting. As it happens, even before Santigold was invited to Body & Soul, the artist seems to have had an interest in Ireland and Irish mythology. One of the songs on her most recent album is entitled “Banshee.” The title and the chorus of the song are anachronistically paired. The song sounds very modern and galactic—still, there are gothic hints in the lyrics, tying it to the title choice. For me, what makes Santigold stand out in the electro genre is her singing voice. She showcases R and B flare in her electric sounds, and her songs seem to gesture back to the ‘60s and ‘70s in style. Her music is lively and fresh—danceable and rejuvenating. In other words, it’s perfect for Ireland and Body & Soul.
Although, sadly, there are no girls in Girl Band, the group has nonetheless been impressing Ireland’s music critics and, since 2014, have begun to make an international name for themselves. Last year in 2015, the band toured the U.S. and mainland Europe. Singer Dara Kiley and guitarist Alan Duggan have been playing together in a band since secondary school, but they were committed to making a successful career of their music and began to conceive a truly original, rather than imitative musical concept. I admit, Girl Band’s music is not exactly my cup of tea, but they have left a strong impression in Ireland and abroad. They sound like a mix between a teenage garage band just starting to figure out how to play and a popular hard rock band playing for a stadium of fans. Girl Band like to rock the boat. You can’t sit passively and listen to this music: it’s almost grating on the ears, catalyzing discomfort and scrutiny. This form for their music no doubt helps them to engage topical social issues in Ireland, like mental health. The band has been an outspoken advocate in that regard.
Because they are so different, and so avant garde, Girl Band are another perfect choice for Body & Soul. Find out more about them at girlband.ie.
Colleen Taylor writes the Music Notes column each week in the Irish Echo.