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Hearing Africa in Dublin: Discovering Ireland’s underground music scene

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I’m officially obsessed with a dj. Well, not a dj really, but his music.

It started a few weeks ago on Dame Street in Dublin’s city center.

What was turning out to be one of those painfully quiet nights in a local pub took a turn for the extraordinary thanks to a jaunt to the bathroom. As my sister and I walked down the stairs to the basement toilets, a shock of steel drums, distinctively African rhythms and choral vocals seeped out from behind the door and instinctively set our hips and limbs a-moving. Almost involuntarily.

It was like being called back to our ancestral homeland, and we’re not even African.
The man behind the music is DJ Izem, or Jeremie Moussaid Kerouanton, co-founder of the global underground music collective known as “Groovalizacion.” Intrigued by the man who brought Africa to Dublin that night, I decided to go to his office and find out more.

It was everything I’d expect from a modern music-oriented start-up company; small, cold, and equipped with just the necessities. Mac laptops and turn tables on every desk. Racks of amplifiers in one corner, an electronic drum kit in another, and a basic recording studio, which serves as homebase for Groovalizacion’s web-radio broadcasts.

Dublin is Groovalizacion’s headquarters, but its members - djs, musicians, journalists and video producers – are in every corner of the world. They submit podcasts, radio programs, and share tracks and ideas from their travels in places like Mali, Latin America, Uganda and France.

Groovalizacion is all about music that is off the radar. Kerouanton set up the collective with his friend and fellow dj, Tony Polo, with the idea of, musically speaking, making the world a smaller place.

Indeed, Kerouanton explain that the group aims “to have a global vision of music,” and he showcases this in his performances. During one performance, Kerouanton will seamlessly transition between African, Latin, Arabic and klezmer songs.

That’s the beauty of it. “We go from one style to another, but still maintain the link between them,” he said.

The collective’s primary concern is creating a forum for underground artists from “ghettoes, the countryside, the third world... anything that isn’t the mainstream,” said Kerouanton, explaining, “places where there is a music scene that nobody hears about.”

Back to my obsession. Every experience with members of the Groovalizacion crew is a new and refreshing one.

So far, thanks to DJ Izem and his colleagues, I’ve seen a live Brazilian funk/soul band perform live, watched a Brazilian/dance fusion dj, danced to African music set to familiar hip hop beats, and heard a variety of songs from around the world so well fused together that I’m not even sure where any of them were born.

“If you say Latin, people have this caricature of Latin salsa,” Kerouanton offered, “but we’ll play Latin hip hop, and people can dance the same way they would dance to American rap.” He added African electronic, Brazilian rock, and even, Celtic urban, to the list of unexpected genres he considers the backbone of Groovalizacion’s musical offerings.

“In general, when people are in the venue and listening, they love it,” he said. However, attracting Irish people to attend gigs “is a struggle.”

While I was chatting with Kerouanton in his office, his fellow dj and Groovalizacion member, DJ Marina Diniz, joined the conversation. She talked about one of the challenges of playing global mixes for people who are used to hearing their favorite top 40 hits.

“Last night I was playing nice Brazilian samba, people were starting to move to it, and then a woman came up to me and asked ‘Can you play something dance?’ I said, ‘what do you mean, dance?’ She said, ‘You know, Britney.”
Dinitz shoke her head, and Kerouanton reasoned, “It’s not very easy to push global underground music.”

And I’ve witnessed this unfortunate truth firsthand.

Having been so impressed by all of the unique musical mixes at “Dublin Tropical” (the name of the parties hosted by Groovalizacion), I’ve made it my personal mission to bring as many friends as possible to enjoy my new favorite music scene. Many of them are instant-fans, but sometimes, they’ll simply walk away, disinterested. And despite the high caliber of musicality and entertainment at these events, many of the performances I’ve seen have been for half-empty audiences.

Maybe he’s just a glass-half-full type of person, but Kerouanton’s outlook is positive.

“It’s a nice country because people are outgoing, they like to go out, like to communicate,” he said, adding, “The scene we’re trying to push in Dublin is nothing new.”

Groovalizacion is one of many hubs for musical exchanges and mashups around the world, like London-based Movimientos, Berlin’s La Chusma, Barcelona’s Brazelona Sessions, and Brooklyn’s Dutty Artz.

“At the moment,” he said, “it’s Dublin’s turn.”

For more information, visit: groovalizacion.com

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