Denise Chaila: On My Culture Radar

The rapper on Eddie Murphy's comedy and why Spirited Away is a confidence-boosting watch

Rapper Denise Chaila: ‘Jean-Michel Basquiat was powerful and important because he segued into fine art but never forgot that he began as a street artist’

Rapper Denise Chaila: ‘Jean-Michel Basquiat was powerful and important because he segued into fine art but never forgot that he began as a street artist’

 

Current favourite book

I’ve just finished Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, which came out in 2018. It’s a gorgeous fantasy story, written by a Nigerian woman (who, by the way, is 26. It’s terrifying). It’s like Black Panther with a main character who’s trying to bring magic back to her people. It’s a hero’s quest, and one that’s taken by a black girl and nondescript place in a nondescript universe. It’s loosely an allegory about the experience of blackness in a modern society, but it’s also a really beautiful story that stands alone. It’s beautiful, really fun and I can’t recommend it enough. 

Restaurant

In Limerick, there’s Taikichi which does Japanese food. I seem to spend way too much money on food that I inevitably have to carry home with me because my eyes are bigger than my stomach. They have a chef’s selection of an intimidating amount of sushi, which comes out on a boat. Bring five people and €30, and live your best life.

Comedian

Eddie Murphy! I wasn’t allowed to watch comedy growing up, but when I got my first phone and went on the internet, I watched his old stand-up routines from midnight until 5am. Eddie Murphy is incredible at taking a small detail about life and making it macrocosmic. He was mentored by Richard Pryor, one of the most influential comedians of all time, whose big thing was honesty: he put himself out there and was real and vulnerable. Eddie Murphy came through and took the mantle, with the confidence of someone who really believed in their art. I’ve learned a lot from Eddie Murphy’s confidence.

Artist/designer

Jean-Michel Basquiat. He’s powerful and important because he segued into fine art but never forgot that he began as a street artist. In his work, I can see the influence of Picasso, I can see what cartoons he was watching at the time, I can see the way you see the human body. I see his multilingual background, I see him shouting who he is through the pieces, I see African art. He was uncompromising about being digestible to the traditional canon of fine art. People compare his commentary to jazz: it’s brassy, it’s in your face, he goes off on tangents where you don’t really know what’s going on, if you’re being honest, but someone does. There’s a courage in taking ownership of yourself – especially in a field where you’re working with white artists who have more familiarity with the way the system works. It’s brave and should not be overlooked.

Album

I’ve been rediscovering To Pimp a Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar. It was released in 2015, and it was the album that won him a Pulitzer Prize, would you believe. It’s powerful narration. With the recent election, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be black or an immigrant in Europe. So it’s been beautiful to listen to what defiance, truth and honesty sound like when that’s also paired with unflinching determination and economy. It’s not about self-empowerment, but the desire to enfranchise others through the strength of the work.

Social media profile

StyleLikeU are a mother-daughter duo from California who do podcasts and videos, and are across all social media platforms. They’re dedicated to a self-acceptance and self-care revolution. Their “What’s Underneath” series really changed my life when I needed to gain more confidence in my body and who I was. They interview a person and as the questions get deeper, the guest takes one item of clothing off. By the end of it, they’re sitting in their underwear on a stool in a studio, telling you what their truth is. It’s a simple concept, but it’s so powerful.

TV show

I love superhero comics so I’m watching The Boys right now. Simon Pegg is in it – he only has a few cameos, but it feels like he’s at the centre of it somehow. It’s a hyper-realistic take on what the world would be like if there were superheroes in it, if those superheroes were treated as celebrities, and if, like celebrities, they weren’t born with an innate moral compass that automatically gave them the tools to differentiate right from wrong. Check your triggers before you watch it – it handles sexual violence in a sensitive, but very real way.

Film

I watch Spirited Away whenever I’m going through something new or different. I love watching things that have a hero’s journey where I can grow up with the protagonist. In the film, Chihiro is a bratty immature young girl who has to break a curse on her parents. By the time you reach the final frames of the film, her childishness is there, but she’s assured. That hasn’t come through falling in love with anyone at the end – it’s through her own growth. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of the film because the symbolism of having your name taken from you, or given back to you, or redefined, is everything to me. 

Denise Chaila appears at Other Voices in Ballina on February 28th and 29th. othervoices.ie

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