Denise Chaila: Go Bravely review – A hip-hop star in the making
Hip-Hop & Rap
She’s the artist everyone is talking about, a household name for many off the back of a handful of singles. So how did Denise Chaila get here? More importantly, why has her star ascended so quickly?
It’s true that the Zambian-born, Irish-raised rapper has an eloquence, intelligence and ability to engage when it comes to the big issues troubling the world in 2020: gender, racism, culture, the struggle to find your place in an increasingly chaotic life. It’s also true that she has charisma, presence and vocal dexterity required of a hip-hop star in the making. But why her?
Chaila’s debut mixtape (ie a more casual compilation of songs designed to set the scene for an album proper) goes some way to answering those questions, augmenting the promise first heard as a guest MC on on Rusangano Family’s Isn’t Dinner Nice back in 2016. That track lambasted domestic violence and gender inequality in a powerful manner; on her 2019 solo EP Duel Citizenship, she challenged the bigoted custodians of Irish culture and savaged misogynists of the hip-hop scene with just two pithy songs.
Those themes are further explored on Go Bravely. Opening track Chaila sets the tone magnificently, a clipped Eastern-influenced soundtrack laden with swagger and lines such as “Don’t need your concern if you look at me and see a Trócaire kid”. As a lyricist Chaila is confrontationalbut not aggressively so, as heard on songs Down (which deftly weaves Irish school phrases into its rousing lyric sheet), Can’t Stop Me Here and Move, two tracks that touch on mental health and pledge positivity through gritted teeth.
In fact, this album as a whole is part-sociological adventure, part-self-help guide for listeners with low self-esteem. The overbearing theme is one of self-empowerment, best heard when referring to herself as the “black James Bond” on standout Anseo or the soul-infused affirmation of the title track.
It’s also a musically varied collection – from Ri Ra’s summery “block party” vibe, to the sinuous self-searching soul of Pieces, to the grime of Holy Grail, the offbeat, jazzy tilt of Move and the subtle dancehall undercurrent on Anseo. Yet it’s also distinctly Irish, with references to everything from the Ardnacrusha Power Station and Fionn MacCumhaill to spice boxes and Centra.
These subtle idiosyncrasies, blended with the universal themes that Chaila is exploring here, are what ultimately sets her apart on this auspicious beginning. Remember the name: it’s C-H-A-I-L-A.