‘Other Voices’ starts new conversations as festival extends range

Dingle-based festival moves beyond music-based origins to explore wider discourse

As Other Voices finished up in Dingle on Sunday, its audience was left reflecting on its core purpose and sentiment.

And it increasingly orientates around what shape conversations can take and how they can be elevated. These conversations and methods of engagement take many forms; Aoife Ní Bhríain, the avant-garde classical violinist also steeped in traditional music, communicating through a stunning recital; and what felt like a landmark public interview between Dr Maeve O'Rourke and Jim Carroll about how the State continues to let down survivors of Magdalene laundries.

They could be the burgeoning hip-hop scene showing off its glorious talent in Kerry pubs, or the high-level chats at the Ireland’s Edge conference at the Skellig Hotel, which included the chairman-designate of the Health Service Executive, Ciarán Devane; the former Brexit spokesman at 10 Downing Street Matthew O’Toole; and anthropologist Prof Genevieve Bell.

Whatever is happening down here, Other Voices has moved far beyond its original intentions – songs from a room recorded for television – to something that is unique, complex and multifaceted.

The festival continues to travel to new outposts including Ballina and Berlin, but Dingle is its physical and spiritual home and has been for 17 years.

While Other Voices attracts international names, including Gruff Rhys of Super Furry Animals this year, Irish talent is central to the event, perhaps increasingly so. Friday night, Dubliners Mango X Mathman brought their brand of blisteringly energetic grimy Irish hip-hop with a dash of rave sentiment to Dingle. Gigs from A Smyth, Daithí, Columbia Mills, R Kitt, and I Have a Tribe were all lauded.

Irish rap

The dominance of Irish rap in contemporary Irish culture received a crowning moment with Kojaque performing on the St James’s Church stage, a couple of years after another Irish rapper, Rejjie Snow, played on the same spot, signalling a shift in Irish music. Kojaque, with a full band, alongside the vocalist Kean Kavanagh, and MC Luka Palm, made bold, sophisticated artistic choices, impressing the audience in the church, and those watching the live stream in Benners Hotel across the road from the church and in other pubs around Dingle.

Also in the church, a duet of Joni Mitchell's River between Irish singers Loah and Jack O'Rourke was a weekend highlight, as was Mahalia's set, a sort of homecoming for the British artist who was returning to Dingle after she last played, three years ago, aged 17.

Banter, a series of public interviews by Jim Carroll, which at Other Voices takes place in a packed back room of Foxy John’s pub, continues to bring a fascinating level of discourse to the festival. Saturday’s four-hour line-up featured a conversation about the intricacies of reporting on Brexit with RTÉ’s Tony Connelly, BBC Radio 1’s Annie Mac, journalist Ellen Coyne’s reflections on the biggest stories of her young career, and that remarkable interview with Dr O’Rourke.

On Sunday, the recipient of the Orwell Prize for journalism, the Observer and the Guardian's Carole Cadwalladr, opened the second day of Banter.

Dingle creaks slightly under the strains of capacity as locals and visitors flood the town, enthusiastic to catch talks and gigs, most of which are free. There was a bit more wiggle room in the pubs on Saturday night as the club night After Dark took over the local Hillgrove nightclub with DJ sets from Bradley Zero and Aoife O’Neil.

One Other Voices first-timer bemoaned the lack of similar nightclubs, combined with the night’s quality music policy, in Dublin. Other Voices is about that elevation, the beauty that can be extracted from what is seemingly incongruous, and a respect for the audience’s intelligence. Sustaining something like this year in, year out is hard, but it’s certainly worth it.