Ophe­lian rap-sody

Ophe­lia McCabe, the rap­per from Dublin’s East Wall, re­fuses to be pi­geon­holed as a ghetto-chic hip-hop­per. Her true pas­sions are love, soul and the­atri­cal­ity, she tells Donny Ma­honey

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Music -

short wo­man with a punky, bleach-blonde hair-do walks on­stage in Craw­daddy and in­tro­duces her­self. “I’m Ophe­lia.” Be­hind her a full band be­gin play­ing a deep, funky groove. As Ophe­lia breaks into a wordy skat, some of the au­di­ence im­me­di­ately turn for the bar. A few cau­tiously dance. Most just stand there, un­sure how to re­act.

Ev­ery time Ophe­lia McCabe steps on­stage, there’s an­other scep­ti­cal crowd or wary pro­moter to con­vince. Ire­land’s fe­male rap­pers can be counted one hand – prob­a­bly one fin­ger. Yet she is un­daunted. “You can’t let peo­ple hold you back. Or a mu­sic in­dus­try. Or a way of think­ing.”

Per­form­ing to du­bi­ous crowds has hard­ened Ophe­lia as a per­former, but her mu­sic re­mains point­edly soul­ful. Ophe­lia’s live shows with the five-piece band Red Square re­call hip-hop’s by­gone days, when pos­i­tiv­ity and even love were valid sen­ti­ments to ex­press in song.

Ophe­lia’s hip-hop roots come from Yo! MTV Raps, Power FM and mix-tapes mailed from the US fea­tur­ing the likes of Kool Moo Dee, Pub­lic En­emy and LL Cool J. But it was her child­hood in Dublin’s East Wall that was most es­sen­tial to her artis­tic de­vel­op­ment.

“I was from a very dif­fer­ent fam­ily for the area,” she says. “My dad’s an ac­tor and my mother’s from Kerry, so we al­ways spoke dif­fer­ently. We were all given nick­names grow­ing up. One brother was The Skate­boarder. The other was The Pro­fes­sor. I was al­ways known as Ophe­lia whah?,” she says, putting on her thick­est East Wall ac­cent.

“But, hey”, she says, “we were raised so that it didn’t mat­ter what our ac­cent was

Aas long as we could be un­der­stood.”

Per­haps it was this slightly sep­a­rate ex­is­tence in one of Dublin’s tighter work­ing­class com­mu­ni­ties that drove Ophe­lia in­wards, to­wards pen and pa­per, po­etry and verse.

“My par­ents were kind of mixed up when I was grow­ing up, so they just gave my­self and my two brothers note­books. They’d just say ‘write it down’. We gen­er­ally wouldn’t stay within the note­book. We’d start writ­ing on the wall.

“Town was within walk­ing dis­tance grow­ing up, which was nice. But I’ve had to pay for that walk home a few times. I’ve got a hard head be­cause of it.”

Ophe­lia’s back­ground does in­form some of her lyrics. On La­dy­like, she raps: “I cat call/when I knuckle down, I brawl/some­thing to do with the fact that I come from the East Wall.” But she is most in­ter­ested in ex­plor­ing the heart and soul. You At­tract My Thoughts, a song for a lover who has taught her to feel again, fin­ishes with this ur­gent cou­plet: “The soul can­not die but the body can rot/Give love like your last breath is com­ing or not.” In her own proud fem­i­nin­ity, Ophe­lia sets her­self apart.

Her pub­lic rap de­but came six years ago, dur­ing an open-mic night at the Globe, ac­com­pa­nied by Mes­siah J. Break­ing into the Dublin mu­sic world can be hard work, but for­tune struck last New Year’s Eve, when Ophe­lia met Red Square drum­mer De­nis Cas­sidy. The band were in­ter­ested in play­ing live hip-hop with an MC, and Ophe­lia was look­ing to ex­pand her sound. “Their kind of mu­sic is rooted in what I love, which is soul and beats,” she says.

The pair­ing has cre­ated one of the more unique sounds on the cur­rent Dublin unde rground: or­ganic hip-hop an­chored by her cheeky, im­pas­sioned de­liv­ery. It’s cap­tured on a self-ti­tled, home-recorded EP of Red Square play­ing Ophe­lia-penned tracks.

What’s next? There will al­ways be filler slots open­ing for tour­ing Amer­i­can rap­pers, but Ophe­lia doesn’t want to be pi­geon­holed as just a hip-hop act.

“I’ve had th­ese crazy op­por­tu­ni­ties lately, rap­ping with a swing band, rap­ping with a hard­core metal band, rap­ping with a soul band. I want to do it all. I stand out a lot be­cause I’m a fe­male MC. Peo­ple see it as a com­mer­cially vi­able sound, but they also say I talk a lot in my songs. It’s all a com­pro­mise, I guess.”

Her real dream, she re­veals, is cre­at­ing a true mu­si­cal spec­ta­cle, with a large band ar­range­ment, de­signed stage and a full light­ing rig. “If I get the­atri­cal,” Ophe­lia says, “I’m only fol­low­ing my name.” Ophe­lia per­forms on Sun­day as part of the Dublin Fringe Fes­ti­val’s Sun­day Roast. www.fringe­fest.com/shows/102. Lis­ten on www.mys­pace.com/ophe­liamc

Dif­fer­ent strokes: Dublin rap­per Ophe­lia McCabe. Pho­to­graph: Kate Ger­aghty

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