U2 graced us with one of the greatest songs in the history of music, “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” and spammed everyone’s Apple devices with an album many never asked for (2014’s Songs of Innocence). Sinéad O’Connor teased as she sang “I Want Your (Hands On Me),” teared up as she crooned “Nothing Compares 2 U,” and tore up a photo of the pope. The Cranberries begged to let it “Linger,” while Hozier pleaded “Take Me to Church” (interestingly, O’Connor did as well, although it was a completely different song). Scan any pop or rock radio station, and you’re bound to hear a tune or two from Irish musical acts. The Corrs, The Frames, Enya, and countless others have dominated the American musical landscape for decades, becoming as essential a part of popular music experience as your standard issue garage band-turned Grammy darling.
Whereas other European countries have gifted us with a rather diverse cadre of acts of color—British artists like Omar Lye-Fook, Corinne Bailey Rae, Lianne La Havas, Estelle, and Brand New Heavies; Ben l’Oncle Soul, Les Nubians, and Corneille from France; and Belgium’s Zap Mama, Jean-Louis Daulne, and Technotronic’s Ya Kid K (by way of the Democratic Republic of Congo), Ireland, not all that surprisingly, hasn’t produced nearly as many. According to the 2006 Irish census, just around 1% of the country’s population self-identified as black. Still, black actors, athletes, writers, and politicians have made an impact on Irish culture, be they Irish-born or immigrants from various parts of Africa and the Caribbean. And black Irish musicians, though perhaps not as readily recognizable here in the U.S., are equally as notable as their British and French counterparts.
When Irish-born songstress Laura Izibor emerged on the scene in 2009 with her hit single “From My Heart to Yours,” the Dublin native quickly drew comparisons to Alicia Keys for her dexterity on the piano and Jill Scott and Lauryn Hill for the rich tones and textures of her voice. Her debut album, Let the Truth Be Told, was an instant smash, yielding singles like the infectious “Shine,” “Don’t Stay,” and “If Tonight is My Last,” and VH1 heralded the rising soul star an Artist You Oughta Know. In 2012, Izibor released a 3-song EP, The Brooklyn Sessions, Volume 1, but has yet to drop a full-length follow-up to her outstanding inaugural offering.
In 2000, at the height of the teen pop renaissance that saw artists like Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Destiny’s Child, and Mandy Moore delivering Whitney- and Mariah-esque runs while baring their belly chains and piercings, Samantha Mumba hit the charts with “Gotta Tell You.” Despite the single’s undeniable success (it was on virtually every in-store music program and all over MTV), the Dublin-born singer’s platinum-selling debut album of the same name would not only be her first, but her last. Her song “Baby Come On Over” also performed well on the charts, but the momentum swiftly sputtered to a halt. A couple years later, she released a new single, “I’m Right Here,” which was meant to be the lead-off from her second album, but the album never came to be. Mumba transitioned into TV and film, landing roles in 2002’s The Time Machine and on U.K.-based daytime television shows. In more recent years, Mumba has hinted at a return to music, releasing a song called “Only Just Begun” in 2014.
Hip-hop artist Rejjie Snow is a YouTube sensation, boasting more than 1 million views each for his tracks “Lost in Empathy” and “1992.” He released his first mixtape, Rejovich, in 2013, which, according to Dazed and Confused Magazine (who named the Dubliner one of its Dazed 100), toppled Kanye West’s Yeezus from its top position on the iTunes hip-hop chart. The video for his 2015 smash, “All Around the World,” featured none other than Lily-Rose Depp, the 16-year-old daughter of actor extraordinaire Johnny Depp and singer/actress Vanessa Paradis. With a slate of tour dates throughout Europe and an upcoming performance in Los Angeles in April, Rejjie Snow shows no signs of slowing down as he capitalizes off
the momentum gained from his initial releases. Check out Rejjie Snow’s music on SoundCloud.
Perhaps the most famous and influential name on this list, former Thin Lizzy front man Phil Lynott was born to an Irish Catholic mother and Brazilian father. Kicking off his music career in Dublin in the 1960s, Lynott joined his first band, Black Eagles, in 1965 as the lead vocalist. Several bands later, in 1969, Lynott, Brian Downey, Eric Bell, and Eric Wrixon formed Thin Lizzy, with Lynott handling bass, lead vocals, and the bulk of the band’s songwriting. The group’s first big hit was 1976’s “The Boys Are Back in Town,” from their album Jailbreak. Even as Thin Lizzy enjoyed international acclaim, Lynott kept busy with multiple side projects. He released two solo albums in 1980, Solo in Soho and The Philip Lynott Album, and by the time Thin Lizzy disbanded in 1983 he was on to the next with a new band, Grand Slam. Despite his success both with Thin Lizzy and as a solo artist and songwriter and producer for other artists of the time, Lynott succumbed to years of alcohol and drug (particularly heroin) abuse, and he died of pneumonia and heart failure in 1986. Lynott was 36.
Rhonda Nicole is the Managing Editor for SoulTrain.com, a member of The Recording Academy (The Grammys) and ASCAP, a soul singer/songwriter, music journalist, blogger, and curator of the BohemeRockstar Music Blog (IG @BohemeRockstar), splitting her time between the Bay Area and LA. Download her EP ‘Nuda Veritas’ on CDBaby and iTunes, keep up with her new music at soundcloud.com/rhonda-nicole, follow her on Facebook and on Twitter @wildhoneyrock, and dig her musical musings at rhondanicole.com.