Singer- songwriter Síomha told David Hennessy about her debut album, the broad musical education her father (well known trad musician Paul Brock) gave her and returning to the Irish language many years after school.
Clare singer- songwriter Síomha combines elements of folk, jazz and neo-soul in her music.
She also combines the English and Irish languages in her debut album Infinite Space which is released this week.
The album was recorded in Ann Arbor, Michigan with Grammy nominated Tyler Duncan (Carly Rae Jepsen/ Theo Katzman/ the olllam).
Síomha told The Irish World: “The album is written around the idea of our collective oneness, that we are all the same.
“Everyone across the world, and every thing, is the same.
“And so the way Martin Atkinson (long term collaborator and keys player) and I kind of saw the concept of the album is we wanted to make it almost like it’s one piece, that you consume it in the same way that you’d watch a film.
“We wanted to kind of take the listener through a journey that reflects the ups and downs of life.
“So the opening track Machnamh translates to meditation so we call it the hug for the listener to set you up for almost being catapulted through space, and you go through various feelings and various emotions that sometimes are challenging and sometimes are uplifting, and sometimes they’re sad.
“And then by the end of the record, you come back and you’re kind of given that nice hug again.
“There’s this complete sharing of emotions that the album offers.”
The album was two years in the making but this didn’t feel like too long a process for Síomha who would have been happy to work on it for the rest of her life.
“I had never gone down the road of trying to make an album before that, because I was waiting on the right person to come along.
“And it was when I met producer Tyler Duncan and when I toured with his band the ollam that I was like, ‘Okay, Tyler is the guy for this’.
“I asked him if he would like to be involved and I was lucky that he said yes.
“The pandemic definitely did put delays on a lot of things but I think this was going to be a long process record anyhow with or without the pandemic.
“When we were in the process of doing it, we were so deep into it, I kind of thought to myself one day, ‘If I’m making this album for the rest of my life, it wouldn’t be the worst thing’.
“It was just such an enjoyable experience.
“But then you get to the end of it, and you realize it’s finished.
“We actually had a listening party for some of our Kickstarter backers just last night and it was the very first time that I listened to the record with other people.
“And that was a very special feeling realizing that it’s going to come out now on 22 of April and other people are going to get to enjoy it. It’s really an immense, emotional feeling for me.”
Síomha shared the first taste of the new album with the single Spéir Rua last November.
describes the track as a love song for the landscape of the West of Ireland inspired by many late night drives after gigs.
“Spéir Rua translates to Red Sky.
“I used to play a lot of pub gigs. I would play up in Galway every Monday throughout the summer so at about two in the morning, I’d have to get in the car and drive home.
“And usually it was about four o’clock when I was starting to come into Lahinch. I’d be driving into the darkness towards the west and I could see the sun coming up in my rear view mirror.
“And in the mornings in July, when it wasn’t raining, I would be treated to this beautiful spectacle of the sky just blazing up in red.
“I would be looking out towards the Cliffs of Moher where it was still dark and the sun would come up and the sky would just light up.
“I used to just stop and watch that.
“There was absolutely nobody around.”
Síomha has since followed this with Right From the Start and her latest single FLY.
The album contains several Irish language songs. Although Síomha was raised with the language, she had gone away from it until she decided to rectify this in recent years.
“I went to Gaelscoil in Ennis for primary school and then I went to English language secondary school.
“I always had an interest and love for the language, but once I had done my leaving cert and left school, I actually had no reason to speak it.
“I didn’t have friends who were Irish speakers and I wasn’t involved in the Irish language scene so I completely forgot the language for basically all of my 20s.
“And even people who had the cúpla Focal- You go into shops and they speak to you in Irish and I would actually say to them, ‘Sorry, I don’t speak Irish’.
“One day I said it and I realized, ‘Why don’t I speak Irish?’
“So I kind of went on this path to start speaking Irish again and now I actually use Irish every day.
“I think it’s having a huge revival in terms of music especially.
“There’s a lot of artists who are performing in the Irish language at the moment like Kneecap, the hip hop group in Belfast.
“I mean ten years ago if you said you thought there would be somebody as popular as Kneecap rapping in the Irish language, you would probably have been laughed at.
“But it just shows you.
“They’re playing huge festivals over in Europe now and I think there is an interest in the language in Ireland and also in other countries. People are interested to hear it even though they don’t necessarily understand it.
“It’s got this kind of power behind it when you hear it.
“There is a lot of people who have gone back just to kind of get back into it.
“I think that is the most important thing. I even had that attitude myself where I was blaming the school system and everything until I realized, ‘I have the ability to change this. And I can go and relearn this and start using it again’.
“I’m very happy to be doing it, especially singing in the Irish language.
“The vowel sounds of the Irish language are just far more beautiful than the English language.”
Síomha’s love for music was passed on to her by her father, traditional musician Paul Brock.
“We got a very musical upbringing.
“We grew up in a house that was full of music and singing and we were going through all the instruments as kids until we eventually found our instrument of choice.
“It was really when I found the guitar about ten- Dad played a little bit of classical guitar so he taught me some stuff, and then I became absolutely obsessed with the guitar and forgot all about the fiddle and the flute and the piano.
“He was interested in lots of other music as well so it wasn’t just that we had trad at home.
“I mean, there was a lot of trad at home but I never gravitated towards trad in my early years.
“I love listening to it now but I never played it, I didn’t take it up at all.
“And I think Dad was encouraging enough for us to just follow our own path, which was great.
“He’s a big jazz fan as well.
“I picked up a lot of understanding of music from my father, how to listen to music, how to understand when something is truly mastery of music, how to recognize styles.
“He was giving us a very broad musical education. Even being in the car with him he asked us questions when we were very young like, ‘Special prize for anyone who can name me what fiddle player that is’ kind of questions, so we learned a lot from him.”
The record Infinite Space with its almost infinite range of styles shows that Síomha is not pulled towards any particular genre of music.
“And I guess I never was really.
“I went through a lot of phases in my life.
“My first obsession was the Beatles when I was about ten.
“And then of course, as a teenager, I went through my Nirvana phase.
“And I went through my Jimi Hendrix phase like everyone else and had a punk phase for a while and learned a lot going through all these.
“When you’re going through obsessive music phases, you dive in deep.
“Jazz kind of took over.
“I started to listen a lot to Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday.
“Again, these would have been things that we would have listened to growing up and I guess at different times, I suddenly woke up to them as I got older.
“Having such a broad spectrum of influences, I never really saw a specific genre in what I was doing.
“I don’t write with a genre in mind, I kind of just write music.”
Síomha travelled to Palestine in March to work with refugees. Although she had done her research, she was not prepared for the conditions she saw there.
“I was there with a project called ACLAí Palestine.
“ACLAí Palestine set up a community gym in Aida Refugee Camp in the West Bank.
“Ainle Ó Cairealláin set up the project a couple of years ago.
“And so I went over helping them.
“We spent a week working with the community.
“I was also working a little bit in with the community centre music project so I got to learn some Arabic songs and learn some pieces on the oud.
“It was a brilliant experience and also very horrific to see the conditions that these people are living in.
“I obviously would follow a lot of Palestinian pages online and was trying to educate myself on what’s going on, but nothing prepares you for the reality of the situation.
“When you see the restrictions that they have in place on their water, their electricity, their actual movement- They’re not allowed to go to the same places. They’re not allowed to use Tel Aviv airport where we flew into. They’re not allowed to travel through certain areas where we are allowed to travel through and it’s just heart breaking to see that this is happening and that the world seems to be ignoring it and turning their back on these people.”
While she was sharing Irish music and culture with some young Palestinians, Síomha saw firsthand the kind of persecution they endure day to day.
“They were very interested in Irish music and very interested in our language actually as well.
“I was working with a group of teenagers, they were about 14 or 15 years old and there was one point we were in a music class and these Israeli soldiers arrived down and started to fire tear gas at the community centre.
“And the girls I was working with said it was such an everyday occurrence to them. It’s just so normal.
“And when I asked them about it, they said, ‘We’re not too concerned about what’s happening outside because we’re fighting the occupation here with our music and our dance and our language’.
“I just thought that was really powerful to hear a 14 year old girl say that.
“We experienced three different days where there was a full-on attack by the army with tear gas, just in the week alone that I was there.
“The Aida Refugee camp where we were based is, according to Berkeley University, the most tear gassed place on the planet.
“There’s many reasons for this.
“One of them is that there is a military training base just beside the camp so the Israeli army use the Aida refugee camp as a training ground for young soldiers.
“Also, tensions can be very high.
“When we were there, I believe there were two Palestinians who had been murdered by the Israeli army and so there were demonstrations by the community of the refugee camp against these killings, so the soldiers respond.
“It’s just horrific to see they have nothing. The only thing that they can do is try and demonstrate by throwing stones for example.
“And the army come out with tanks full of tear gas and rubber bullets.”
Aren’t the routine use of tear gas and rubber bullets reminiscent of the darker days of Northern Ireland?
“Ainle, who founded the ACLAí Palestine project, grew up on the Falls road in Belfast and I think we do have a shared history of occupation.
“And I think there is a lot of support amongst the Irish community for the people of Palestine.”
Síomha’s visit coincided with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. While Palestinians felt for another nation on the receiving end of hostility, they wonder why the same international outrage has not been afforded to them.
“We were there in the first week of the invasion of the Ukraine.
“It was difficult to see our Palestinian friends who were kind of watching this happen and in shock that this was happening to the people of Ukraine.
“But also for them to point out five days later they were introducing sanctions in the international community, and almost 70 years later, there has been no sanctions really against the Israeli government.”
The album Infinite Space is out now.
Síomha plays dates around Ireland 23 April- 26 May and hopes to get to the UK before the end of the year.
For more information, click here.