‘For Sheriff Street to be seen outside of Ireland in a positive light, it feels like a dream’

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Artist Gemma Dunleavy features in Playback, a showcase premiering at the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival this Sunday.


Source: Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival/YouTube

“IF YOU GOOGLE Sheriff Street or North Wall you don’t get any positive stories,” says  Gemma Dunleavy, the Dublin songwriter, producer and rising star whose work is reclaiming the narrative of her close-knit community. 

Her single Up De Flats is one of 12 music videos that feature in a new project showcasing the work of artists across the hip hop and R&B spectrum in Ireland.

Playback, which will debut at the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival on Sunday (7 March), presents the music videos alongside interviews with the featured directors and artists as they discuss their process, style and collaborations – curated by producer Michael Donnelly V and musician Erica Cody. 

Dunleavy worked with director Rosie Barrett and cameraman Albert Hooi on the video, which set out to capture Gemma’s day-to-day life among her much-loved Sheriff Street community. 

Three months and 100,000 views later, Gemma says she can’t imagine how the Up De Flats video would have turned out in anyone else’s hands but Barrett, who brought out the best in everyone (Gemma’s family, friends, neighbours, and a legion of small fans). 

Barrett managed to create a love letter to that part of the Northside, concentrated down into a four-and-a-half-minute video which Gemma says made it more than a visual to go with a song. 

“It almost became a place for people to get lost for four minutes, to feel like they belong to something,” Gemma said. “Having someone make a video showing that is just the biggest gift, because it’s an opportunity to show outsiders that.”


Source: Gemma Dunleavy/YouTube

In the past few years, Irish hip hop and R&B has become the musical genre that perhaps most accurately reflects the diversity of Irish society. Artists like Dunleavy use their work to honour rather than “slander or look down on” their community. 

Many of those artists are part of a new generation whose parents or grandparents were not born here, but who made Ireland their home. Hip hop and R&B in Ireland is a multicultural pursuit.

Work by artists like the Narolane collective (Denise Chaila, MuRli and God Knows), Jafaris and JYellowL has increased the visibility of the black Irish community. Chaila has in particular become one of the leading voices on Irish identity and equality, and her record Go Bravely is nominated in this year’s Choice Music Prize. 

The song Up De Flats came about while Dunleavy was working on a separate project that sought to celebrate the inner city community while highlighting aggressive redevelopment that’s taking place in the area. 

“When I went into the studio that was on the tip of my tongue, and so it ended up trickling into the music,” Dunleavy said. 

“For me, getting to highlight that is unreal because not a chance is the media going to give us a positive spin on our community in any other area – like it had to happen through someone doing music.” 

People outside of Ireland will get to see Playback, and Sheriff Street, when it premieres later this year at festivals and arts centres across the world – including cities like London, Paris, Berlin, New York, Moscow, Mumbai and Ottawa.

“I spend my whole life trying to convince and tell people that everyone is welcome in our community. No matter what we have faced through the years, we’re so together, and we always just want to bring people in under our wing,” Gemma said. 

For Sheriff Street to be seen outside of Ireland, especially in a positive light, it feels like a dream. It feels like something that just wouldn’t happen if it wasn’t in the hands of someone in our community.

“It means the world to me that it is coming from the horse’s mouth as well.” 

Up De Flats is up for RTÉ Choice Music Irish song of the year tomorrow, and while Gemma is delighted to be nominated, her loyal fans are eager for a win. 

“Everyone around here is like ‘we better win this’… everyone feels like it’s theirs because it is.”


Source: narolane Records/YouTube

As previously mentioned, Gemma is one of 12 artists chosen by producer Michael Donnelly V and musician Erica Cody to showcase music video filmmaking in Ireland. 

Other artists featured are: Mango X Mathman; Denise Chaila; For Those I Love; Biig Piig; Kojaque; James Vincent McMorrow; Tolü Makay; Loah & Bantum; Jafaris; God Knows; Rejjie Snow and Snoh Aalegra & Cam O’Bi.  

Michael V says each act is a trailblazer in their own right as they are “helping a different generation be more confident and put their voices across”.

“When some of the artists like Mango X Mathman, for example, when they were coming up they didn’t really have other examples of someone doing this in Ireland to look at, so it didn’t feel kind of achievable in the same way,” he said. 

“As a result, it was very hard to have the confidence to go out and rap in an Irish accent.”

Michael Donnelly V has over 30 music video credits to his name and has produced two IFTA award-winning short films, Rockmount (2015) and Heartbreak (2017). 

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His first feature Dublin Oldschool was released in 2018, opening in 36 cinemas nationwide and was one of the best performing Irish films in the domestic box office that year.

Michael V and Erica Cody set out to showcase the art form and to present it in a way that respects all the kind of work that goes into making these videos. A project Michael says might not have come together had the artists “not all been in this level five lockdown world”. 

Playback is not a traditional documentary but Michael thinks the format will allow audiences to get a lot out of it as the artists and the filmmakers give “a little peek behind the curtain”. 

Playback will be screened as part of Virgin Media Dublin International Festival on 7 March at 7pm. Tickets cost €10.50 and once the content becomes available you have 72 hours to start watching. Visit Diff.ie to see the entire festival programme and book tickets. 

TheJournal.ie has two tickets for Playback to give away, to be in with a chance to win simply email [email protected] with your name and contact details. 

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