The Limerick rapper Strange Boy has been announced as this year’s winner of the Liam O’Flynn Award by The National Concert Hall and The Arts Council.
Jordan Kelly aka Strange Boy will receive a bursary of €15,000 from the Award, which was established in memory of the late, great piper Liam O Flynn who passed away in 2018.
Strange Boy will also be offered an opportunity to enjoy a period of artistic reflection and creation in residence at the National Concert Hall to collaborate and create new work to be performed at the NCH.
Strange Boy released his debut album Holy/Unholy in 2021 which fused hip-hop, trad and rap in one unique colloquial Limerick release.
With Holy / Unholy, Strange Boy recasts himself a multitude of things – a rapper, a spoken word artist, a poet (“a 1000-year-old poet channeling through the body of a young man from Limerick”) and with Enda Gallery producing, shies away from any sort of standard rap beats in favour of traditional Irish music instrumentation.
Holy / Unholy is an unvarnished album for the marginalised with the artist spilling his guts over a unique backing of bodhrán, flute and banjo.
The combination of Strange Boy’s visceral recounting of hardship and pain, desolation and despair (“I don’t like myself too much / I don’t want what’s best for my health”) is as unfiltered as it gets, while Hazey Haze, Moya Brennan and Sean Macnally Kelly bring supporting narrative words to this thoroughly unique new voice in Irish music.
Speaking about the Award, Strange Boy said:
“With the release of my debut album, Holy/Unholy in 2021, I had the honour of creating the genre of ‘Traditional Irish Rap Music’. By blending hip-hop and Irish traditional music, I was able to bridge old and new cultural influences in a way that truly resonated with audiences. Working alongside my producer, Enda Gallery, we seamlessly combined hip-hop, spoken word, and Irish traditional music to create a genre that feels as if it has always existed…I have always believed that rapping was a modern form of storytelling.
Preserving Irish culture and the tradition of the old Irish storytellers, or Seanachaí, has always been a passion of mine. As a traditional artist, I feel it is essential to preserve our ancient bardic traditions while also introducing new and innovative ideas. That is why I am so grateful to be awarded the Liam O Flynn award and to have the support of the Arts Council. With access to ancient archival stories in the National Concert Hall, I am able to pay respect to Liam O Flynn’s legacy by celebrating the role of the individual creative traditional artist in the creation of new works, unique artistic collaborations, and innovations.
I am thrilled to be joined by Irish storyteller Aindrias De Staic, guardian of Eddie Lenihan’s collection John Lilis, my all-star band of traditional musicians, and long-time producer Enda Gallery at the prestigious National Concert Hall. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to perform at a venue that has held so many great Irish musicians before me. I am excited to continue pushing the boundaries of Traditional Irish music and storytelling while also paying homage to the rich history that has come before me”.
Robert Read, CEO of the National Concert Hall added:
“In presenting this award we recognise and support innovation in traditional music and in so doing are pleased to continue the legacy of creative evolution in the genre as practised by Liam O Flynn throughout his career. Presented in partnership with The Arts Council, we bestow this award on an artist whose work draws on Irish traditional music and song to inform his own art form, contemporising it in ways that has a particular resonance for new audiences and celebrates the transmission of traditional arts in unique ways for future generations to enjoy”.
Maureen Kennelly, Director of The Arts Council commented:
“Storytelling and the oral arts are an integral part of our traditional arts and Strange Boy’s contemporary take on the seanchaí is a relevant and natural response to an ever-evolving artform, bringing the traditional arts to new, more diverse audiences. We are delighted to partner with the National Concert Hall to present this award, honouring the legacy of the great Liam O’Flynn, to such an exciting, innovative artist.”
Strange Boy is the fifth recipient of the award; previous recipients include uilleann piper Louise Mulcahy (2022), concertina player and composer Jack Talty (2021), multi-instrumentalist, singer and composer Barry Kerr (2020) and harper and composer Úna Monaghan (2019).