Irishman does a mean folk-rap

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
April 3, 1992

“I had been looking for ways to break out of the singer-songwriter-folkie mold,” said Luka Bloom.  “So I turned to rap.  Let’s just say I play Irish-industrial-folk music with rap overtones now.”

Let’s just say he’s kidding.  He does incorporate some of rap’s verbal syncopation in his songs, but no one who has heard Bloom sing would mistake the Irish musician for a rapper, much less an industrial artist.  The folk peg is more like it, although he doesn’t fit neatly into that category either.

His work is more acerbic than that of his brother, folk singer Christy Moore.

Bloom is a literary lyricist who generally gives tender deliveries of his songs, but he isn’t above mocking rock with wry words and cynical renditions. Listen to the coy “An Irishman in Chinatown” and try to resist grinning. Although panned by the critics as musical fluff, the song is one of his most requested numbers at concerts.  Chicago fans will get the chance to ask for the song when Bloom, who is touring to promote his current LP “Acoustic Motorbike,” hits the Park West tonight for a solo gig.

“Some people who sing and write songs are almost afraid to allow silliness to come out because they feel it might diminish their artistry,” he said.  “I decided from the beginning I would have some silliness on my records because there’s a lot of silliness in me.  I also tend to write a lot of serious (songs) too, but if you don’t balance it out, it’s not really representative of who you are.”

Rap is about as foreign to Ireland’s music scene as Korean food was to Bloom when he came to America, but the genre was one he found challenging and wanted to sample, if not conquer.

“I come from Dublin, where 99 percent of the people are of Catholic extraction and white,” Bloom said. “Ireland’s exciting, but from a cultural melting-pot point of view, it’s like a bowl of porridge.  So when I moved (for two years) to New York, I got introduced to rap, which I found fascinating. I found myself very drawn to the sound and over-all groove of rap, so I decided to have a shot at it myself.  I went looking for a (rap) song that I could incorporate into my groove and give people a different perception of what a singer-songwriter could sound like.”

He found it in L L Cool J’s “I Need Love.”  His interpretation of L L’s song is all but unrecognizable from the original.  Romantic, longing and surprisingly deft for an Irishman who’d never rapped before, the song also gets an exotic flair from Christy Moore’s manipulation of the bodhrin, a traditional Irish drum.

“It was very exciting for me incorporating different cultural aspects on this record,” Bloom said.  “It was like learning a new language in a way.  Rap has gotten a lot of flak for being a very simplistic art form, but it’s technically very difficult to get the phrasing and rhythms right, and still inject the proper emotion.”

“I Need Love” gave him the confidence to write his own pseudo-rap song, “Bridge of Sorrow.”  Using both rap and smoky vocals, Bloom captures both the pathos and beauty of his words without sounding like a hesitant ingenue.

“Yeah, I guess my next step is making a disgusting sexist video for MTV,” he said, laughing.  “But my treatment would have to be very different. For an Irish rap song, we’d have to get green babes.  No, I go for the pretty soft videos, which I hope aren’t too schmaltzy. But as long as it doesn’t get mistaken for one of Michael Bolton’s, I’m fine.”

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