Directed by Claire Dix, Broken Song tells the story of Costello, GI and Willa Lee, street poets, hip-hop artists, rappers and song-writers from North Dublin. Through their words they have found a way to diffuse their frustration with the chaos that surrounds them and to inspire others to master forms of self-expression which nurture creativity rather than anger. It opens in the IFI this Friday and ahead of it’s opening I caught up with James Costello and Willa Lee to chat about the film and what it means to them.
First things first, where did it all begin?
James: Back in an estate in Mulhuddart. It’s in the film. I grew up there. I heard hip hop when I was a kid and decided I was going to do it. It makes me feel good that now years later I’m in a documentary. I’m glad I believed in myself, I could have been doing anything else right now.
Willa Lee: I was in a Youthreach programme and Dean Scurry was doing a thing called Invent for Axis that he was trying to get me to do. He got me to sing for the class and told me to come back when I was ready. I came back two years later and I got involved in a few music projects and he introduced me to Lethal Dialect and Costello.
So what would you be doing if you weren’t doing this?
James: Eh, I was always good at history, I loved Irish history, I have a good memory so I probably would have been a history teacher or something!
One of the things that stood out for me in the documenttary was the scenes where you were mentoring the younger kids in the area, is this something that’s important to you?
James: Yeah, definetly. When I was growing up there was no one doing it. I would have learned a lot from the American hip hop artists. But we are here now, so it’s on us. If we don’t do it, no one else will. There’s also the very real element that there’s so much bad stuff that kids can get involved in, you see it with Willa’s background in the film, it can get bad. It’s easier to get involved in crime, so we have to make sure the kids stay positive.
It got quite personal for you in the film, how do you feel about that?
Willa Lee: I was happy about it. When I watched it back over it showed how far I had come. It showed my progress. I liked that.
James: I keep it real. I study in life. I put out who I was in the film and if people don’t accept that there’s nothing I can do about it.
One of the things levelled at you guys is the old stereotype of being from a “disadvantaged area”. How do you deal with that?
Willa Lee: Well I don’t really see us as that cos I live there all the time. So its not like that for me, the day to day is the norm for me.
James: Well the reason the sterotype is there is because there is some people that do the things that cause the sterotype to exist. People could see me and go “oh he’s got a bald head, he must be up to mischief”. All we can do is keep our head down and try to work at changing people’s opinions and try get the kids to be positive. You need a whole generation to act responsible.
Why did you chose to chose to do the film?
James: It was the dream! Someone was interested in filming what I loved doing. How could I turn that down.
One of the things that came through for me was how passionate you guys are, is it because of where you come from that make you so good at what you do?
Willa Lee: I think there’s a build up of emotion alright. It’s a form of expression for me. I’m very passionate about where I come from so I enjoy doing what I do.
Is there going to an explosion of hip hop in Ireland? Is that the hope?
James: Yeah definitely. I see it already. I do be all over the city and everywhere I go I see people with such talent. It’s out there!
How has hip hop changed your life?
James: Ah it’s just been brilliant. When I was 14 and in school and telling people I was going to meet the Wu Tang clan, people laughed at me. I met them last year at the Button Factory. I’d say to anyone, keep doing what you’re doing, keep dreaming!
What are your future plans?
Willa Lee: I don’t like thinking too far ahead to be honest. I’ll definetly stick at the singing and see where it takes me. I already do gigs but I’d like to be mainstream maybe one day. We’ll see what happens.