Steo Wall’s Where I’m From & ‘More Blacks, More Dogs, More Irish’–Songs of Multi-Cultural Ireland
By Bill Nevins, Staff Writer
Steo Wall is an Irish songwriter, singer and recording artist who is from the Traveller community, that historically-itinerant ethnic group of Irish people also known as Pavees or Mincéirs. The Travellers have for centuries lived lives separated from much of Irish settled society. They are not related to the Roma so-called “gypsys”, but in fact are believed to be descended from pre-Celtic inhabitants of Ireland or perhaps to have split off from the rest of the Irish population at the time of the Cromwellian invasion, massacres and displacements in the 1600s. They have no written histories of their own and their culture consists of oral story-telling.
Most Travellers speak English but many also speak Shelta or Cant, a language that mixes English and Irish Gaelic. In the recent past they were called “tinkers”, “pikers” and shunned or persecuted, though most are Catholic like the majority of Irish citizens.
In recent years, things have improved a bit for the Travellers. In 2017 the Irish government officially recognized them as an ethnic group, and increased educational and social services are now being provided to them. Irish society has belatedly begun to accept and to try to understand the Travelling People, who in some ways share a social position roughly parallel to that of Native Americans. Overall, as Steo Wall is very aware, Irish society is struggling to adjust to becoming multi-cultural.
Steo Wall mixes traditional music, folk song and rap. He says about his album Where I’m From and his song, “My People”: “It is a genuine folk song paying homage to all that have gone before me. These are a small few of the people who, not only carried the flame for travelling people, but also Irish folk music and culture. They inspired generations after them, me included. I don’t know if it comes across on the track, but my voice was trembling with emotion while recording this song. It genuinely felt like I was standing on the shoulders of giants.”
Steo Wall lived for years in Dublin but has more recently established his home in the west of County Clare. He spoke with Hot Press magazine about his experiences there: “It’s a weird buzz for me, because if you were to meet me without me telling you that I come from a Traveller background, you’d never guess it. I suppose the discrimination stuff that I would experience, especially down around here where I’m living, would be discrimination and racism that’s ingrained in people toward Travellers and people from outside, like refugees.
I experienced it last year. There was a direct provision [refugee re-settlement] centre here in Miltown Malbay, and the guys there were fleeing for their lives basically. We used to do coffee mornings and play some songs with them, and just get to know them on a human level. They’re amazing chaps, but the conditions in the Centre were horrible. One of the activists who was helping with the direct provision centre, trying to get better conditions for the lads, she started getting hate mail, and that fucking boiled my blood. It inspired me to write a song that’s going to be on my next album, called ‘More Blacks, More Dogs, More Irish’. I hate talking about my own songs, but this is turning into a bit of an anthem.
Irish people have been economic migrants for hundreds of years. Even going back to the Famine, we fled. But if you fast-forward to the 1970s and ‘80s in London, you had ‘‘No Blacks, No Dogs, No Irish” – I remind people about that in this song. It’s kind of inverted.
I probably should be more upfront with it. The way I am, even as an activist or a songwriter, I’m not in your face. My thing is, whatever I see going on in the world, I take it into my little room here and I write about it. I let the song do the talking.
I’ve always said that change needs to start at grassroots level. They’ve passed bills and stuff now, where teaching Traveller culture and stuff is on the curriculum. When I heard that I thought it was amazing, because what we need to do is educate people on the beautiful ways of not just Traveller culture, but African culture, Iraqi culture, Iranian culture. All cultures. We need to get the melting pot going.”
While Steo Wall has not yet performed in the USA, in a recent email to this reporter, he says that will happen “soon” and that he hopes to visit us here in New Mexico!
You can find more information on Steo Wall and links to his music at https://steowall.ie n