‘I was super shy, super reserved and music took me out of that’ – rising Dublin hip hop star Jafaris
Ireland’s thriving underground urban music scene is finally breaking through to the mainstream and Dublin hip hop artist Jafaris is one of the rising talents poised to make that leap.
He has also just been chosen alongside Saint Sister and Kormac for Three Ireland’s Made by Music campaign, which is creating visually arresting music videos for songs about connection.
The first video, released today, is for Jafaris’ powerful If You Love Me. Shot by New York based Irish director Shane Griffen it’s a visually stunning tale of a relationship through time. For Jafaris, the campaign shines a light on him at a time when he’s ready to step up.
“The fact that Three are even recognising my music is mind-blowing to me,” the modest star tells Independent.ie. “I feel like I’m pushing towards breaking through right now.
Edith Bowman jetted in to Dublin to launch the campaign. The former MTV presenter and BBC Radio 1 DJ said it was an easy 'yes' to get involved.
"There's so many things that are a big thumbs up for this," she says. "It's a big brand like Three getting involved in something that's giving these new artists, that are very different genres of music, a chance, a platform, promotion, support to get their music heard.
"It's really easy for bands and artists to make and release music now. You don't need to rely on a record company and radio play but to be heard and to have longevity, to have a future, you do need support from somewhere so I think it's a fantastic initiative."
For Jafaris, it's a sign Ireland is starting to pay attention to artists like them.
"I just know friends of mine who have gotten more attention from outside Ireland than Ireland itself in recent years, but it feels like that’s changing, like we have the support," he says. "The scene is growing and there are more artists coming up. It’s an exciting time.”
Having released his four track EP Velvet Cake to rave reviews in April last year, he’s gearing up to release his debut album - independently - in October.
“I’m extremely nervous,” says the soft-spoken star. “As an artist, if you sit on music too long you get bored of it or want o change it or start again so I’m a bit nervous I’m not going to be happy at the end of it! But I’m enjoying the process. It’s really helping me find myself. It’s my first album so it’s trial and error here and there.”
Releasing music independently is no easy feat, but Jafaris says he’s content to do so right now.
“There’s always pros and cons but I’m very very happy being independent at the moment,” he says. “Just doing research on how labels work and knowing people who are with labels I feel this is a more organic way, more authentic, and it helps me build a fan base from scratch rather than just being out in people’s faces you know?
“I know it’s a lot harder to make it this way. But that’s not to say if a label came with the right deal I wouldn’t take it but I’m very content with where I am. There’s a huge sense of freedom being an independent artist. I want to build leverage so I can partner with a label rather than being under a label.”
Jafaris, whose real name is Percy Cahmburuka, is originally from Zimbabwe but moved to Dublin when he was six and says “Dublin is definitely now home”.
He says that he was not aware of any racism directed towards him as a child when he arrived, although he adds, “there were certain incidences where I didn’t know what was going on – I didn’t even know what words meant – but looking back it was a little bit dodgy for me at the start. But then you fit in and you go to school and make friends and then this is home. It was a good experience. It was like any person coming to Ireland would have felt at that time.”
He was a rather mature 15 before he started paying attention to music, singing, and writing. Dance had always been his passion and he was on course for a career as a dancer.
“Dance was where my heart was from when I was ten,” he says. “I always really wanted to be a dancer. I really took it seriously, but music found me.
“Because I was a super shy super reserved person, music kind of took me out of my shell that bit more. I could say everything I wanted to say but in rhyming form. I could hide that I was talking to a specific person even though I was talking to a specific person. So music kind of found me like that.”
Jafaris is one of several up-and-coming artists (Soulé and Hare Squead are just two others) who have teamed up with Diffusion Lab, a Dublin based production and artist development collective focusing on Neo Soul, RnB, and hip hop.
“They’ve helped in every sense of the word,” he says. “I’m still really, really trying to find my sound but at the same time I’m kind of developing a mentality of not looking for my ‘sound’ but just kind of make music that comes from myself.”
Although he counts Kendrick Lamar and J Cole among his influences, he says he also listens to Saba and a lot of Neo Soul from Jill Scott to Eryka Badu.
Live performance is where he really shines – he has natural stage presence, perhaps thanks to his dance background, but he’s a popular addition to the line-ups for Longitude in Marlay Park this month and Electric Picnic in September.
While his focus is very much on music right now, Jafaris also has his sights on an acting career having previously flexed his acting muscle with a role in John Carney’s 2016 hit Sing Street.
It came about by chance. Jafaris was auditioning to be a backing dancer for a UK artist and wrote that he was also an actor on the form. He was asked to audition for the movie and did so for John Carney and received a phone call on his way home to say he had bagged it.
“It was crazy, because somebody already had the part and it was a friend of mine so I felt so bad that I took the spot from him but at the same time happy that I got the role,” he reveals.
“It was purely by chance. Every day I was just there to learn simply because it wasn’t a big role, so I was in the background watching. I was lucky because the first movie I did was with people my age and the set was like a family. They were saying, ‘don’t expect this on every set!’.”
Three Ireland's #MadeByMusic will unveil further videos for songs by Saint Sister and Kormac later this summer.