NEW YORK — It’s not too often that a band like Seanchai and the Unity Squad comes along. Joining revolutionary politics with a revolutionary sound, the New York-based band, led by Chris Byrne, a Brooklyn native and former police officer, has made a name for itself.
The group combines a diverse mix of punk, rock, reggae, hip-hop and Irish influences with overtly political, in-your-face lyrics on topics ranging from the fight for freedom from British colonialism in Ireland to the commercialization of hip-hop.
“Irish Catholic Boy,” the band’s newly released sixth album, is its best yet, bringing together all of these elements in a flawless composition which is sure to be considered one of the best albums of the year.
The album opens with the title track, “Irish Catholic Boy,” a song that uses Irish uilleann pipes and Clash-like guitar riffs that come together and shoot a powerful opening salvo at the ruling class, which has “never had it so good since the Gilded Age/Raising an army/Not the minimum wage.” The speed and strength of the song emphasize the strong sense of solidarity expressed in the lyrics such as, “Liberation theology/If one of us suffers/none of us are free.”
This message of solidarity is also addressed in the next two songs on the album, “Gypo” and “Ernesto Guevara Lynch.” “Gypo” tells the story of a traitor who has informed on his comrades, “another brother who sold out the patriot game.”
“Ernesto Guevara Lynch” pays homage to the great Latin American revolutionary leader who gave his life struggling for a better world. Drawing attention to Che’s Irish heritage, Byrne sings that while this son of Ireland may be dead, he continues to inspire and guide the working people of the world in their fight for justice.
It would be impossible to speak about this album without mentioning the incredible Rachel Fitzgerald, whose wonderful voice backs Byrne on the three songs mentioned above. Fitzgerald also sings solo on three other tracks throughout the album.
One of those songs is called “We’re Gonna Get There,” a beautiful song highlighting the unity of working-class mothers facing the tremendous difficulties of the world around them. One of the rich lines says, “their pockets/on the backs of the poor” and continues with “our young ones … to go fight their wars.” Rather than lamenting such a sad state of affairs, however, Fitzgerald sings, “We got each other/and we’re gonna get there … Just hold on.”
Perhaps the greatest message of hope on the album can be found in “Bogside Girl,” a song alluding to the Irish Republican neighborhood of Derry in Northern Ireland. As the chorus goes, “I’m walking forward cause the wind’s at my back/And the sun’s shining/Warm upon my face/I’m looking forward cause the future’s in the palm of my hands.”
Listening to Seanchai and the Unity Squad’s latest album, we can indeed feel that the future is in the palm of our hands and that the working class can turn back the tide of the Republican right and build a new world of peace, justice and equality.
Seanchai and the Unity Squad play every Friday and Saturday night at Rocky Sullivan’s Bar, on 28th Street and Lexington Avenue in New York City.
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