A Review of Jun Tzu’s first album: ‘The Troubles’ & a chance to win the CD

Belfast isn’t widely known for its hip hop.  That could all be about to change next month when Jun Tzu releases his album ‘The Troubles’.

Jun Tzu - The Troubles

‘The Troubles’ is about much more than the music.  It’s a very personal record that has been 7 years in the making.  All the music was contributed by Jun Tzu’s family and friends.  For those who still like to read the lyrics there are 16 pages of beautiful artwork with the cd (for details how to win a copy of the cd see below).

‘The Troubles’ will be like nothing you have heard before.  In a world of conformity and imitation this is a genuinely unique piece of work stuffed full of style and substance.  It’s a musical and lyrical autobiography that wrestles with the head melting dichotomy of growing up British in Northern Ireland and Irish in Britain.   It’s about coming to terms with growing up as the son of a political ex-prisoner in Northern Ireland.  It’s about the day to day struggle of a young man trying to make it.  It’s an antidote to cynicism.

Jun Tzu doesn’t pull his punches.  In ‘Wee Jonny’ he explains his frustration with much of the music industry:

‘I’ll tell you what pisses me off, right? See all these rappers?  There’s loads of them.  And they all sit there and they all write their songs their whole lives and it’s just lyric after lyric of bullshit.  They have nothing that they feel they need to say. There’s no real content.’

‘The Troubles’ is a collection of stories told with brutal honesty that move effortlessly between anger, humour, compassion, and confession.  There are stories about growing up, trying and failing to make it, and watching while everything around you goes to hell.  These are songs that will appeal to people who feel they are on the ropes and battling against the odds.  In ‘Irish Eyes’ Jun says:

‘It’s hard to smile when your life is a shambles’.

Jun Tzu

Photo by Darren Anderson

Fans of Jun Tzu will love new versions of ‘Born in Belfast’, ‘Wee Jonny’, and the powerful ‘Here lies a Soldier’.

The album is packed full of humour and self depreciation, classic Northern Irish traits.  ‘My Daddy’ recalls growing up in Rathcoole, eating sliders (ice cream), and visiting Belfast zoo.  Newtownabbey has never sounded so cool.

‘Bloody Brothers’ follows Jun when his family moved away from Northern Ireland, first to Wales and then to Manchester.  In Manchester Jun and his brother were labelled Irish by their peers – a strange experience for the sons of a former Loyalist prisoner – and they didn’t take it well, getting into all sorts of trouble on the way.

‘A Cause Worth Living For’ is written from the perspective of Jun Tzu’s father ‘Packie Hamilton’, who was brought up in Rathcoole and lived near a young Bobby Sands before the conflict erupted in the late sixties.  He recalls being beaten up and thrown into a river by a gang of Catholics as a child.  From this experience he learnt two things: how to swim and not to play to Catholics.

The song goes on to tell how Packie later got involved in the conflict and joined the Tartan Gangs and the UVF.  He was then sentenced to spend time in the Maze prison, being labelled a ‘hopeless case’ by his mother, before undergoing a religious conversion while still in jail.

‘Here lies a soldier’ is the final song on the album and deserves a special mention, not just for how it is crafted musically but for the maturity of the lyrics.  It’s a song about the futility of violence and the human cost of conflict, and pays tribute to combatants from all sides who lost their lives in the conflict.  It ends with this dedication:

‘This song is dedicated to the men who have laid down their lives, to the men who have fought and died in the wars of mankind.  This song is dedicated to the women, all the women who have suffered, and to the children, the children who have been scared and affected by the Troubles.’

 

To be entered into a draw to win a copy of ‘The Troubles’ just do two things:

1. Share the public post about this article on my facebook page before 11th August

2. Like Jun Tzu’s facebook page.

Winner will be announced week beginning 12th August.

 

Jun Tzu will be performing the full album live at the Stendhal festival, Limavady, on Saturday 9th August.

You can buy the cd version of the album through this LINK or  at shows from 9th August, or on iTunes from 29th August.

For more details keep up to date with Jun Tzu on Twitter or like his page on Facebook

Check out  ‘Born In Belfast’, the first track on ‘The Troubles’, below:

Jun Tzu: from East Belfast to Ardoyne (stopping at Bangor and Ards)

Last week I had the great pleasure of setting up poetry and rap workshops with various youth groups and schools for ‘Norn Irish’ rapper, Jun Tzu.  It was a very busy couple of days, but he delighted his old fans and made many new ones.  Watching the young people walk out of the workshops with big smiles on their faces and free signed cds in their pockets was a sight to behold.  Many thanks to Jun Tzu for taking the time out and traveling over from Manchester to do this work.  Below are some of the highlights of the two days:

Tuesday:

Firstly, we met a group from Dundonald High School at the Skainos Centre on the Newtownards Road, organised through Charter NI (see below).  Big thanks to David and Caroline from Charter NI for organising and to the headmaster of Dundonald HS for bringing the pupils out of school at the beginning of term.  During the workshop Jun asked the group to write down everything they associated with their school.  They then wrote their own individual poems about the school and read them aloud to each other.  After this each participant took a line from their own poem and composed a collective poem about their school based on the ‘Save Dundonald High School’ campaign.

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On Tuesday evening we visited North Down Community Assistance in Newtownards.  It was a brilliant evening with some of the local teenagers from the Bowtown estate.  Thanks to Laura and Walter for hosting and organising the group.  Jun Tzu performed some of his own poems and then got the young people to write and perform their own.  Below are two shots of the workshop:

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Wednesday:

On Wednesday morning we visited Holy Cross Boys Primary School in Ardoyne.  While there Jun Tzu performed a rap to the senior classes in the school (see below) and afterwards held a question and answer session with the boys.  The best question of the morning was, ‘Do rappers get taxis or buses?’ The answer, of course (as everyone knows), is buses.  Thanks to the staff of Holy Cross Boys’, especially the headmaster, for making us so welcome.

Later in the afternoon, we visited Bangor Alternatives in Kilcooley.  Thanks to Jim, Jim and Ruth for hosting there.  A special mention must go to Dylan – aka Yland – a 13 yr old rapper who Jun Tzu told was better than he was when he was 13.  Dylan is definitely one to watch for the future!  Below are a couple of photos of some of the particpants with their signed cds and the workshop:

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After the workshop Jun Tzu did a gig in Kilcooley Community Centre for the local community.  Despite some dodgy acoustics he pulled through and put on a great show for his young fans (and a few older ones too).  Thanks to all who helped organise, publicise, and lend equipment to make it happen.

Not finished yet, Jun Tzu then went and performed a gig in the Menagerie which went on late into the night.  Below is a clip from ‘Wee Johnny’, one of the stand out tracks of the night and a firm fans’ favourite (as you will see from the singing along).

A huge thanks to Jun Tzu for all the hard work he put in and to all the individuals and organisations who worked together to make the trip such a success.  A final thank you to Chris Eva for videoing the workshops and for Darren Anderson for taking photographs.

For anyone who still wants more, there is an article about Jun Tzu and a video of him performing on the Newtownabbey Times website here.

Jun Tzu’s album ‘The Troubles’ will be out later this year – in the meantime you can check out his music on Youtube.

Review of Belfast Baby by Jun Tzu

Jun Tzu was brought up on the outskirts of North Belfast, on the large Loyalist public housing estate of Rathcoole, Newtownabbey.  Rathcoole is the type of place where it is impossible to grow up and not be affected in some way by the legacy of 30 years of ‘the troubles’, and Jun Tzu was no exception.  Jun’s Dad was a Loyalist prisoner during the conflict, something he explores in Wee Jonny, one of the stand-out songs of his album Belfast Baby.

At the age of eight Jun moved to Manchester, where he would have hoped to escape the harsh reality of growing up in a society at war with itself, but instead he experienced bullying and prejudice in England as a result of being perceived Irish.  He wrote in the comment section of my previous blog post on him: ‘i could not understand this because my whole life i was told i was British. I was left with a nationality and identity complex; was i British or Irish?‘   It is this tension in his identity that informs much of Belfast Baby and makes it much more than just another hip-hop record.  It is a deeply personal reflection on the struggles facing young men and women growing up in the new Northern Ireland – post-Good Friday Agreement – and trying to make sense of who they are.

You will never have heard an album like this before.  Jun Tzu is crafting his own unique genre of Belfast hip-hop.  Belfast Baby might not be for everyone.  This is not polished pop-rap about money and girls, designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator.  It’s hard hitting and pulls no punches.  It’s authentic, gritty, and real.  It’s deeply rooted in pain and suffering.  This, of course, is what true art is about – coming to terms with the dark underside of our existence.  The language in many of the songs is profane (although there are radio edits available for those of a more sensitive disposition) but the message is one of hope and perseverance through catastrophic circumstances.

Belfast Baby is a rich cocktail of emotion, creativity, and power, mixed with Jun Tzu’s own personal reflections and social commentary.  Highlights are many but, for me, the outstanding tracks on Belfast Baby are Wee Jonny and The BridgeWee Jonny is a deeply personal response to the reaction of some of Jun Tzu’s critics to his music.  In The Bridge he explores themes such as social segregation, peace walls, and fear of the ‘other’.

I suspect we’ll be hearing a lot more from Jun Tzu in the future.  For a taste of what is to come post- Belfast Baby check out the following video.  If you don’t listen to all of the clip fast forward it to 8:45 for a song that will make the hair on the back of your neck stand up.  I played this video to a Loyalist ex-prisoner I know and he was speechless throughout.  When it came to the end of the song all he said was ‘That was powerful.’  It’s Jun Tzu at his brilliant best:

Check Jun Tzu on My Space, follow him on twitter, or like him on facebook.

Introducing Jun Tzu – Belfast hip-hop

juntzuThis week, via my friend Ricky McQuillan, on facebook I came across Jun Tzu, a young rapper/hip hop artist who was brought up in Rathcoole, Newtownabbey.

I had never heard of this guy before but what I’ve seen from a few videos on youtube I think he’s worth listening to.

I don’t want to say too much about Jun Tzu other than offer a few observations.  His lyrics are autobiographical and clever.  At times they are funny, at other times, painfully honest.  I also like his use of colloquialisms and that he hasn’t toned down his accent.

First, hear him hanging out with some kids in Rathcoole beside a UVF mural:

It seems to me like stating the obvious, but from the reactions of the kids in that video Jun Tzu’s hip hop will be able to communicate to young people in a way that community relations and other funded peace education programmes can only dream of doing.

Jun Tzu is clearly not shy about talking about his background.  In the next video he addresses the issue of what it was like to grow up in a segregated society.

It strikes me that Northern Ireland desperately needs an art form that appeals to grassroots young people.  Historically, hip-hop has acted as a means of emotional catharsis, much like blues, jazz, and other musical genres did for previous generations.  It is almost always rooted in working and lower class communities.  For those of you who are not fans of hip hop have a look at what Cornel West says about it:

‘At their best, these [hip-hop] artists respond to their sense of being rejected by society at large, of being invisible in the society at large, with a subversive critique of that society.  It has to do with both the description of the conditions under which they are forced to live, as well as a description and depiction of the humanity preserved by those living in such excruciating conditions.  It then goes beyond to a larger critique of the power structure as a whole.’

If you think that’s taking things too far, check out this last video where Jun Tzu talks about his struggle with the legacy of his Dad’s involvement in the UVF and the tension between expectations of some people in own community and finding an identity that is not rooted in bigotry.

If you listen to the media you could be forgiven for believing not much good can come out of Loyalist and Unionist working class areas.  Jun Tzu is proving them wrong.  Good luck to him.