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Dublin: 7 °C Saturday 23 March, 2019
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How a Norwegian street musician crashed her van in The Liberties, bought a horse, and was embraced by the community

The Musical Slave recently released a music video which focuses on the two and a half years she spent in The Liberties in Dublin and the people she met there.

The Musical Slave

THE MUSICAL SLAVE is a street musician and storyteller from Bergen, on the west coast of Norway. She recently released a music video for the song No Plan (aka I’m gonna choke your chicken) which focuses on the two and a half years she spent in The Liberties in Dublin and the people she met there.

The song has won widespread acclaim for its depiction of Dublin’s south inner city and the people who live there. It has close to 100,000 views on YouTube, has been played on national radio and has been picked up by many music bloggers.

Here, she speaks to TheJournal.ie about her time in The Liberties, befriending and going cruising with a group of 16-year-olds, Dublin’s urban horse culture and living on “Jungle time”.

Source: The Musical Slave/YouTube

1. Your song and video No Plan (aka I’m gonna choke your chicken) tells the story of your time in The Liberties in Dublin and the people you met there. What’s the story how you met the boys from the lane?

A few years back I decided I was sick of my life, and I needed to go on an adventure. So I bought a van and drove off into the world. After driving around Northern Europe for a few months, I ended up in Dublin.

And on my first day there, I was looking for a place to park, and someone pointed to this laneway off Thomas Street in Dublin 8. But there was only one space left at the very end, and somehow I managed to crash my back light into the wall.

Just seconds later, I saw a horse come out of the same wall! I couldn’t believe my own eyes, but I walked over, and soon I was surrounded by these teenage boys. And one of them asked me if I wanted to come for a spin.

I didn’t know what a spin was, but I knew I didn’t want to miss the chance, so I said yeah. And next thing I knew I was flying down Cork Street on a horse and two-wheeler, dodging buses and cars.

245678 (1) Source: Ewa Figaszewska

And there was something about being on a horse in the middle of town that just lit the fire in my heart. And when we came back to where I´d crashed, it turned out there were five horse yards and about 20 horses just in this one laneway.

2. How would you describe the Liberties in Dublin? What sense did you get of the place and the people who live there?

I was hooked from the very first day. I guess I fell in love with this laneway with the horses and boys. And I kept going back there every day. I actually felt like I’d walked into a fairytale, and that the real world was far away.

But I remember it was hard getting used to their accents, and I couldn’t always follow the conversations in the beginning. But there was something special about these people that just made me want to stay.

And they just had this really strong energy about them, and a crazy sense of humour. They could turn any completely normal event into a mad story, and have everyone on the floor laughing.

Konsert i hestestall2 Source: Paula Rouse

They had this way of attacking life, no matter what was thrown at them. If they took a fall, they would just get straight back up, and always with a comeback line.

3. How would describe the teenage boys you met and made friends with? 

There was this group of teenage boys, who became the main characters in the song and video I made about the Liberties (above). And they are really the smartest and funniest people I have met in my whole life.

They have this way of always being in the flow, and making crazy things happen in the middle of everyday life. Even a trip to the shop turned into an adventure when I was with them.

It was almost like they had their own time zone too. I call it jungle time, because nobody used a watch. And whenever I was with them, I would lose my sense of time, and just stay there all day.

Cruising i bilen3 Source: Kjersti Aarstein

4. What did you learn from them?

It was the boys who taught me how to go “cruising” with the horses and cars. And the art of cruising is an important part of the video. I wanted to show how cruising brings you into this zone where you don’t have to think and you can just enjoy being alive right here and now.

The point is that these 16-year-olds are actually on the ball, and they have something important to teach the world about life and about freedom. And basically, we should all go cruising more often.

Also I couldn’t have made the song and video without them, and thanks to these boys, the urban horse culture of the Liberties will go down in history.

10 Source: Ewa Figaszewska

5. Tell us about your experience of the urban horse culture in the Liberties

One day, one of the boys asked if I wanted to come to the Ballinasloe Horse Fair. It was over in the west of Ireland, and I had no idea what I was in for. I guess I got carried away, and I ended up buying my own horse, a beautiful black and white trotting horse that I named “Danu” (after the Celtic earth goddess). And then I moved him into the yard.

And that’s when the fun really began. I didn’t expect it at all, but when I had my own horse it was like I wasn’t their guest anymore. They started treating me more like they treated each other, which was kind of rough <laughs>.

It was like all the boys wanted to test me, which resulted in a few fights and wrestling matches. And I snapped a few times, but it just brought out the viking in me, and after a while I got the hang of it. And as long as I barked loud enough I usually didn´t have to bite <laughs>.

Cruising i bilen1 Source: Kjersti Aarstein

The best part about getting my own horse was rediscovering the Liberties with it. I had to take my horse out every day, so I had different routes I would take around the neighborhood.

I jockeyed up and down Cork Street, and round by the Guinness factory, and sometimes down Thomas Street. But mostly I just did all the little side streets in The Liberties.

And everywhere I went, people would shout “Norwigi” after me (one of the boys gave me this nickname).

But it took a few weeks to gain the trust of my horse. He’d never even been in a city before, and in the beginning he got spooked by the cars.

9876 Source: Ewa Figaszewska

But after a few weeks we were flying, and we both felt like we could trust each other. And there is no greater feeling of freedom than when you’re riding a horse in the middle of the city.

You feel powerful when you’re on a horse, and to me it felt like forest was taking over the city, like nature was winning over the cars and buildings.

6. What effect do you think the horse culture has on the area and the people?

The horses bring a very calm and soothing energy to the area. And the boys show a completely different side when they’re with their horses. They become calmer and more sensitive and more caring.

I think having horses in the middle of the city actually makes a lot of sense. I think people need to feel this contact with nature, and that the horses remind us of our own wild nature, and remind us what it feels like to be free.

989 (1) Source: Ewa Figaszewska

I know some people say it’s not good for the horses to be in the middle of the city, but I actually don’t agree. Instead of taking the last bit of nature out of the city, we should make the cities greener and more natural for both people and animals.

But it’s hard work too. Having a horse is almost like taking care of a baby. It takes up all your time. But maybe that’s why it’s supposed to “keep you out of trouble”, as the boys would say.

7. Did you feel during your time in The Liberties you were embraced and let into the community?

Once I’d had my horse for a few months, things started to calm down. I got used to being in the yard every day, and I got used to the slagging and the water fights, and I felt like I never wanted to leave.

P1014334 (1) Source: Alan Holland

I also started going to the local pub, Bohan’s. There was a DJ there every Friday night, and they played this pop house music that I normally would never listen to. But after a few nights in Bohan’s, I was hooked. And now I’m still into house music.

And it was kind of funny how I found my place in the Liberties, because everything was very different from my life at home. But at the same time these people made me feel even more at home.

Because it’s such a tightly knit community, it’s like people know what you’ve said or done even before you know yourself. And this can have downsides, but it also makes you feel very seen and heard.

You’re constantly being written into the drama and stories that are travelling round the neighborhood. It’s like you’re a character in a sitcom, and everyone wants to know what you’re gonna come up with for the next episode.

filming utenfor hestestall (1) Source: Marianne Thon Sørensen

9. Was your time in the Liberties ever a struggle?

I’m used to travelling on my own, so the Liberties didn’t really present any major challenges. But I have to say, one thing I like about the Irish kids, is the pranks. Their sense of humour is very creative.

I mean, they will slag you too, but mostly they’ll do things like soak your car seat before you sit down, or try to trick you into drinking piss, or hide your horse and convince you the RSPCA took it, or attach something to the back of your car, or take your keys and hijack your car, or buy a gerbil and just leave it with you, or try to talk you into bringing a sheep down from the mountain.

They will really make an effort to try and mess with your head, or talk you into doing something mad that you’d never normally do. So yeah, these were the kind of challenges I sometimes faced in the Liberties.

But I got used to it, and then I came up with my own pranks. And I remember I pushed one of the boys into the Liffey, and one time I pretended to drive off and leave them in McDonald’s.

Musikkundervisning2 (1)

That time they went mad, they came running after the van throwing burgers and soda at the windscreen <laughs>. So we got a lot of entertainment out of each other. And the pranks keep you awake too, it keeps you on your toes!

But sometimes things got more serious. A few times my van was attacked by kids from rivalling neighborhoods, and I had my windows smashed a good number of times. And that kind of gives you a bad feeling, but you learn how to work around it.

It’s like you’re in the jungle, and you just have to learn how the different jungle animals think. And once you know where to not go and what to not do, you’re mostly fine.

And anyway, this problem of aggression is not unique to Dublin, it’s a universal problem. And I think that behind any aggressive act there’s pain.

If someone hurts someone else, it’s always because they themselves are hurting. And the only way to fix this, is to go to the root of the problem.

10. Your video and song look at The Liberties from the perspective of an outsider – How important is it for cities or cultures to be viewed from this perspective?

One thing that I found funny was how the boys would always be saying that their neighborhood was a shithole and a dump.

And I would always be going on about how amazing it was, and how lucky they were to be part of this very special community, and to have this contact with the horses.

download (13) Source: Cormac Fitzgerald

Don’t get me wrong, these boys have so much love for their community, but I think everyone knows this feeling of being sick of your own area.

And it made me think about why I´d left my own town… because basically it felt like a shithole and a dump .

To me this just proves one very important point: travelling is important. Everyone needs to see life from a different perspective once in a while. If we were meant to stay in one place, why were we given legs to begin with? Or cars, or horses?

The second you move your ass to a different place, with different situations and different people, you’re forced to change your outlook on life.

And I feel you see people more for who they really are. You see them with fresh eyes and a fresh heart. You don’t judge them as much as you would someone from your own neighborhood.

download (14) Source: Cormac Fitzgerald

11. On that note, how did you feel The Liberties community was viewed by the rest of Dublin during the time you spent there?

I think there is a classic mistake most of us humans make: the minute we think we know someone or something, we label it. And we like to keep that label, no matter how much the person or situation changes.

It’s easier to just keep our old ideas of how we think things are, instead of really looking and feeling and maybe having to change our minds.

See, one thing I noticed about Dublin was that people can be quite hostile towards each other. They have these preconceived ideas about people from other areas.

People from that area are like this and they always do like that, and people from this area are like this. And it´s very sad when prejudice gets in the way of real communication, and new experiences.

12182474_1631748287075386_4249588495485471775_o (1) Source: Fran Cassidy

But I guess it’s just a way of protecting ourselves. I get scared too sometimes when I’m travelling around, and I don’t know what to expect from people. And I’ve gotten burned many times, because I’ve been too trusting.

But I still think it’s worth it, to stay in the present moment, and to not judge anyone before they’ve proved themselves to be an asshole. Cause if you meet people with an open heart, their hearts are likely to open too.

13. Do you think that some people pre-judge the people and culture of The Liberties?

I definitely think that some people misunderstand the culture of The Liberties. These people have their own way of life, their own fiery attitude, their own crazy sense of humour, and they don’t back down for any one.

I guess if you want to get to know them, it helps if you’re a little mad yourself. But they are also extremely kind and big-hearted. And I was taken very good care of the whole time I was there.

gatekonsert4 (2) Source: Ray Beggan

They’re very sharp too, sometimes I´d get the feeling they would just look straight into my soul, and see my deeper wishes and intentions.

But I found the same thing here that I´ve found in most places I´ve been – that if you’re honest, and if you’re just being yourself, then you’re given a fair chance.

And I think that’s what I liked the most about the people of the Liberties, that they they’re very honest – if they like you they’ll show it, and if they don’t like you, you´ll know it.

But even more importantly, this neighborhood is keeping an ancient tradition alive. The horse culture has very deep roots in Ireland, both from Celtic times, and from the industrial revolution.

The horses in the area were used in the Guinness factory when it started up in 1759. So these boys are actually doing an important job passing the horse culture on to future generations.

And I don’t think the wider Dublin community appreciates this enough. Just because they don’t always  fully understand the people of the Liberties, it doesn’t mean they should ignore the value of their contribution to Irish society and culture.

The people I met in the Liberties are really some of the most honest and hardcore people I’ve ever met. They don’t fake it, what you see is what you get, and it´s up to you what you want to do with that.

They have really strong spirits, they don’t let anything get them down, and they don’t let anyone stop them. They have sharp teeth too, and if you annoy them they’ll fight back.

But most of all they have really big hearts. And they are some of the most caring people I’ve ever met. And I learned so much from them about freedom, and about doing what you want to do no matter what anyone tells you.

Music

15. Finally, at the very end of the music video you get invited to party with the locals. Did you go, and how was it?

Yep, I went to the party! It was in a nearby pub, and I actually played my song there, and everyone was singing along.

And I had my 3 pints of Guinness. I think I only drank Guinness the whole time I was in Ireland. I loved it, because it didn’t really make me drunk, it just made me kind of calm and peaceful

I actually went to a lot of parties in Ireland. But my favourite parties were these local pub parties in the Liberties, with disco balls and house music. And where you could just go mad on the dance floor and nobody cared.

They would just go, ”gowaaaan Norwiiigiiii!!!”

I miss being called Norwigi.
You can hear more from The Musical Slave by visiting her YouTube channel

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