The Connection Between the Black and the Irish in “The Commitments” Through Music

For me, one of the most striking moments of the book and the film was when Jimmy argues to his future bandmates that the Irish “are the blacks of Europe” when trying to convince them of his desire to create a soul band. This comparison, as well as Jimmy’s almost obsessive interest with soul music, confused me until I really thought about the ways in which Irish people and black people shared struggles. 

According to an online encyclopedia, soul music became incredibly popular in America during the 1950-1960s because of its free nature which allowed black, American musicians to express feelings and thoughts about the civil rights movement through the music that they created. While we have heavily discussed the different forms of writing that can be viewed as artistic in this class (plays, stories, books, etc.), we have not so much discussed the art form of writing lyrics and music. 

By producing and releasing soul music, the messages and emotions of the civil rights movement were able to be carried across the country, even overseas, as seen in The Commitments.

As depicted through Jimmy and his bandmates, the Irish working class during the 1980s was struggling with issues of severe economic recession and unemployment during the Troubles. While dealing with these intense struggles, people who were like Jimmy were in search of an outlet in which they could express and share the emotions they felt in relation to these struggles that they were facing. 

After making these connections, it became clearer to me why Jimmy had developed such an appreciation for soul music as well as a want to create it: the freedom of expression and creativity that soul allowed for as well as some of the messages of struggle expressed through that music was inspiring and appealing to him.

In the film, Jimmy describes soul as the “honest,” “working man’s music” that “most people understand.” Because these traits are directly in tune with the struggles that all of his fellow band members share in, Jimmy attempts to persuade them to create soul music by arguing that the Irish “are the blacks of Ireland” and that soul is the vessel in which to also express their struggles and emotions. 

The group is a bit skeptical at first, especially Dean who asks if “maybe we’re a little white for that kind of thing?,” however Jimmy encourages them to give it a chance and embrace their similarities with the black soul artists: “[s]o say it once and say it loud: I’m black and I’m proud.”

One Reply to “The Connection Between the Black and the Irish in “The Commitments” Through Music”

  1. I really like your point here about how this is the first example of transatlantic communication through music we’ve discussed in class. Though much of that can probably be attributed to the somewhat recent development of mass-produced musical recordings (“a new album or a 12-inch or at least a 7-inch single”), I think that music is an especially salient way to understand how cultures “gesture” at each other (Doyle 1). Furthermore, communicating through music allows cultures to also interface with another culture’s history. The history of soul or jazz is inseparable from the history of Black Americans, so when The Commitments play soul, they are necessarily bringing their history and Black American history into conversation, which we have seen done more explicitly through other works like The Moon and the Mars, Transatlantic, or Uptight.

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