It’s difficult to know what the music of the ancient Celts really sounded like. What we know as Celtic music today is really the traditional music developed recently in several western European Atlantic regions that used to be inhabited by Celtic tribes over 2,000 years ago. This common heritage, in addition to centuries of trade and interaction, has created strong cultural bonds.
The great Celtic music renewal took place in the 1970’s thanks to various influential artists. Breton musician Alan Stivell introduced the Celtic harp to large audiences. Gwendal, also from Brittany, toured Europe extensively for two decades with its blend of Celtic music, jazz and rock. Scottish seminal band Silly Wizard played some of the finest Scottish music and created a school of followers. Irish groups like Plantxy and The Bothy Band attracted worldwide attention with their concept of Irish folk music. In Galicia, singer and harp player Emilio Cao, the now legendary group Milladoiro and the influential Vigo School of Bagpipes initiated the amazing Galician Celtic renaissance.
Thanks to the proliferation of Inter-Celtic festivals since the 1970’s, musicians from Brittany, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Galicia, Asturias, and other locations, have exchanged tunes, musical instruments and participated in mutual recordings. The Celtic reawakening has brought the recovery of the hurdy gurdy in Brittany and Galicia, the Celtic harp in most Celtic regions and a new found respect for the bagpipe.
The major European centers of Celtic music today are Ireland, Scotland, Brittany (France), Galicia (Spain), Asturias (Spain) and Wales (Great Britain). Other smaller regions with a strong Celtic music heritage are: Cornwall (Great Britain), Northumbria (Great Britain), Trás-os-Montes (Portugal) and the Isle of Man (Great Britain). Outside Europe, the music from the Irish, Scottish and Galician diaspora has found a comfortable home in eastern Canada, the United States of America, Argentina and Australia.
Celtic music today has crossed over into the pop mainstream thanks to artists like Afro Celt Sound System, Enya, Altan, Loreena McKennit, The Chieftains, Ashley McIsaac, Connie Dover, and to the new age market by way of numerous compilations and concept albums.