Composer, virtuoso fiddler and skilled step dancer Natalie Ann MacMaster was born on June 13, 1972 in Troy, Nova Scotia, Canada. She was raised in a musical family steeped in Scottish heritage.
Natalie began playing at age 9 after having been given a small fiddle by her great uncle. From the early days, she was encouraged by her father and musically influenced by her uncle, Buddy MacMaster, an undisputed master of the Cape Breton fiddle.
Natalie’s career flourished rapidly. From a small beginning playing at dances and concerts in and around Cape Breton to representing Nova Scotia on the world’s stages. Natalie has become a musical ambassador for a new musical generation of Cape Breton musicians. Whether performing with a small format or with her full band, Natalie’s concerts are a dazzling blend of musical virtuosity and lively step dancing.
Natalie’s first three recordings gained major nominations and awards from the East Coast Music Association. In 1992, she won the Roots/Traditional Artist Award. In 1994, her third album, Fit as a Fiddle, earned Natalie the Instrumental Artist of the Year Award. In 1995, she was nominated as Entertainer of the Year.
Natalie’s phenomenal stage presence has led to considerable media attention. She was profiled by various TV shows. In June of 1995, Natalie won over a crowd of 80,000 in Chattanooga, Tennessee, as opening act for Carlos Santana. A broken fiddle string couldn’t keep her down as Natalie continued playing using only her bottom two strings.
Natalie has headlined in cities such as London, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Brussels, and Tokyo. And for several years, she has acted as guest instructor and performer at the world renowned Mark O’Connor Fiddle Camp in Nashville.
In March of 1996, Natalie received a phone call from Ireland’s The Chieftains requesting that she open for them on a four-week tour of the United States. The Chieftains obviously saw something in Natalie that their audiences would soon come to appreciate. MacMaster capably and expertly delivered the goods. The highlight of each performance had to be Natalie joining The Chieftains at show’s end to fiddle and dance.
Natalie’s first two independent recordings, Road to the Isle and Four on the Floor, have each sold in excess of 12,000 copies each … and that’s on cassette only. Her third Indie release, Fit as a Fiddle, racked up sales of more than 30,000 copies on CD and cassette.
In the spring of 1996, Warner Music Canada negotiated a major label deal with Natalie for the album No Boundaries. Produced by Chad Irschick (The Rankin Family, Loreena McKennitt, Susan Aglukark), No Boundaries is exactly that. Natalie’s diversity extends to places her fans could have never imagined. From beautiful classic pieces through ragtime and country music, Natalie continues to step across musical lines. Special note should be made of guest appearances by Cookie Rankin on “Drunken Piper,” Bruce Guthro on “Fiddle &Bow,” and a host of Canada’s best musicians.
In 1997, Rounder Records made No Boundaries available in the United States and also re-released Fit As A Fiddle. The success of these releases led to the re-release of A Compilation in 1998.
A good example of MacMaster’s energy during her live performances was documented in a double album recorded live, released in 2002. The sessions were made at the Living Arts Centre in Mississauga (Ontario) and at an old hall in the woods in rural Glencoe, Cape Breton Island.
Blueprint (2003) was Natalie MacMaster’s first studio recording since 1999’s In My Hands. On Blueprint, MacMaster mixes Celtic, Jazz, and Bluegrass. Special guests include Bela Fleck (banjo), Jerry Douglas (Dobro), Sam Bush (mandolin), and Edgar Meyer (bass).
Natalie MacMaster collaborated with cellist Yo-Yo Ma on the Grammy-winning album “Songs of Joy & Peace” (2008) and artists as diverse as Alison Krauss, Jesse Cook, and Béla Fleck.
Fiddle album One, released in 2015, features Natalie MacMaster and her husband Donnell Leahy. In addition to the familiar Celtic sounds, the album features distorted electric guitars, two players on one piano, and a drum kit made of paint cans and a cardboard box.
In 2016, Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy released A Celtic Family Christmas accompanied by an outstanding group of musicians and their children. The album features classic Christmas songs seasoned with the duo’s style of Celtic tradition. “We have celebrated Christmas in a big way our entire lives and finally have recorded the music,” said Natalie MacMaster.
Natalie MacMaster is a recipient of the Order of Canada. She has won two JUNO and 11 East Coast Music Awards.
André Brunet was born in Lacolle, in Quebec’s Montérégie region. Growing up, it was his parents who first noticed his keen interest in music and encouraged him to follow his passion. André’s first love was for the violin and, at the age of nine, he began taking lessons. Along with brother Réjean, he created Les Frères Brunet and went on to record several albums and perform at various concerts around the world.
In 1997, André’s unwavering energy and refined style earned him a spot with La Bottine Souriante, with whom he toured more than 15 countries over the course of 10 years.
Although his journey with La Bottine Souriante came to an end in 2006, André remained immersed in traditional music. At the Grand Masters Fiddling Competition in August 2008—an event showcasing more than twenty violinists from across Canada— André took home top honors as “Grand Master of Canada”.
It was the first time a Quebecer had won the prestigious award since the competition’s inception in 1990. Whether he’s accompanying his wife Martine Billette for a piano duet, or playing alongside fiddle stylists Kevin Burke (Ireland), Christian Lemaître (Brittany) and Ged Foley of Celtic Fiddle Festival, André feels right at home on any stage.
Today, his passion for traditional Quebec music continues to pave the way for dance and swing enthusiasts the world over—a true journey of musical discovery.
Allison Mombourquette began step dancing at the age of 5. This influenced her decision to begin taking fiddle lessons, which she started at age 8. She joined the Cape Breton Fiddlers’ Association in 2001, in the hopes of learning more about the music she heard her grandfather play. Through the Association, she has had the opportunity to perform across Canada and in the United Kingdom.
She has been a part of Feis Mhabu since the winter of 2006, which gives young Celtic musicians the opportunity to learn from some of Cape Breton’s finest musicians. Allison has also studied fiddle, piano, and step-dancing at the Gaelic College and been a guest fiddler at he Baddeck Gathering, Normaway Inn and, Celtic Music Interpretive Centre in Judique.
Allison has played together with Natalie MacMaster, Glenn Graham, Andrea Beaton, Ashley MacIsaac, Jerry Holland, J.P. Cormier, and Dave MacIsaac and performed at such events as the Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo, Edinburgh Castle, Saturday night square dances at the West Mabou Hall, Celtic Colours International Festival, and Friday night ceilidhs in Sloan’s Pub in Glasgow, Scotland.
Allison’s influences include Ciffy Carter, a local musician; Dwayne Cote, JP Cormier, Nickel Creek and Union Station.
Allan’s background in the Cape Breton musical tradition is the foundation of his ability to accompany fiddlers like Jerry Holland for dances and ceilidhs and new generation fiddlers like Troy MacGillivray, Andrea Beaton and Shelly Campbell.
Growing up in Halifax (Nova Scotia), Allan’s first thirteen years consisted of regular visits from Dave MacIsaac and anyone else who came to the city for a Cape Breton dance. He started using the acoustic guitar, playing for his sister on fiddle and mother on piano.
Around the age of 8, he started to play along on the piano while his mother would play solos or to a tape playing on the stereo sound system. He was instructed to “do it right if you are going to do it at all“. That is all it took for encouragement. There was no formal training of any sort. Allan learned by ear and he attended every concert, dance and house party he could.
Moving to Antigonish at age 13 was the best thing that could have pushed this interest forward. It was a focal point at that time for fiddlers coming to town to take lessons and it was close to Cape Breton.
He soon became a regular every summer playing for local dances and “filling in for a set” to give the piano player a break. Allan has toured around the world with Jerry Holland, Ashley MacIsaac, Natalie MacMaster and Troy MacGillivray, absorbing all genres of music along the way.
Ten Strings and A Goatskin is a superb acoustic music trio from Prince Edward Isle in Canada. The three young musicians play primarily original compositions, along with a handful of traditional pieces, inspired by the Celtic traditions of Brittany, Scotland, Ireland and French-speaking Canada, incorporating modern music elements such as Hammond B3 organ and pump organ.
The three multi-instrumentalists skillfully intertwine fiddle, banjo and other string instruments with irresistible dance beats. The rhythms range from the classic Irish frame drum, bodhran, to Acadian foot percussion and Peruvian cajón.
The album was produced by Leonard Podolak of acclaimed Canadian rots music band The Duhks.
The Ten Strings and A Goatskin lineup includes Rowen Gallant on fiddle, viola, tenor banjo, and lead and backing vocals; Jesse Périard on guitar, pump organ, backing vocals; and Caleb Gallant on bodhràn, foot percussion, snare, cajón, clawhammer banjo, and lead and backing vocals.
Guests include Leonard Podolak on banjo and vocals; Colin Savoie-Levac on mandolin, cittern, foot percussion and vocals; Anna Lindblad on fiddle; Josianne Hebert on vocals; Marie Savoie-Levac on bass and vocals; Sarah Marchand on keyboards and vocals; Béatrix Méthé on fiddle and vocals; Eléonore Pitre on guitar and vocals; and Mark Busic on Hammond B-3 organ and bass.
Auprès du Poêle showcases the work of three talented young musicians who are creating stimulating new acoustic music based on Canadian and European musical traditions.
Trail of Tales (Borealis Records) is the new album by Canadian roots music band The Bills. The band is known for its music of traditional music with contemporary folk music and global beats.
The Bills made the album in scenic Mayne Island, an artists’ community just off the coast of Vancouver Island in British Columbia.
The Bills lineup includes Marc Atkinson on mandolin, guitar, percussion, vocals; Adrian Dolanon- fiddle, accordion, piano, vocals; Chris Frye on guitar, vocals; Richard Moody on violin, viola, mandolin, vocals; and Scott White 0n upright bass, vocals.
Canadian fiddler and singer-songwriter Ashley MacIsaac and fellow Canadian percussionist and producer Jay “Sticks” Andrews got together to form a new project called Fdler.
The self-titled debut album, Fdler, combines Celtic fiddle with electronics. Although Ashley McIsaac had a hit years ago with a fabulous song titled “Sleepy Maggie” where he combined Celtic music with electronic beats, he went into a separate direction afterwards. Now he’s back with considerably more electronics, venturing into the increasingly popular electronic dance music (EDM).
The best of Fdler are the combinations of fiddles with electronic atmospheres, loops and rhythms. I’m less impressed with the repetitive vocals that have hip hop and soul influences so I gravitated towards the instrumentals, which are way more attention-grabbing.