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Introduction to Celtic Music

Irish band The Chieftains, one of the most popular Celtic music acts

It’s difficult to know what the music of the ancient Celts sounded like. Historical and archaeological data indicates that the Celts used bronze horns, flutes and bells.

What we know as Celtic music today is in reality the traditional music developed relatively recently in several western European Atlantic regions that may have been inhabited by Celtic peoples about 2,000 years ago.

Current Celtic music is characterized by the use of various forms of bagpipes (likely introduced by the Romans), harps, fiddles, flutes and whistles, accordion and concertina, and frame drums. In the 1970s, Irish musicians pioneered the use of additional instruments such as the Greek bouzouki, the Spanish guitar, the American banjo and the Italian mandolin, and adapted them to Irish traditional music.

Recent Celtic music history

The great Celtic music upsurge took place in the 1970s thanks to various influential artists from Ireland, Scotland, Brittany (France), Galicia (Spain) and Wales.

Ireland

The Bothy Band

Irish groups such as The Chieftains, The Bothy Band, Plantxy, Clannad and The Dubliners attracted worldwide attention with their innovative, beautifully-crafted arrangements of Irish folk music that were later adopted by colleagues in other Celtic countries and regions, as well as other folk music traditions.

Although many of the best known acts from the 1960s and 1970s disbanded, The Chieftains and Clannad carried on to develop highly successful long careers.

Altan in 2010

A new wave of first class artists continued to popularize Irish traditional and contemporary folk music: Enya, Altan, Kila, Dervish, Lunasa, Andy Irvine, Davy Spillane, Frankie Gavin, John Doyle, Karan Casey, Kila, Liam O’Flynn, Matt Molloy, Micheal Ó Domhnaill, Moya Brennan (Máire Brennan), Mick Moloney, Moving Cloud, Niall Vallely, Niamh Parsons, Oisin Mac Diarmada, Paddy Keenan, Reeltime, Sharon Shannon, Susan McKeown, Téada, and The Gloaming.

Books about Irish traditional music: Focus: Irish Traditional Music (Focus on World Music Series) by Sean Williams, Routledge (2009); Companion to Irish Traditional Music by Fintan Vallely, Cork University Press (2011); O’Brien Pocket History of Irish Traditional Music (Pocket History series) by Gearoid O hAllmhurain, The O’Brien Press (2004); A Short History of Irish Traditional Music by Gearoid O hAllmhurain, The O’Brien Press (2017).

Scotland

Silly Wizard in 1983

Seminal Scottish acts Silly Wizard, Battlefield Band, Tannahill Weavers, Boys of the Lough and Ossian played outstanding contemporary Scottish folk music and created a school of followers.

The next generations of first rate Scottish artists included Alasdair Fraser, Aly Bain, Blazin’ Fiddles, Bodega, Boys of the Lough, Breabach, Burach, Capercaillie, Wolfstone, Catherine-Ann MacPhee, Catriona MacDonald, Lau, Peatbog Faeries, Shooglenifty and Treacherous Orchestra.

Brittany

Alan Stivell

Breton musician Alan Stivell introduced the Celtic harp to large audiences. Two innovative bands, Diaouled ar Menez and Gwendal, also from Brittany, toured Europe extensively for two decades with its blend of Celtic music, jazz and rock.

Additional essential Breton musicians include Dan Ar Bras, Barzaz, Bleizi Ruz, Alain Genty, Gwerz, Kornog, Soig Siberil, Skolvan, Jean-Michel Veillon, Andrea Ar Gouilh, Anne Auffret, Yann-Fañch Kemener, and Nolwenn Korbell.

Galicia

Early lineup of Milladoiro

In Galicia, singer and harp player Emilio Cao, the now legendary group Milladoiro, Doa, piper celebrity Carlos Núñez and the influential Traditional Music of the Municipal School of Arts and Trades of Vigo (currently known as the Municipal School of Traditional and Folk Music of Vigo) initiated the remarkable Galician Celtic music wave.

Carlos Núñez in 2017

In the 1980s, a significant new act was formed, Luar na Lubre. This group has become one of the leading ensembles in the the Galician folk music scene.

In the 1990s and afterwards, additional key bands and soloists appeared, including Matto Congrio, Fía na Roca, Berroguetto, Na Lua, Leilia, piper and flutist Xosé Manuel Budiño, Mercedes Peón, pipers Susana Seivane and Cristina Pato, Rosa Cedrón and the spectacular Son de Seu folk orchestra.

Wales

A revival of traditional folk music and a renewed interest in the use of its native Gaelic language took place in Wales in the 1970’s. With the help of local media and record companies like Sain, artists who represented the Welsh tradition and language finally got exposure.

Robin Huw Bowen

One of the essential musicians in Wales is Robin Huw Bowen, a master of the triple harp. He researched the music and methods of the old Welsh harpers by studying their old manuscripts. He has performed widely throughout the world, as a soloist and also as a member of the Welsh folk groups Mabsant and Cusan Tân.

Siân James

The best known Gaelic-language singer is Siân James. Aside from her solo career, James also performed with dub reggae and rock bands.

On the traditional folk scene, Calennig’s lively dance music attracts attention. The band, formed in 1978, was led by Pat Smith and Mick Tems. Their material includes Welsh, Galician and Breton tunes. The 2019 lineup featured founder Pat Smith on concertina, Ned Clamp on guitar, Jem Randles on bass guitar, and virtuoso fiddler Iolo Jones.

Other Welsh folk highlights include singer Julie Murphy, Heather Jones and Hin Deg. An exciting group in the contemporary folk style is Carreg Lafar, formed in 1993.

Jamie Smith’s Mabon in 2017

One of the finest Celtic roots acts was Jamie Smith’s Mabon, led by accordion maestro Jamie Smith. The group disbanded in 2019.

Inter-Celtic Festivals

Thanks to the proliferation of Inter-Celtic festivals since the 1970s, musicians from Brittany, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Galicia, Asturias, the USA, Canada and other locations, have exchanged tunes, musical instruments and participated in mutual recordings.

Celtic Connections, Old-Fruitmarket – Photo by Gaelle Beri

Some of the top Celtic music festivals include Celtic Colours (Cape Breton, Canada), Celtic Connections (Scotland, UK), Festival Interceltique de Lorient (Brittany, France), Ortigueira Festival of Celtic World (Galicia, Spain), Ballyshannon Folk and Traditional Music Festival (Ireland) and William Kennedy Piping Festival (Northern Ireland, UK).

Cwlwm Celtaidd in Wales celebrates the music from Ireland, Scotland, Isle of Man, Cornwall, Brittany and Wales.

Celtic Music Today

The major European centers of Celtic music today are Ireland, Scotland, Brittany (France), Galicia (Spain), Asturias (Spain) and Wales (UK). Other smaller regions with a strong Celtic music heritage are: Cornwall (UK), Northumbria (UK), Tras-os-Montes (Portugal) and the Isle of Man (UK).

Outside Europe, the music from the Irish, Scottish and Galician diaspora has found a comfortable home in eastern Canada, the United States of America, and to a lesser extent Argentina and Australia.

Canadian Celtic and world music star, Loreena McKennitt

The Celtic music artists recovered the hurdy gurdy in Brittany and Galicia, the Celtic harp in Brittany and Scotland, and a newfound respect for the bagpipe, including the uilleann pipe, Highland pipe, border pipe, Scottish smallpipe, gaita gallega, gaita asturiana, gaita de fole and binioù.

Celtic music today has crossed over into the pop mainstream, world music, rock and new age thanks to artists like AfroCelt Sound System (UK), Enya (Ireland), Altan (Ireland), Loreena McKennit (Canada), The Chieftains (Ireland), Capercaillie (Scotland), Ashley McIsaac (Canada), Solas (USA), Connie Dover (USA), Cherish the Ladies (USA), Shooglenifty (Scotland), the electronic bagpipe innovator Hevia (Asturias, Spain) and The Gloaming (Ireland). There is also the success of the Riverdance dance shows. Celtic Woman and the lighter, easy listening side of Celtic music has sold well in the new age market by way of numerous compilations, harp recordings and concept albums.

The 1995 hit Sleepy Maggie by fiddler Ashley MacIsaac :

Piracy, consolidation, streaming and other factors have led to the demise and consolidation of many of the great Celtic music record labels of the past.

Brief History of the Celts

Ancient Greek historians, like Herodotus (400 BC) and Hecataeus of Miletus (500 BC), wrote about the Keltoi, a group of Iron Age “barbarian” tribes with a common language and culture that inhabited vast territories of Europe. The Keltoi’s dominion stretched from Ireland and the western Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal) in the west to Bohemia (Czech Republic), Bavaria (Germany) and Austria in the east.

Castro de Baroña Celtic settlement in Galicia, Spain – Photo courtesy of Turismo de Galicia

The Celts were a mixture of western Indo-European peoples who created vivid ornamental art and spoke a language described by the Romans as Celtic. Their social power structure included warlords and priests known as druids. They lived in hill towns made to defend populated areas from other warring Celtic tribes. With the arrival of the Roman Empire, Celtic civilization nearly disappeared. Most of western Europe, except Ireland, was Romanized.

Celtic History books:

The Ancient Celts by Barry Cunliffe, Oxford University Press (1997); The Sea Kingdoms: The History of Celtic Britain & Ireland by Alistair Moffat, Birlinn Ltd (2001); Saxons, Vikings, and Celts: The Genetic Roots of Britain and Ireland by Bryan Sykes, W. W. Norton & Company (2006); Celts: The History and Legacy of One of the Oldest Cultures in Europe by Martin J. Dougherty, Amber Books (2015); The Celts: A History From Earliest Times to the Present by Bernhard Maier, Edinburgh University Press (2018); Los Celtas. Imaginario, mitos y literatura en España by Martín Almagro-Gorbea, Almazara (2018): Celts: A Captivating Guide to Ancient Celtic History and Mythology, Including Their Battles Against the Roman Republic in the Gallic Wars, CH Publications (2019).

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Chicha, The Psychedelic cumbia of Peru

Chicha pioneers Los Mirlos

In 1960s Peru, a new style of music was born: Peruvian cumbia, also known as “chicha”. Tropical genres such as Dominican merengue, Cuban guaracha and rumba, and Colombian cumbia mixed with 1960s psychedelic rock, while electric guitars reinterpreted folk melodies and traditions from the Andes and the Amazonian jungle, in a musical representation of the exodus from rural areas to Lima and other big cities in Peru.

La Sonora de Lucho Macedo

The roots of chicha go back to mid-1950s Peru. Mambo was gradually replaced by preferences for other rhythms like merengue, guaguancó, cha cha cha, joropo, guaracha, rumba and cumbia, which timidly started to sound during these years. In Lima, it was the golden age of great orchestras and music ensembles which were capable of playing swing and jazz, but especially the diverse tropical variants flooding the market. The most successful of all, La Sonora de Lucho Macedo, released in 1965 an LP consisting exclusively of cumbia.

Los Pacharacos

Around this time, the successful folklore group Los Pacharacos released the album “Los ídolos del pueblo”, which included a cumbia song in the middle of the medley of huaynos, waltzes and polkas. The marriage between folklore and cumbia had taken place.

Peruvian groups preserved the fusion of foxtrot and mambo rhythms along with huayno and cumbia in their music. That feeling would be the basis for the success of such unorthodox and unclassifiable songs as ‘La chichera’ or ‘Petipan’. The recording in 1965 of these two songs by Los Demonios del Mantaro on a seminal 45 rpm for the Sono Radio label was the jumping off point for the birth of cumbia andina, also called “chicha” precisely for this song, which is dedicated to a vendor of the well-known Andean beverage.

Los Shapis holding glasses of chicha

The electric shock of rock guitars entered the world of cumbia in 1968. The cause of such hybridization was Enrique Delgado Montes, regarded as the genre’s godfather. He did it, as part of his band Los Destellos, on a 45 r.p.m. (‘El avispón’ / ‘La malvada’) and an eponymous LP. His songs constituted the most surprising musical fusions and amalgams of the time: whether they merged Cuban music and psychedelia, explored the sounds of the Andes or Amazonian music, combined the amplified Creole guitar with huayno melodies or abused fuzz tones and distortion pedals with enormous strength.

Los Destellos

The metamorphosis of cumbia turned it into a genre that seemed to voraciously cannibalize acoustic traditions and modern technologies. There wasn’t an innovation that tropical guitarists didn’t add to their sound: delay, fuzz tone, overdrive, wah-wah, reverb, modulating effects typical of rock bands were assimilated into a stunning sonic cocktail.

In this context, cumbia reached the top of the charts in popularity. Cumbia replaced rock as the urban sound. The groups would slowly develop an ethnic sensibility inspired by native Shipibo (indigenous Amazonian tribe) motifs and an astonishing and bewitching sound that seemed to drink from all the mysteries, secrets and myths of the jungle.

Groups such as Los Hijos del Sol, Los Shapis, Los Mirlos and Los Destellos popularized chicha during the 1970s and 1980s. Although Colombian cumbia had a revival during the 1990s, chicha faded away until recently, when record collectors found Peruvian LPs that featured the familiar chicha formula, a mix of surf, psychedelia, Andean music and Afro-Caribbean beats.

Sonido Amazónico – Amazonian Chicha

In 2007, American record label Barbès Records released a 17-song compilation of psychedelic cumbia from Peru. That album, The Roots of Chicha, re-introduced chicha music to international audiences.

Los Wembler’s de Iquitos

Peruvian band Los Wembler’s de Iquitos, who formed in 1968 in the Amazonian city of Iquitos, was responsible for some of the first hits of the psychedelic cumbia genre – including “Sonido Amazonico” and “Danza del Petrolero.” Los Wembler’s became extensively popular in the Peruvian Amazon and for a dozen years they toured the region, with ventures into neighboring Brazil and Colombia. In the mid-1980’s, however, touring mostly came to a stop and the band remained in Iquitos, playing mostly parties and local events.

Los Wembler’s De Iquitos discography includes Al Ritmo De Los Wembler’s ‎(Odeon Del Peru, 1971); La Danza del Petrolero (Decibel, 1975), La Amenaza Verde ‎(Decibel, 1975), El Encanto de la Selva ‎(Decibel, 1976), Carapira ‎(Decibel, 1976), Fiesta en la Selva ‎(Sono Radio, 1977), Bailando Hasta el Amanecer ‎(Sono Radio, 1978), Fiebre en la Selva ‎(Sono Radio, 1978), El Sabor Tropical ‎(Sono Radio, 1979), Estos Son…Los Famosos Wembler’s de Iquitos ‎(Sono Radio, 1980), and Ikaro del Amor (Barbes Records, 2017).

With the rediscovery of chicha, there was renewed interest in Los Wembler’s, both in and outside of Peru. Los Wembler’s collaborated with Peruvian electro cumbia group Dengue Dengue Dengue, have been covered by Chicha Libre, La Chamba, Xixa and Firewater, been part of a number of documentaries and TV shows and inspired new bands across the Americas and Europe.

In 2010, The Roots of Chicha 2 was released, highlighting 11 bands and 16 tracks recorded from 1968 to 1981. It focuses on some lesser-known bands, and broadened its view to include some of the early Cuban-influenced groups that would play such a crucial role in the elaboration of the chicha sound. It introduced some of the later bands, such as Los Shapis, who played in the more Andean style that would eventually define chicha.

The Roots of Chicha 2 included essential chicha acts such as Grupo Celeste, which had a tremendous influence on the emergence of Mexican cumbia; Chacalon, the legendary “bad boy” of chicha; Ranil, the independent folk hero from Iquito; Manzanita; and Los Destellos, whose had a seminal role in the evolution of chicha.

Secret Stash Records reissued Los Destellos’ album Constelación in 2011.

Chicha Spinoffs

Chicha Libre

In the United States, a band called Chicha Libre, gained notoriety with its mix of chicha, Latin rhythms and surf.

La Inédita

Peruvian band La Inédita, formed in 2010, created a new genre called chichamuffin, a mix of chicha with Jamaican beats, rock and electronica.

Xixa

American band Xixa, from Tucson (Arizona), combined chicha with psychedelic rock and border music. Xixa’s debut EP, Shift and Shadow , came out in 2015 on Barbès Records.

Members of Austin’s Grupo Fantasma and Brownout formed
Money Chicha. Their debut album, Echo En Mexico , came out in the United States in 2016 on the Vampisoul label.

Los Wembler’s returned in 2019 with Visión del Ayahuasca (Barbes Records).

Chicha Recordings

The Roots of Chicha: Psychedelic Cumbias From Peru ( Barbès Records, 2007)
Masters of Chicha 1 – Juaneco y Su Combo ( Barbès Records, 2007)
Chicha Libre – Sonido Amazonico! ( Barbès Records, 2008)
Cumbia Beat Vol. 1, Experimental Guitar-driven Tropical Sounds from Peru 1966-1976 (Vampisoul, 2010)
Chicha Libre – Canibalismo ( Barbès Records, 2012)
Xixa – Shift and Shadow ( Barbès Records, 2015)
Money Chicha – Echo En Mexico (Vampisoul, 2016)
Los Wembler’s De Iquitos – Visión del Ayahuasca (Barbès Records, 2019)

Sources: Vampisoul, Angel Romero (World Music Central), Manuel Carrasco and Barbes Records.

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Garifuna Music

Garifuna Collective – Photo by Peter Rakossy

Garifuna is a unique culture based on the Caribbean coast of Central America (Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras) that blends elements of West African and Native Caribbean heritage.

The Garifuna people originated when two large Dutch ships, filled with a delivery of West African slaves, sunk off the coast of the Caribbean island of St. Vincent in 1635. Half of the Africans survived and intermingled with the indigenous Caribs of the region, creating a new hybrid culture.

Fiercely independent, the Garifuna community resisted French and British colonization, and were forcibly exiled to the Caribbean coast of Central America. Some were segregated and held onto their traditions and language, while others blended with the local predominant culture.

The Garifuna developed a unique culture that incorporates African traditions of music, dance, religious rites and ceremonies, Native American farming, hunting, and fishing techniques; and an African and Arawak influenced language.

Now living mainly along the Caribbean coast of the Central American countries of Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, the Garifuna culture, recognized by UNESCO since March 2001 as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, displays many influences of its African heritage. This is evident when comparing their music with the indigenous music of the West African societies from which their ancestors originated.

Garifuna Collective – Photo by Peter Rakossy

The Garifuna style of music relies heavily on call and response patterns. These patterns are less overlapping than many traditional ones found in Africa, but nonetheless the Garifunas’ leader/chorus organization is very consistent with those of African styles. Garifuna music relies heavily on the drum, and in many instances their music is dictated by it.

The drums of the Garifuna are usually made of hardwoods that are uniformly shaped and carved out in the centers. The ends of the drums are covered with skins from the peccary, deer, or sheep. These drums are always played with the hands, and some drummers have been known to wrap metal wires around the drum heads to give them a snare-like sound. Some musicians accompany the drums with gourd shakers called sisira, and even instruments like the guitar, flute, and violin have been adopted from early French, English, and Spanish folk music, as well as Jamaican and Haitian Afro-Caribbean styles.

Aurelio Martinez in 2010 at Forde Festival in Norway – Photo by Angel Romero

To the Garifuna, song and dances are an integral part of their culture. These song and dance styles display a wide range of subjects like work songs, social dances and ancestral traditions. A very popular dance style is called punta, which is usually performed at wakes, holidays and parties. This involves plenty of hip movements.

Garifuna Musicians:

Andy Palacio, Aurelio Martinez, Paul Nabor, The Garifuna Collective, Umalali

Garifuna Musical Genres:

Parranda, punta rock.

Garifuna Recordings:

Various Artists – Traditional Music of the Garifuna of Belize (Folkways Records, 1982)
Andy Palacio – Greatest Hits (1979)
Andy Palacio – Keimoun (Beat on) ( Stonetree Records, 1995)
Andy Palacio – Til Da Mawnin ( Stonetree Records, 1997)
Aurelio Martinez – Garifuna Soul ‎(Stonetree Records, 2004)
Andy Palacio and the Garifuna Collective – Watina (2007)
Umalali: The Garifuna Women’s Project (Cumbancha, 2008)
Aurelio Martinez – Garifuna Afro-Combo ‎(Society of Sound Music, 2010)
Garifuna Music – Music From Honduras, Vol. 2 (Caprice Records, 2010)
Aurelio Martinez – Laru Beya (Stonetree Records/Real World Records, 2011)
The Garifuna Collective – Ayó (Stonetree/Cumbancha, 2014)
Aurelio Martinez – Landini (Real World Records, 2014)
Ibimeni – Garifuna traditional music from Guatemala (Sub Rosa, 2016)
Aurelio Martinez – Darandi (Stonetree Records/Real World Records, 2016)
The Garifuna Collective – Aban (Stonetree/Cumbancha, 2019)

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Dazzling Global Diversity at the Rainforest World Music Festival 2019

The Rainforest World Music Festival took place July 12-14, 2019 in Kuching, Malaysian Borneo. The location of the events was the familiar Sarawak Cultural Village in Kuching, the capital of Sarawak State.

Sarawak Cultural Village – Photo by Angel Romero

The festival usually holds a tree-planting ceremony every year. In 2019 it was mangrove trees at Pantai Puteri, Santubong Village. This is a way to celebrate the spirit of the festival, which is held in Borneo, home to essential rainforests and diverse wildlife, including the orangutan, hornbill, proboscis monkeys, sun bears, gibbons and many other species.

Tree planting just before the Rainforest World Music Festival – Photo courtesy of Sarawak Tourism Board

There are various elements that stand out and make this festival unique. First, many of the festivalgoers are young. There is a mix of locals, Malaysians from others states and foreign tourists. Vietnamese musician Ngo Hong Quang pointed out to me that, in comparison, when he performs in the United States, the world music concertgoers are older. This brings up the issue of music education beyond pop culture, affordability and access to American venues.

Audience at mini-session during Rainforest World Music Festival 2019 – Photo by Angel Romero
Friday evening audience at Rainforest World Music Festival 2019 – Photo courtesy of Sarawak Tourism Board

Another distinctive component of the festival that catches your attention is the inclusion of Asian acts. In European and North American festivals, there is an abundance of African and North America/Europe-based acts. Asian artists are rare except for Tuvan or Mongolian throat singers, Indian classical artists and Japanese taiko drumming groups. At the Rainforest World Music Festival, you can enjoy artists from all corners of Asia. This year the programming included musicians from Bhutan, Mongolia, Japan, Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia.

Druk Folk Musician (Bhutan) at Rainforest World Music Festival 2019 – Photo courtesy of Sarawak Tourism Board

Perhaps one of the most important effects of the Rainforest World Music Festival is that it serves as a platform that nurtures local talent. Although the festival has been highlighting veteran and pioneering local Sarawakian acts from the various communities in the past years, we are starting to see the fruits of this labor. There are promising young groups like the increasingly popular At Adau that is rooted in tradition and modernity as well.

Regarding this performance at this year’s Rainforest World Music Festival, At Adau‘s Meldrick Bob said: “We were truly honored to be part of Rainforest World Music Festival again for the third time and we did everything we could to deliver the best in our performance.

Every year, Rainforest World Music Festival consistently maintains its reputable standard of being one of the best world music festivals. For this year, there were more varieties in the festival programs which appealed to a wide range of age groups and interests. A highlight on the addition of the indigenous stage which showcased purely traditional music from different countries. Also, it’s good to mention how Rainforest World Music Festival is going green by providing water refill stations to reduce the use of plastic water bottles. So kudos for that!

At Adau at the Rainforest World Music Festival 2019 – Photo courtesy of Sarawak Tourism Board

Indeed, the Rainforest World Music Festival implemented various greening initiatives, including the elimination of plastic water bottles and the installation of water stations to refill bottles.

Meldrick Bob shared At Adau’s plans for the near future: “In the near future, we’ll try to bring Borneo to the world by introducing our music on the European stage, hoping that the world will see Sarawak’s beauty through our music. As much as we can, we are also selling our music to the festival directors, agents or any interested parties to be more familiar with At Adau and hopefully expand from there.

Our next plan is to bring back those old, or we can say nearly extinct, traditional instruments such as the nose flute and kedirek, and many more to our new songs and now slowly putting some new material for the next album. We really hope that the new generation will be influenced by playing those traditional instruments to continue the legacy of our ancestors.”

At Adau using nose flute at the Rainforest World Music Festival 2019 – Photo courtesy of Sarawak Tourism Board

The Rainforest World Music Festival has spread its roots outside Sarawak Cultural Village with an Emerging Bands stage at the Kuching Waterfront and performances at Damai Central shopping center, which is right across from Sarawak Cultural village.

The current format of the The Rainforest World Music Festival includes afternoon mini sessions at Dewan Lagenda, Iban Longhouse and Bidayuh Terraces; small capacity afternoon concerts at the Theatre Stage, the Big Tent and the Indigenous Stage; and large dimension outdoor concerts in the evening at the two larger stages: Jungle and Tree.

Fiddle mini session at The Rainforest World Music Festival 2019 – Photo by Angel Romero

The thematic mini sessions bring together musicians who share a similar musical instrument or dance tradition. For example, wind instruments, dance workshops, plucked strings, percussion instruments, zithers, etc. During the mini sessions, the musicians demonstrate how to play their instruments and at the end, all the musicians join in to perform a jam session.

Flute mini session at The Rainforest World Music Festival 2019 – Photo courtesy of Sarawak Tourism Board

The Theatre Stage concerts allows the audience to enjoy artists in an intimate format. For details about this year’s Theatre concerts, read the following reviews: The Remarkable Nyckelharpa of Toledo, The Captivating Sounds of Mauritius, Mongolian and Persian Hybridization at Rainforest World Music Festival 2019, The Rarely Heard Himalayan Folk Music of Bhutan, Wai Safeguards Maori traditions at Rainforest World Music Festival 2019, Fiddles of the World Come Together, and Cutting Edge Vietnamese Virtuosity and Fiery Gnawa Trance at Rainforest World Music Festival 2019.

Omid Bahadori (Seda) at the Theatre stage – Photo courtesy of Sarawak Tourism Board

The local and regional emerging bands that appeared at the Big Teng were: Alunan Keroncong (Sarawak), Sayu Ateng (Sarawak), Barrock Ethnicity Band (Sarawak), Pinanak Sentah (Sarawak), Sanggalang (Sarawak), Bamboo Woods (Sabah), The Oriental Traditional Orchestra Kuching (Sarawak), Warisan Sape (Sarawak) and Raban Kenyalang (Sarawak).

The artists that performed at the Jungle Stage / Tree Stage during the evening included:

Friday: Iban Miring Ceremony (Sarawak), Spirit of the Hornbill ((Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo), Olga Cerpa y Mestisay (Canary Islands, Spain), Ballet Folclorico de Chile Bafochi (Rapa Nui-Easter Island/Chile), Rajery (Madagascar), Otava Yo (Russia), Suk Binie’ (Sarawak), and Kila (Ireland).

Olga Cerpa and Mestisay at the Rainforest World Music Festival 2019 – Photo courtesy of Sarawak Tourism Board

Saturday: Kemada (Sarawak), San Salvador (France), Ballet Folclorico de Chile Bafochi (Rapa Nui / Chile), Darmas (Malaysia), Macka B (UK/Jamaica), Trad.Attack! (Estonia) and La Chiva Gantiva (Colombia).

Kemada (Sarawak) at the Rainforest World Music Festival 2019 – Photo courtesy of Sarawak Tourism Board

Sunday: Kila & OKI (Ireland/Japan), Duplessy & The Violins Of The World ft. Guo Gan (China, France, Mongolia, Sweden), At Adau (Sarawak), Mehdi Nassouli (Morocco) and Tabanka (Cape Verde).

Tabanka at the Rainforest World Music Festival 2019 – Photo courtesy of Sarawak Tourism Board

You need to plan your own festival experience because you won’t be able to see all events. The overall highlights for me were the organic Celtic trance music of Irish band Kila, as Kila and also in a collaboration with Japanese artist Oki; the captivating Vietnamese fusion of Ha Noi Duo; Olga Cerpa y Mestisay, rooted in Canary Islands traditions with influences from Latin America and mainland Spain; the masterful Malagasy valiha of Rajery; the zany contemporary Russian folk of Otava Yo; and rising Sarawakian roots band At Adau.

Kila concert at the Rainforest World Music Festival – Photo courtesy of Sarawak tourism Board
Kila and Oki at the Rainforest World Music Festival – Photo courtesy of Sarawak tourism Board
Otava Yo at the Rainforest World Music Festival – Photo courtesy of Sarawak tourism Board
Rajery at the Rainforest World Music Festival – Photo courtesy of Sarawak tourism Board

Other high points: the exquisite transglobal fiddles of Duplessy & The Violins Of The World; the spellbinding Gnawa music of Mehdi Nassouli; the delightful Spanish and Sephardic-rooted music of Ana Alcaide and her ensemble; the Mongolian-Iranian virtuosity and mesmerizing throat singing of Sedaa; and the charming sounds of Mauravann from Mauritius.

Mehdi Nassouli at the Rainforest World Music Festival – Photo courtesy of Sarawak Tourism Board

Without a doubt, the Rainforest World Music Festival is one of the best festivals in which I have participated,” said Ana Alcaide. “Its philosophy, organization, environment, makes artists enjoy our experience of sharing music and feel loved and valued. Coinciding with so many bands from around the planet makes this event unique, where exchange and learning naturally occur. The festival is a unique example of diversity and cultural tolerance, with an enormous amount of artistic and cultural proposals, all of them of the highest quality, and that encompass cultures from all over the world. Bravo for the Rainforest Music Festival!”

Ana Alcaide at mini-session – Photo by Angel Romero

Netherlands-based Vietnamese musician Ngo Hong Quang of Ha Noi Duo also enjoyed the festival: “I have been chatting around to talk about this Festival with my friends in Holland and in Vietnam too. It was a very interesting, international, eco-friendly, high quality and crowded festival. These complements I like to send to Jun Lin and her staff. Actually I have never participated in any World Music Festival as big as this, wonderful vibes, great audiences, and very beautiful landscapes. Congratulations!”

Ngo Hong Quang (left) and Nguyen Le (right) of Ha Noi Duo – Photo by Angel Romero

Ngo added “I think me and Nguyen Le we had so good time there and myself, I really enjoyed some of the shows and musicianship. I think not only the musicians created the success but also enthusiastic listeners who know how to appreciate the inter-cultural shows that made the festival more attractive and meaningful.

I met some of the Vietnamese audiences and they teared in front of me because of the music I played and the way I blended the traditional vibes with modern jazzy music. It was great experience for me.

If there are more chances, I would go back to perform the Vietnamese traditional music show again next year or the year after that. Would be interesting!”

Mathias Duplessy – Photo courtesy of Sarawak Tourism Board

French guitarist Mathias Duplessy commented: “The festival was great for us, just missed a place where to jam and meet the others musicians at the hotel.

Sape maestro Matthew Ngau at the Rainforest World Crafts Bazaar 2019 – Photo by Angel Romero

The Rainforest World Music Festival also includes a sizable World Crafts Bazaar with local and regional crafts made by artisans. You can find all kinds of really cool goodies, including many unique items. I stumbled upon one of the key musicians in Sarawakian traditional music, Matthew Ngau. He was demonstrating the traditional lute of Sarawak, the sape.

In terms of food, options have gotten even better. The Sarawak Asia Kitchen and local fingers offers Sarawakian regional options, Malaysian, Thai, Chinese, Indonesian, Vietnamese and Japanese delicacies. There’s also Asian fusion options.

Sarawak Tourism Board (STB) strengthened its greening initiatives this year. The biggest effect among these initiatives was from discouraging the use of plastic bottled water. Approximately, 20,000 plastic bottles were saved. Festivalgoers brought their own empty bottles which they could fill from water dispensing stations supplied by Cuckoo.

If you are in the Sarawak area and want to experience other festivals, the Rainforest Fringe Festival is a prequel to the Rainforest World Music Festival and Borneo Jazz Festival, featuring music, art, crafts, film, photography, food, and the culture of Sarawak. The Borneo Jazz Festival takes place one week after the Rainforest World Music Festival in Miri, in northeastern Sarawak, near Brunei.

For non-music related activities while in Sarawak, visit the city of Kuching. Attractions include the Waterfront, the Main Bazaar, Chinatown, India Street, various temples, Fort Margherita, the old Court House, the Post Office and the Sarawak Museum.

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Daytrips include visits to Bako National Park and visiting the orangutans at Semenggoh Nature Reserve.

Orangutans at Semenggoh Nature Reserve – Photo by Angel Romero

To get to Kuching you can fly direct from Singapore, Brunei, and some parts of Indonesia or connecting through Kuala Lumpur.

for a different perspective about the festival read Unique Global Gathering at Rainforest World Music Festival 2019 by our contributor Chris Lambie.

More information is available at the following websites and links:

Rainforest World Music Festival
Borneo Jazz Festival
Rainforest Fringe Festival
Sarawak Tourism
Interview with Sarawakian Band At Adau
Bako National Park
Semenggoh Nature Reserve

headline photo: At Adau

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Unique Global Gathering at Rainforest World Music Festival 2019

There’s nothing unusual in an upcoming festival being announced as the ‘best ever’. In recent years, the Rainforest World Music Festival (RWMF) has proved to be bigger and better with each edition. Held in the picturesque Sarawak Cultural Village (SCV) in Malaysian Borneo, the global gathering is as innovative as it is unique. In July 2019, festival goers discovered exciting new features within the established format.

JL Productions, with director Jun-Lin Yeoh at the helm, put together another impressive line-up of artists. Cultures never before represented at RWMF included Bhutan, Canary Islands, Mauritius, Nagaland (Northern India), West Kalimantan Dayaks, Estonia, Jamaica and the Ainu culture of Japan.

Santam Naga – Photo by Chris Lambie

Crowds were also treated to collaborative cross-cultural groups: Sedaa (Iran/Mongolia) and Duplessy & the Violins of the World (France, Mongolia and Sweden, featuring Chinese erhu master Guo Gan).

Mina Ripia (WAI) – Photo by Chris Lambie

Afternoon mini-sessions over the three day event mixed performers from various acts jamming, jigging and harmonizing together in improvised workshops. Themes ranged from frame drums to zithers, bamboo to Bhangra and Bollywood. At one, the resonant sound of blended voices floating from the Bidayuh longhouse beckoned listeners from across the tropical village site. Vocalists Mina Ripia (WAI) and Linzi Backbotte (Mauravann) also showcased their stunning voices at theatre shows, each telling stories from their New Zealand Maori and Mauritian heritages respectively. 

Fronting their groups, both charismatic performers provided laughs with their relaxed banter. They also revealed raw emotion on stage during the intimate concerts, connecting with audiences. Introducing a song dedicated to a recently passed friend, Ripia – blinking away tears – was spontaneously comforted by her 11 year old son (cajon, percussion and rap vocals). The young band member touched the crowd with this quiet and tender act, further indicating an old and wise head on young shoulders.

Mehdi Nassouli – Photo by Chris Lambie

Backbotte encouraged her audience to clap and sing along to Sega rhythms. But all sat transfixed during one piece dedicated to ancestors after hearing shocking truths of their treatment by those who enslaved them. Sometimes the Arts carry the sole voice of generations past. I’m eternally amazed by what I learn of our planet and its history and the resilience of its people.


Nguyên Lê (Ha Noi Duo) – Photo by Chris Lambie

The main events are the evening concerts on the outdoor Jungle and Tree stages. With shiny new state-of-the-art equipment courtesy of sponsor Yamaha, the peerless work of the returning sound, stage and lighting team ran seamlessly. Despite forecasts, the weather was idyllic. Record crowds meandered comfortably, from the craft village and food stalls to the well-attended wellness program.

Event partners Rainforest Fringe (with exhibitions in Kuching) and What About Kuching (WAK) expanded the festivities on offer. WAK hosted beachfront live music and stalls at Damai Central, a short stroll between Damai Beach Resort and the festival site. The Damai sunsets were also the biggest and best you could wish for.

Talisk – Photo by Chris Lambie

New stages at SCV proved especially popular during the daytime. The Indigenous Stage warrants a bigger space in future. Curious punters overflowed lakeside, as representatives from Sarawak’s 27 local tribes demonstrated music, dance, traditional instruments and stunning apparel.  The Big Tent showcased acts including upcoming local artists given the chance to hone their craft on the road to bigger things. Local hit group At Adau have opened the door to more young players fusing traditional and contemporary sounds.

Druk Folk Musician – Photo by Chris Lambie

The traditional RWMF finale brought all performers together onstage. Bouncing, dancing, singing and waving to the exultant fans, they stayed on stage to take group selfies with new friends and potential collaborators.

Rainforest World music Festival 2019 Finale – Photo courtesy of Sarawak Tourism Board

Members of Spirit of the Hornbill (Indonesia) were the last to disperse into the balmy shadows of the night. Like so many on stage and off, they were reluctant to leave the warm embrace of the Rainforest family.

Alongside the requisite Celtic, Latin and Islander music represented at most world music events, I discovered rhythms and melodies I’d never heard before. Since my first ‘Rainforest’ a decade ago, Sarawak’s iconic ‘lute’ the sapé has moved to the forefront of the event’s soundscape. It’s heartening to find ancient cultural forms rediscovered and relished by young players and audiences.

headline photo: Tabanka , courtesy of Sarawak Tourism Board

More about the festival: rwmf.net

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Hail The White Zulu

Johnny Clegg

Contrary to popular opinion, Paul Simon was not the first musician to recognize the rich potential of fusing Western pop with Zulu tribal rhythms. An inquisitive young white South African musician literally and figuratively had his finger on the pulse years before the diminutive American married his quirky songs with township jive on what was to become his and one of the 1980s’ strongest-selling albums.

While still in his early teens, Johnny Clegg, who passed away on July 16, started exploring Zulu music on the streets of Johannesburg — defying the iniquitous and racist apartheid doctrine into the bargain — when the seminal Graceland album was nary a glint in Rhymin’ Simon’s eye.

Clegg went on to become a professor of anthropology and one of South Africa’s highest-selling and best-known international artists, with six million album sales to his credit. When I interviewed him for Australia’s Rhythms magazine back in 2012, the Grammy Award winner recalled with some clarity what initially attracted him to indigenous culture and what fascinated him in particular about Zulu music.

I was 14 and I was playing Celtic folk music and listening to folk-rock bands like Steeleye Span, Fairport Convention and Jethro Tull when I discovered street guitar music.” It was Clegg’s Eureka moment. “I was quite a shy kid, but I went up to a guy who was playing and asked if he’d teach me. I saw that the guitar had been Africanised, basically reconceptualized. There was no chords, just simple notes being played in a stream of sound. In some instances, the strings had been changed around, and I realised that this was a unique genre of guitar music and I wanted to play it.” So he began to look and learn.

What was originally fascination started to take the shape of a profession when he met Zulu musician Sipho Mchunu and they became Juluka, the first prominent racially mixed South African act. “We began as a duo,” Clegg related. “Later on I started bringing Celtic and other influences into the music and found a meeting point between Zulu street guitar music and Western music, and that was the birth of this crossover band.”

Clegg and Mchunu put out their first album in 1979, long before there was a category called world music and some half-dozen years before Graceland was launched to mainstream acclaim and worldwide sales. They recorded with Ladysmith Black Mambazo, again well before Paul Simon utilized that group’s exquisite Zulu harmonies on ‘Homeless’ and ‘Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes’. “I was fluent in Zulu by then and we were singing Zulu and English on the same songs. We were mixing languages, we were mixing rhythms, styles and composition. Western music has rules of composition; it’s very linear. Zulu music is very cyclical. It was a very interesting challenge to overcome as a songwriter; it was fascinating developing solutions.”

Johnny Clegg and Sipho MChunu

Flying in the face of apartheid posed a greater challenge. “Initially, we kept our day jobs; we couldn’t make a living as a mixed race band,” Clegg asserts. He later discovered a loophole in the law. “Apartheid was only applicable to public venues. We could play at private venues, so we performed in churches, peoples’ lounges, embassies, private schools and university halls. We discovered there were pockets of platforms that we could use. When we began to play in public, that’s when we started to get closed down. It was really a kind of balancing act between those. There weren’t enough security police to monitor what we were doing, so as long as you weren’t playing the main centres, you managed to get a bunch of shows in.”

Juluka records received what was known as ‘restricted access’. “They would strike a nail through the vinyl on certain tracks,” he remembers. “There were four levels of censorship on radio: sexual, religious, racial and cultural.”  Although their debut album, Universal Men, received little to no air play on state-owned radio, it became a word-of-mouth hit. Juluka were able to tour in Europe, where they earned international platinum and gold sales for albums such as 1982’s Scatterlings of Africa and 1984’s Stand Your Ground.

Scatterlings is the song that got me on to the world platform,” Clegg conceded. “It’s the song that launched my musical career actually because by the fourth album I was teaching anthropology at university. When that song became a hit, I said to the head of the department: ‘See ya — I’m off’. I left after it went to number one in France, Belgium and Switzerland. It’s a song that’s worked very hard for me. It’s given me openings in two different bands to secure music as a way of life.” ‘Scatterlings’ was also significant on another level. “The song’s sentiments are about Africa being the birthplace of all mankind and that from Africa humans scattered to the rest of the world. What it’s really saying is that everybody is significant, not just us. The first humans left Africa 170,000 years ago and populated the planet.”

Despite his high-standing overseas, Clegg received short shrift from the South African government. He was arrested several times, initially as a 15-year-old back in the late ‘60s for entering a black area without permission. “But I wasn’t political,” he insisted. “I was musical. Juluka wasn’t really a political band. We were a cultural activist band. You were dealing with a far more basic issue — the right to sing another man’s language, the right to share another man’s culture in a country that forced cultural segregation. It’s a very complex issue this. South Africa was racially and culturally segregated. The regime didn’t want blacks to unite, so there was a divide and rule policy at a cultural level. Mixing languages was taboo. We mixed languages and we mixed music and we mixed dance and we mixed all these things.”

Savuka, which Clegg formed after Juluka was disbanded in 1986 when Mchunu left, was the band that in Clegg’s words “became political, more outspoken and clearly articulated”. Following the release of Savuka’s hard-hitting debut album Third World Child in 1987, its leader and other band members were arrested several times. Savuka concerts were routinely broken up and some of Clegg’s songs, such as ‘Asimbonanga’, which called for the release of Nelson Mandela, were banned by the regime. [In later years, the singer got to share stages with Mandela during a series of AIDS Awareness concerts, something he lists among his most cherished memories].

For several weeks in the 1980s, Third World Child and the follow-up album, Shadow Man, dominated the French charts. The band was so successful that Michael Jackson allegedly had to cancel a show in Lyon because it clashed with a Johnny Clegg and Savuka gig. Amusingly, a newspaper headline in France read: ‘WHITE MAN SINGING BLACK MUSIC OUT SELLS BLACK MAN SINGING WHITE MUSIC’. Clegg was at a loss to explain his huge following in France, where he is known as Le Zoulou Blanc (The White Zulu) and where in 1991 he was awarded a Chevalier des Arts et Lettres (Knight of Arts and Letters) by the French Government, other than to point out that the French are very open to music from other countries. “At that time on French radio you heard every kind of music imaginable. They are very culturally sophisticated and aware.”

2011 marked Clegg’s 30th anniversary as a professional musician and he celebrated the milestone in style. “I got Juluka and Savuka back together and all the people I could muster for three shows. We did a Johnny and Sipho duo set, then we did Juluka, then we did Savuka. The show in Capetown was brilliant.”

Clegg said his career had been something of a blur. “I toured between four and six months every year. In the early days, I did nine months touring for years and years.” He stopped performing in 1993. “I went through a personal crisis with my marriage; one of the issues we discovered was my extensive touring. I was spending too much time away from home and my wife gave me an ultimatum. We had an agreement that my touring would be limited.” While admitting that affected his profile and album sales at a time when the world spotlight moved away from South Africa, he took comfort from the fact that Juluka and Savuka were secure internationally. “I lived off the goodwill of those fans that followed me in the ‘80s.”

Close to 60 when I talked to him, Clegg senior said he kept fit for the energetic Zulu dancing that became an integral part of his live shows by doing plenty of cardiovascular work and weights and most importantly, he stressed, “stretching for suppleness”. While he didn’t lecture at university any more, he still utilised his academic expertise. “My shows are accompanied with explanations, anecdotes and stories about the songs, which people like to hear. It adds a bit of layering to the songs.” Clegg spoke with authority. In what was perhaps a veiled reference to Paul Simon, he said: “I come from inside the tradition. I play Zulu concertina. I play Zulu guitar. I play maskanda music, I grew up in the tradition. I’m not raiding some foreign cultural entity and then constructing something out of it, I’m writing from inside the tradition.”

Johnny Clegg, whose Zulu name (‘Madabe’) translates to ‘Big Ears’, told me his career had been a great journey. “The thing for me is having a dedicated group of fans over the years who’ve brought their kids to my shows. The key is to have people that want to grow with you as an artist. In the end, it’s about the connection with an audience and maintaining that connection.”

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Earth Celebration: Feel the Drum Beats Rise through Your Feet

The Earth Celebration

From August 16th to 18th, the lush island of Sado in Japan is filled with the sounds of taiko drums, song and dance. The Earth Celebration is Japan’s longest running music festival, a yearly event which attracts music lovers from all across Japan and the world.

Hosted by the globetrotting taiko drum group Kodo, for 32 years this huge drum festival has brought festival lovers to butterfly-shaped Sado Island, just an hour or so by ferry from Niigata City in northern Japan.

For Kodo members, taiko is a way of life. The drummers spend two thirds of the year touring, performing in packed concerts both in Japan and overseas. The rest of the time the troupe lives on Sado, practicing and developing new works that show just how powerful these deceptively simple looking drums can be. Their dedication to their craft comes through in each performance, coaxing nuances from massive drums that sometimes reach over one meter in diameter.

The Earth Celebration

However, Earth Celebration goes beyond taiko, as each year the group invites musicians from around the world to perform at the Harbour Market stage, bringing together artists of all stripes through the power of music. For the 2019 edition the Kodo drummers will be collaborating with the acclaimed Korean percussion ensemble Kim Duk-Soo SamulNori.

Besides music, visitors can also enjoy light up events at the former Sado Gold Mine, watch movies at the outdoor Hello Japan Sea Cinema, sample tasty food at Harbour Market, and catch fringe events at Kisaki Shrine.

If you plan to check out this music festival, try to arrive one day early to catch a firelight performance of Noh theater on one of the island’s ancient open-air stages. The plays harken back to the Japan of yore, the performer’s carved masks and otherworldly chants made even more dramatic by the flickering lanterns.

Kids are welcome at most of the events, and there are plenty of workshops and other activities to do on Sado to teach and entertain young music lovers.

Heading to Japan and want to know more about how to get to Sado and book tickets for Earth Celebration? The festival website has all the information you need to plan your trip!

headline photo: Kodo

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Grammatical Aspects Of Carnatic Music

Music is universal and is the life line of sublime expression.

Carnatic composer and violinist Dr. L. Subramanian

Carnatic music is basically an application in complete expansion within given restrictions.  An artistic uniqueness is created within a grammatical limits.  Rules of grammar in Carnatic music have not prevented the great writers from producing creative, beautiful works of literature.

A sentence in any language is a collection of words that conveys sense or meaning and is formed according to the logic of grammar.  Similarly, Sruti and Laya are the main grammatical aspects which makes music melodic. Sruti and Laya are like mother and father in Carnatic music.  

Music gets the identity as art form with the imbibing of the highest values of Lakshaya and Lakshana.   Lakshaya and Lakshana of art form are like Sruti and Smriti relationship of sacred Veda, Upanishad, Brahma sutra etc.    Lakshana defines and establishes the form. Abstract nature compelled Lakshana formation for the ease and comfort of practitioners, teachers, students and performers and also for the connoisseurs and discerning listeners.

The Music of India is one of the oldest unbroken musical traditions in the world.  It is said that the origins of this go back to the Vedas. During the Sangam literature, music and dance were the main attraction or entertainment among the mass.  Legend has played significant part in shaping and promoting the role of music in Indian culture. Silappadikaram is the first and foremost a treatise on music. The Puranas were written to elucidate the truths preserved in the Vedas and present them in capsules and modules to the music aspirants.

Ragamala Dance Company – Photo by Hub Wilson

There are 22 Srutis well known in the Carnatic music arena. Creation of raga is made easy with these 22 Srutis and to differentiate one raga from another. Swara is an essential aspect in a Varnam, Kriti, Keertana and other forms of music.  Saptaswara is the universally known syllables in music. Sa and Pa being Achala Swaras, out of 5 remaining Swaras, Ma has two variety and other four i.e. Ri, Ga, Dha and Ni have 3 varieties each. Thus there are 16 Swaras.  Composition in Carnatic music is required to follow prosodic order.  In so far as Tala there are 10 Pranas known as Tala Dasa Pranas. This gives detail characteristics of a Tala structure.                

Music too has diversified into different genres. There are classical Music like Carnatic and Hindustani.  Carnatic music is one of the few musical systems of the world blending a fine technical structure to a profound aesthetic value.  It is a melodic system based on fundamental sounds known as Srutis, which form the basis for the definition of notes, known as Swaras.  Particular sets of Swaras are used to construct melodies known as Ragas. 

Each of the innumerable ragas of Carnatic music is defined by rules of usage of its note called Raga Lakshana including the permissible and forbidden manners of ascent, the Arohanam and descent, the Avarohanam, the aesthetics of transition between notes, the Gamakas and their relative importance.  Shift of tonic is the process by which new Melas can be evolved. 

Mridangam virtuoso Sridhar Parthasarathy

Compositions in Carnatic music possess multiple dimensions.  The aesthetic element refers to the melodic value extended by the raga and its intensive usage with the lyrical aspect. The prosodic dimension describes the technical or grammatical value associated with the poetic meter. The rhythmic element captures the association of the Sahitya and prosody according to the Tala to which a composition is set to. The grammatical aspects in Raga, Tala and compositions are briefly discussed below:

Grammatical aspects of raga alapana:

We are aware that the raga alapana has undergone organized expansion from time to time. However the raga alapana paddhati now in vogue is as per the Matanga’s raga paddhati. There are three main stages of alapana- 1. Akshiptika (introduction) 2. Raga Vardhani (main content of alapana) and 3. Sthayi and 4. Makarini , the concluding part of alapana.

In Akshiptika a succinct form of raga is presented by the musician for making a clear identification of raga by the listeners.

Raga Vardhani which is the second stage of Alapana, has 4 stages – Eduppu (commencement) and Muktayi (conclusion) for every stage i.e. Vidari I-IV.

In the concluding part of Alapana the Arohana Sthayi and Avarohana Sthayi is maintained and Sthayi Sanchara is done with madhyamakala sanchara and in higher octave sanchara and finally concluding with avorohana karma. In some ragas it is concluded in higher octave Sadjam also.

Again while analyzing the aspect of grammar in raga Alapana, the exposition of a raga sung before a kriti is different from the one sung before a Ragam, Tanam, Pallavi.  In both the situation the raga Swarupa has to be shown maintaining the grammatical aspect of raga alapana.  But in for a Pallavi singing the raga Alapana is slightly expanded than singing before a Kriti. This in itself is a full topic for discussion with proper examples. Its quiet amusing that some raga give scope for elaborate exposition whereas some have very little scope. It is observed that the present day artists have made a research even to sing such ragas elaborately giving importance to each swara sancharas within the permitted scope.

Grammar in Tala

The variety of Tala as in Carnatic music is not found in any other musical form. When we discuss about Tala it has 10 pranaas to be followed. Tala is the strength for a composition.  As a hand of clock moves according to a time sequence (rhythm) so also in Tala which has a time frame,  moves around set to the letters. We have variety of Talas like Sapta Tala, 175 Talas, 108 Talas, Navasanthi Tala etc., each has different parts and style of presentation.

Each Tala has angas- Anudrutham, Drutam, Lagu, Guru, Plutham and Kakapadam.  These are taught to the students at the initial stages of learning. Alankaram lessons are very apt to explain these aspects. But all these Angas are not used in a normal Tala. These are more applicable for dance where every small variation can be explained with an Abhinaya.

There are several ways of doing a Tala. Here we count time, and several gestures are involved like joining two hand, counting the fingers, lifting the hands up, turning right and left etc. etc. 

Yathi pattern is adopted in the Kalpana Swaras by musicians which adds beauty to the composition and also the Tala kattu. Similarly different Chaapu Talas have its own attraction and added value to the composition.

Grammar of a composition

A composition has three parts: Padam, Prasam and Yathi.

Padam refer to the sentences in the composition. For e.g. Marukela ra O’Raghava in Jayanthasri Ragam or Sri Saraswathi in Arabhi raga. The compositions are usually set to Adi, Rupaka or chapu Talas.

Prasam – 3 kinds of Prasam – Adiprasam, Anuprasam and Antyaprasam. The pattern of words in the sentences must be uniform. Prasam and Yati both are important.

In Adiprasam the second letter of the first word will be same.

                     e.g. Seethapathe naa manasuna (pallavi)

                            Vaathathmaja dule chenda (Anupallavi)

                               (Kamaas – Tyagaraja)

Anuprasam : the words sound similar in the sentence.

                     e.g. Balakanakamaya chelasujanapari-

                            Balasri Rama Lola vidruta sara

                             (Atana- Tyagaraja)

In Antyaprasa there will be similar sound at the end of the sentence.   

 E.g. Dikshitar kriti in Anandabhairavi –

                   Manasa Guru Guharoopam Bajare –re

                   Mayamaya Hrithithapam    Thyajare- re

Yati denotes the word pattern in a composition. It will be similar to that of Anuprasam in the sentence.

Similarly for a Pallavi, Vilomam, Anulomam and Pratiloman should be maintained.

Thus it is seen that Carnatic music has grammatical rules which needs to be followed.  From the basic lesson (Abhyasagana) to the kriti singing the set pattern of grammar is required to be followed in order to give an esthetic sense and also to add embellishment in rendering.

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Artist Profiles: Havana Meets Kingston

Back in the closing years of the 20th century, when the Buena Vista Social Club ruled the international roost, Cuban music was all the rage. Now, two decades on, an Australian musician/producer is not only following the footsteps of the great American facilitator Ry Cooder, who guided that collective’s high-selling Havana-recorded album, award-winning documentary and sell-out overseas tour, but he’s also taking an extra bound by blending son, salsa and rumba with reggae, dancehall and dub from Cuba’s Caribbean island neighbour, Jamaica.

In what is a mighty musical and logistical achievement that he’s claiming as a world-first, Melburnian Jake “Mista” Savona has amassed a star-studded cast that includes both lauded Buena Vista players and reggae royalty. His Havana Meets Kingston concept has already yielded an album and several world tours.

Various Artists – Mista Savona Presents Havana Meets Kingston

Surprisingly, Savona says no master plan is involved, and he insists it is all the better for that. “To be honest, the whole project hasn’t been quite as pre-meditated as it may seem from the outside … and I believe this is actually what makes it so special. It evolved step-by-step over many years. The seeds were planted well before I had even envisioned the possibility of bringing together Jamaican and Cuban musicians in Havana.”

The project had its genesis back in 2004 when Savona made his inaugural visit to Jamaica to record Melbourne Meets Kingston, the first album-length collaboration between Australian musicians and Jamaican vocalists. That led to a series of return trips between 2004 and 2013 for further recordings.

He says the turning point came after a friend returned from a 2014 trip to Havana with some persuasive photos, and he realised a visit to Cuba was well overdue. “When I looked at the map I couldn’t believe how close the two islands are — literally only a few hundred miles apart. I was heading to Jamaica in April that year for a quick promotional trip, so I decided to visit Cuba for ten days or so.”

Savona fell in love with the people, music and culture. “Towards the end of the trip, I was sitting in a cafe in Havana, a great place called Chanchurello. They were playing a CD of traditional Cuban rumba, mainly percussion based. I was daydreaming and imagining how the sounds of Nyabinghi drums from Jamaica would sound mixed with the rumba. I realized it would be very special to mix the two styles, and wondered if it had ever been done before.”

Jake Savona with Sly & Robbie

After returning to Kingston a few days later, he bumped into the veteran Jamaican percussionist Bongo Herman, who convinced him to setup a recording session that night at Tuff Gong, Bob Marley’s studio in Kingston. Drummer Sly Dunbar was there, of the world-famous rhythm section, Sly & Robbie. They ended up recording until sunrise. “He loved my piano playing, and I, of course, was amazed by his musicianship.”

Following some research on his return to Australia, Savona realised there had never been a project bringing Jamaican musicians into Cuba or vice versa. “I started to think how it could be done. I called Sly and he loved the idea, and he gave me Robbie’s phone number in Miami.” He also called Bongo Herman and Winston ‘Bopee’ Bowen, one of his favourite Jamaican guitarists. “Everyone was saying ‘yes’ without hesitation, and it just felt like a project that wanted and needed to happen.” So Savona started to look at how it might be organised.

A year later — in June 2015 — the producer flew seven Jamaican musicians into Havana. They had 10 days booked at the famous Egrem Studios, where the Buena Vista Social Club recorded their famous album.

As word spread about the initial sessions, Savona says over 30 Cuban musicians came through the studio, including members of Buena Vista, Los Van Van, the Afro-Cuban All Stars, Irakere and Havana Cultura.

It was an incredible 10 days,” he recalls. “I hoped to record one or two tracks a day to complete a fifteen-track album, but we actually recorded enough material in that time for almost three albums. The energy and inspiration was incredible. I had prepared sketches for all the songs, and these master musicians took the arrangements into hyperspace.”

Havana Meets Kingston has continued to exceed Savona’s expectations. “This project is so much bigger now than just my initial vision. It’s a joyful celebration of Caribbean music and culture that’s opening new doors for everyone involved. With our introductory music video going viral earlier this year, it’s also inspiring a lot of new tourism to the Caribbean.”

Looking back at the logistics of the exercise, Savona says the knowledge he gained from previous trips to survey Kingston’s music scene gave him the confidence to organize the Jamaican side of things. With his Cuban experience limited, he enlisted the help of Melbourne percussionist Javier Fredes, a master conga player, who, having lived in Cuba, had a deep knowledge of the musical landscape there.

I couldn’t have organized the sessions in Havana without his help,” Savona admits. “The biggest unknown for me was Cuban immigration, which is somewhat of a mystery. Did we have the right visas for the Jamaican musicians? Would Cuban customs mind that we were bringing so much musical and studio equipment into Havana? Thankfully, this side of things went smoothly, and once we had everyone safely in Havana, I knew we were good to go.”

The only real issue that Savona encountered in the studio was that the Jamaicans didn’t speak Spanish, and the Cubans had very little English. However, once the musicians were sitting with their instruments, he says the language barrier simply melted away.

Havana Meets Kingston

When the Jamaican musicians returned to Kingston, there were more sessions in both Havana, Santiago de Cuba and later on in Kingston to complete the recording. Savona also later travel led to London to record with one of his favorite reggae artists, singer Randy Valentine.

The project leader spent close to a year on the arrangements and mix downs, utilizing this time to also find the right record labels for his album. “Although at times I realized I was working quite slowly, I didn’t want to rush anything. Now, I have no regrets because we needed this time to actually fit all the right pieces of the puzzle together.”

All up just over 60 musicians were used on Havana Meets Kingston. “Famous older legendary musicians are playing alongside young new talent, some of who had never been in a recording studio before,” he points out.

I had no idea in the beginning that I would be able to work with such legends as [Jamaican guitarist] Ernest Ranglin, or Barbarito Torres of Buena Vista fame. Recording at Egrem Studios, he says, gave his album some of the same unique, “warm woody-room sound” that helped the eponymous Buena Vista Social Club release to become a huge seller around the world in the late 1990s.

Savona strongly refutes any notion that revamping songs such as ‘Chan Chan’, ‘El Cuarto de Tula’ and ‘Candela’from the revered Buena Vista album with beats, raps and manifestations of reggae amounts to any disrespect.

“That album is incredible; it was recorded over twenty years ago but stands the test of time. However, roam the streets of Old Havana today and all you’ll hear are Cuban bands in the bars and hotels mostly rehashing the ‘same old’ classics. Although this is what many tourists want to hear, it’s not great for the evolution of Cuban music. Music will lose its relevance and passion if it’s frozen in time. We made the Havana Meets Kingston album with so much respect for the roots music of both islands, involving many of the same legends that play on these old classic recordings.”

In order to blend together rhythms as diverse as Jamaican reggae/dancehall and Cuban son/rumba, Savona prepared sketches of all the songs, focusing on what he describes as interesting chord changes and strong funky riffs.

“I left them quite open, rather than preparing overly complicated charts. This, in hindsight, is the best thing I could have done, because it meant the musicians could really get inside these songs and breathe, rather then being glued to the written music. It also meant they could easily imbue the music with their own style and touch.” As a result, he says, the songs evolved quickly and came alive in unexpected and exciting ways.

One goal was to bring the sounds of Jamaican soundsystem culture together with the virtuosic Afro-Cuban jazz traditions. “Robbie Shakespeare’s incredible rolling bass lines made this possible,” says Savona. “His playing mixed with the Cuban percussion of Yaroldy Abreu, Oliver Valdés and Changuito to really bring the sounds of the Kingston and Havana streets together in a way never heard before.”

Savona reports that both Sly and Robbie were fantastic to work with: “They’re very relaxed and confident in the studio. They were happy to take my musical direction, and at the same time bring their own style and sound to my arrangements. They’re an integral part of the album for so many reasons — no one plays like them.”

The first Havana Meets Kingston album, which comprises predominantly fresh original compositions, presents a bona fide mix of musical cultures that’s relatively free of studio artifice. As Savona says: “It’s all about the performances, and less about the post-production, which I’ve kept as simple and natural as possible. You could argue that contemporary music is becoming increasingly sterile, with the focus in pretty much all genres now on post-production and auto-tuned, synthesised vocal performances, which I believe actually stifle and repress deeper human expression. For me music should be about uplifting people, not brainwashing them.”

What Aussie festivalgoers saw on stage at WOMADelaide and elsewhere on the 2018 tour was the core band that played on the initial Havana sessions. Besides key vocalists, English-Jamaican Randy Valentine and Cuban Francisco ‘Solis’ Robert and Brenda Navarette, one of Cuba’s rising singers, the 15-piece line-up in Adelaide included Sly & Robbie, Jamaican guitarist Bopee, the legendary Cuban percussionists Yaroldy Abreu and Oliver Valdés and the great trumpeter Julito Padrón. Laud player Barbarito Torres and virtuoso pianist Rolando Luna of Buena Vista fame were other world-renowned Cuban musicians in the line-up.

Savona is justifiably proud of the fact that it was his stewardship that facilitated Jamaican musicians flying into Cuba to record and collaborate with Cuban musicians for the first time. He says a combination of political, social, economic and linguistic reasons conspired to prevent that in the past. “Additionally, both islands have such potent and unique music scenes that they’re really captivated by their own music to a large degree. Until two years ago, there were no exchange programs between the islands. Jamaica’s music industry is its biggest export, and yet the government still doesn’t invest in it properly. There’s not even a museum in Jamaica dedicated to their incredible contributions to the world’s music.”

The financing of such an expensive and ambitious project as Havana Meets Kingston was problematic: “As a full-time musician, with a variable income to say the least, there was no way I could have financed this on my own,” he concedes. “But, I was very fortunate to have so much assistance along the way to bring this dream to life.” Savona managed to submit what turned out to be a successful application for an Australia Council ‘International Pathways’ grant in the nick of time. That, he indicates was pivotal. A Kickstarter campaign raised funds to take a film and photographic crew to document the project in Havana. “A few generous friends of mine were also happy to lend me money to help with the final mixing and mastering stages later on.”

Savona concedes there are still some outstanding debts from Havana Meets Kingston, but he’s confident in time that his project will become fully self-sufficient. He plans to tour the live show elsewhere around the world, including free outdoor concerts in Jamaica and Cuba. The second volume of the album is on the drawing board, along with a documentary, and a third installment of the record is expected to follow at a later date.

What amazes me about this project,” says Savona “are the synchronicities that kept happening, again and again. Looking back, I can see these countless little miracles that happened along the way that made it all possible. It just felt like an idea that wanted to happen, a project that wanted to be born. And all these great musicians loved the idea of the project. That’s what made it all possible.”

While there’s understandable pride in local music circles that an Australian is behind a project as bold as Havana Meets Kingston, Jake Savona stresses that it’s first and foremost an international collaboration. “This is an album by Jamaican and Cuban musicians, and it is an album for the people of Jamaica and Cuba, first and foremost. This is the real strength of the project.

• The above interview first appeared in Rhythms, Australia’s only dedicated roots music magazine.

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2019 St. Patrick’s Day Music

So, here we are. We’ve come to that time of year when I have this sudden insane desire to rip paper shamrocks from the walls and turn them into origami swans. With a few deft strokes of a Sharpie, I yearn to give every cheap, cheesy leprechaun a fabulous Salvador Dali mustache. I want to fill every faux pot of gold with squid and give every green, gaudy hat its proper due by handing it off to the nearest Labrador Retriever to be rendered into a slobbery, slimy cheap piece of felt as it so richly deserves.

It must be St. Patrick’s Day season.

I am currently without Sharpie, Labrador Retriever or squid, but, my fine readers, I do have music for your St. Patrick’s Day. I’ve got raucous music, soothing music, poetry within music, music so fine as to make a pint of Guinness shed a tear. I’ve got music with fiddles, music with guitars, music with pipes and music with voices so lovely it will give that Labrador Retriever pause and so drop that chewed hat. I’ve got music from across the ocean, music from down the road, music from across a green field and music from a dark wood. So, let’s get to it.

Irish Relaxation: Calming Celtic Instrumental Music and Beautiful Nature

Those seeking to find a kind of Celtic serenity this St. Patrick’s Day have to look no further than New Age NY Company’s Irish Relaxation: Calming Celtic Instrumental Music and Beautiful Nature. Celtic Chillout Relaxation Academy and Calm Music Zone offer up tracks like “Irish Relaxation,” Spiritual Awaking,” “Nature of Ireland,” “Irish Soundscapes,” “Patrick’s Day,” “Waves & Cliffs” and “Ancient Hills of Ireland” for those looking for a bit of Celtic Zen (I’m sure all you Druids out there have your own name for a Zen-like state so just fill in your own word).

David Arkenstone – The Celtic Heart

David Arkenstone has on tap for this St. Patrick’s Day The Celtic Heart. Sweet instrumentals like “Hearts Entwined,” “May Dance,” “the Promise Ring” and “Secret Wedding” are comfortably easy and enjoyable. This is perhaps a little sedate for a raucous St. Patrick’s Day party, but might be held in reserve if the mayhem needs to be taken down a notch or two.

The Outside Track. – Rise Up

The label Lorimer has put out Rise Up by a group called The Outside Track. Comprised fiddler and singer Mairi Rankin, singer and flute player Teresa Horgan, composer and harpist Ailie Robertson, composer and accordionist Fiona Black and guitarist Michael Ferrie, The Outside Track boasts such previous recordings like Light Up the Dark, Flash Company, The Mountain Road and Curious Things Given Wings. Rise Up possesses some real charmers such as “Dark Reels,” “Road to Rollo Bay,” “The Wahoo Set,” “Eleanor Plunkett” and “Happy Reels.”

Eabhal – This Is How the Ladies Dance.

Out of the Scottish Gaelic tradition comes Eabhal and their 2019 recording This Is How the Ladies Dance. Musicians Megan MacDonald, Jamie MacDonald, Nicky Kirk and Hamish Hepburn have crafted a fine fiddle and accordion soaked album on This Is How the Ladies Dance with delicious fare like “Beir Soiridh,” “MaSim,” “Windsong,” “An Ribhinn Donn” and “The Artist.”

Claire Hastings and her album Those Who Roam

Luckenbooth Records has on tap Claire Hastings and her album Those Who Roam. With her previous recording Between River and Railway under her belt, this Scottish singer and songwriter dazzles her way Those Who Roam with tracks like “The Lothian Hairst,” “Seven Gypsies,” “Jamie Raeburn” and “Ten Thousand Miles” with some truly spectacular vocals.

The Tannahill Weavers –Orach

Scottish group The Tannahill Weavers has put out Orach -The Golden Anniversary Album, out in the U.S. On the Compass Records label. This is a wonderful collection of traditional and contemporary song celebrates The Tannahill Weavers 50th anniversary and their 18th album with the group’s current line-up members Roy Gullane, Phil Smillie, John Martin and Lorne MacDougall and fondly honoring past band members. Fans get goodies like title track “Orach,” “Jenny A’ Things,” “Oh No!,” “The Asturian Sessions,” “The Ghost of Mick McDonnell” and “Gordon Duncan Set.”

Ciaran Tourish and Keven Doherty –Hotel Fiesta

The goodness just keeps on coming with Altan and 4 Men & a Dog heavyweights Ciaran Tourish and Keven Doherty and their release Hotel Fiesta. This album is a punch to the gut, a kiss on the cheek and a warm embrace all wrapped in one with tracks like “The Oak Tree (Jackson’s 1 & 2),” “Hawker’s Blues,” “A Visit to Ireland/The Lark on the Strand/Peter Byrne’s Fancy,” “Boots of Spanish Leather,” “Ur Chnock Chein Mhic Cainte,” “The Foxhunters/Dusty Miller,” “Dan the Man” and “My Love Is in America/The Cup of Tea/The Donegal Reel.”

Various Artists – Live Recordings from the William Kennedy Piping Festival, Vol. 2

If it’s piping you want, it’s piping you get with Live Recordings from the William Kennedy Piping Festival. This double CD set is a compilation from various performances at the William Kennedy Festival from 2003-2017. There’s more pipers here than you can shake a stick at, including Sean McKeon’s “The Maid on the Green/The Humours of Glin,” John McSherry and Francis McIlduff’s “Son Ar Rost/Song of the Chanter/The Foxhunters/James Kelly’s/The Limestone Rock,” The Goodman Trio’s “An Roguire Dubh/Airgiod Cailighe,” Paddy Keenan’s “The Broken Pledge/The Skylark/The Bucks of Oranmore” and Jarlath Henderson and Ross Ainslie’s “Jim Tweedie’s Sea Legs/Iain Ruadh/Thunderstruck/Angus Thing/Limestone Rock.” This is a sort of glorious piping overdose.

Grainne Holland – Corcra

Following up on recordings Teanga Na nGael and Gaelre, Irish singer Grainne Holland has out this year a whole CD’s worth of her own original songs called Corcra. Teaming up with a stellar cast of musicians including Aidan O’Rourke, Liam Bradley, Brendan Mulholland, Cormac McCarthy, Niamh Dunne, John Joe Kelly, Paul Dunlea, Conor McCreanor and Steve Jones, Ms Holland turns out a stunning collection of songs including “Mise Agus Tusa,” “Coinsias, Corp Agus Croi,” “Harry’s” and “An Ri Rua.” There will be no dry eye in the house by the time she’s done.

Farsan – Gaelic Traditions in the New World

Lead vocalist Mairi Britton, fiddler Katie McNally, pianist, accordionist, mandolinist and vocalist Neil Pearlman and border and highland piper Elias Alexander make up the group Farsan and their debut recording “Gaelic Traditions in the New World” is rich and rewarding and well worth a listen. Masterly moving through tracks like “Taladh A’ Phuilein,” “Pronn An Caoran,” “The Water Boiling Machine,” “Fear Drabastach,” “A’ Mhisg A Chuir An Nollaig” and “Gun Togainn Air Hugan,” Farsan turns out a recording that’s equal parts achingly lovely and joyfully jaunty.


Gary Innes –Imminent

Scottish accordion player Gary Innes shows off his chops on his recording Imminent. Leaning heavily on his own compositions, Mr. Innes casts a wide net over the tracks of Imminent, offering up goodies like “The Doctor’s Order,” the raucously wild “Welcome to New York,” the sweetly solemn “Sheerwater,” the completely entertaining “Alpha Runrig” and the easy mood of “Trade Winds.”


Hannah Flowers – Amhran na Cruite: Songs of the Harp

St. Paul, Minnesota native Hannah Flowers takes a turn in Irish with her recording Amhran na Cruite: Songs of the Harp. Angelic vocals and fairy compositions woven throughout tracks like “Buachaill on Eirne,” “Cul Tiubh na bPearlai,” “Urchnoc Chein Mhic Cainte” and “Dun Do Shuil” will surely earn Ms. Flowers a nostalgic tear at the thoughts of the old country.


Daoiri Farrell – A Lifetime of Happiness

If you are looking for some straight up Irish folk then look no further than Daoiri Farrell’s A Lifetime of Happiness. This is the real deal Irish folk fare to cozy up along with some properly pulled pints and a few friends. You’ll want to snag a listen to tracks like “The Galway Shawl,” “Valentine O’Hara,” “Theres the Day,” “Sweet Portadown,” “Rosie Reilly” and “Via Extasia” if for no other reason than Mr. Farrell’s plumy Irish vocals.

Brighde Chaimbeul – The Reeling

The Skye born, Scottish smallpipes player Brighde Chaimbeul’s recording The Reeling is shockingly good and I mean leaked out of the air, bubbled up from some strange lake good. Recorded live in a historic church in Cromarty, Scotland, the music of The Reeling sounds as if it had just lingered in the air for a couple of centuries before a wee lass captured it and put it down for the rest of us. Don’t believe me? Check out tracks like “A Bhriogais Uallach/Highean Donn nan Gobhar,” “Moma e Moma Rodila,” “An Leimras/Harris Dance” and “Gur Boidheach Nighean Donn Mo Chridhe.”

Jose Manuel Tejedor – Miraes

Brandishing pipes and whistles, Jose Manuel Tejedor gives listeners a taste of Spain’s Celtic flavor on Miraes. Mr. Tejedor lays down the goodness with tracks like “Automatas,” “Espiona,” “Miraes” and “Rihonor/Rio de Onor.”

In addition to Mr. Tejedor on pipes and whiles Miraes is packed bouzouki, mandolin, bodhran, violin, concertina and with some steel guitar from fellow musician Angel Ruiz on “Valles.”

Celtic Woman- Celtic Woman Homecoming Live from Ireland
Celtic Woman Ancient Land

If Celtic Woman is your thing, there are two out this season Celtic Woman Homecoming Live from Ireland and Celtic Woman Ancient Land.

This is rather typical Celtic Woman fare with “Mo Ghile Mear,” Dulaman,” and “Fields of Gold” gracing Homecoming and tracks like “Ancient Land,” “Homeland,” “Mna Na hEireann” and “Tara’s Tune” on Ancient Land. While not exactly to my particular tastes, I’m sure there’s some out there waiting with baited breath to get a listen.

Various Artists – Street Lights

It started out with a few folk. People like Dave Geraghty, Gary Lightbody, Bono, Conor O’brien,Loah, Roisin O, Cathy Davey, Galia Arad, Faye O’Rourke, Saint Sister, Little Green Cars, The High Hopes Choir and The Camden Orchestra, along with musicians Cian Boylan, Conor Brady, Ben Castle, Colm Mac Con Iomaire, Colm Quearney, Rob Malone and Graham Hopkins. Well, these folk put out the single “Homeward Bound” as a way to aid the homeless. Well, wouldn’t you know they put an album to carry their good works over. Street Lights, the album, teams up the likes of Damien Dempsey, Snow Patrol, The Frames, Vincent McMorrow, Villagers and Luka Bloom for a CD that will benefit Ireland’s homeless. Fans will want to check out Street Lights’s version of Paul Simon’s “Homeward Bound,” Damien Dempsey’s “Soft Rain,” Stephen James Smith’s spoken word coolness on “My Ireland” and Richard Hawley and Lisa Hannigan’s “Hush A Bye Mountain.”

Bangers Mash – Quicksand Cafe

Quicksand Cafe by Bangers & Mash, out on the Dancing Druid Music label might appeal those who want to gather up a gang of toughs and rock out this St. Patrick’s Day. Pulling together the talents of vocalist and percussionist Liam Hudock, electric bassist Seth Lesselbaum, vocalist and bodhran player Carole Lesselbaum, vocalist and guitarist Chad Herth, vocalist and fiddler Alexandra Adams, drummer Anthony Anastase and guest guitarist and drummer Brian Gabriel, Quicksand Cafe is a quick-paced Celtic steamroller as it rollicks along with tracks like “Fields of Athenrye,” “Star of the Country Down,” title track “Quicksand Cafe,” “Rambling Rover” and “Morrison’s Jig.”

YR Hwntws – Y Tribanw

From Wales there’s the stunning recording Y Tribanwr by the group YR Hwntws. Lushly sweet with jazzy overtones, Y Tribanwr is downright delicious. Corralling the talents of vocalist Gregg Lynn, vocalist, tabor player and percussionist Nia Lyn, fiddler Bernard KilBride, vocalist, flute and whistle player Imogen O’Rourke, mandocello player Dan B. James and double bassist and bass guitarist Dean Ryan, YR Hwntws has a tight, neat sound throughout tracks like “ Ym Mhontypridd mae ‘Nghariad,” “Aradwr a’i Ychen,” “Bro Morgannwg,” “Ffarwel I Dai’r Cantwr” and “Diawledig a Nefolaidd/Pibddawns Gwr Wrecsam.” The music is downright lovely, the recording excellent and the liner notes contain the Welsh lyrics to all the songs if you want to give your Welsh a go and the English translations if you’re a scaredy cat like me. Yeah, I think speaking Welsh might just need a wee bit of courage.

Lleuwen Steffan – Gwn Glan Beibl Budr

Another offering from Wales and a sort of off-the-beaten track comes Gwn Glan Beibl Budr. Fans might recognize Lleuwen Steffan’s voice by her previous recordings Tan, Duw A Wyr/God Only Knows and Penmon. While Gwn Glan Beibl Budr might be a tad more experimental than the Celtic Woman set would tolerate, but Ms. Steffan’s vocals on tracks like “Y Garddwr” and “Can Taid” are just too good to miss. Fans should check out the silky smooth vocals of “Cwm Rhondda” against some pretty fabulous percussion and instrumentation. Other goodies include the lazy smoky feel of “Caerdydd” and the sweet elegance of “Mynyddoedd.”

The Gloaming – The Gloaming 3

One of the real gems this year has to be Real World Records’ The Gloaming 3. So finely wrought, so utterly elegant, The Gloaming 3 is likely to cause normally placid people to turn to others and snottily ask, “Must you breathe in and out so loudly?” for fear of missing a single note. The Gloaming 3 gang of vocalist Iarla O Lionaird, hardanger d’amore player Caoimhin O Raghallaigh, guitarist Dennis Cahill, fiddler Martin Hayes and pianist Thomas Bartlett transform a voice and four instruments into a Celtic music lover’s wonderland. There’s no need to point out particular tracks, simply because it’s wonderful from the opening notes of “Meachan Rudai (The Weight of Things)” to the very last note of “Amhran na nGleann (The Song of the Glens).” All one needs to do is to surrender to the timelessness of each precious note and let the rest go hang.

I hope some of this music might go a long way to soothe the irritations of cheap green beer, insanely drunken revelers in matching T-shirts with “Irish you were naked” printed on the front and the stupidly obnoxious guy dressed as a leprechaun this St. Patrick’s Day. If not, my advice is to grab a Sharpie, a Labrador Retriever and a bucket of squid.

I’ll leave you with the Gaelic saying, “Giorraionn beirt bothar.” It essentially means “Two people shorten a road.” So, grab a friend, order up a pint, tell a tall tale and revel in some fine music.

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