Tag Archives: Cape Breton

Artist Profiles: Natalie MacMaster

Natalie MacMaster

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.

Natalie MacMaster

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.

Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy

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.

Discography:

Four on the Floor (Astro Custom Records, 1989)

Road to the Isle (Astro Custom Records, 1991)

Fit as a Fiddle (1993)

A Compilation (Rounder Records, 1996)

No Boundaries (Rounder Records, 1997)

In My Hands (Rounder Records Select, 1999)

My Roots Are Showing (Rounder Records Select, 2000)

Live (Rounder Records Select, 2002)

Blueprint (Rounder Records, 2003)

Yours Truly (Rounder Records, 2006)

Cape Breton Girl (MacMaster Music, 2011)

One, with Donnell Leahy (MacMaster Music, 2015)

A Celtic Family Christmas, with Donnell Leahy (Linus Entertainment, 2016)

website: www.nataliemacmaster.com

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Artist Profiles: Allie Mombourquette

Allie Mombourquette

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.

Discography:

Allie Mombourquette

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Dan MacDonald to Perform at World Fiddle Day 2016 in Toronto

Dan MacDonald
Dan MacDonald

Canadian fiddler Dan MacDonald will showcase the Cape Breton fiddle style at the 4th Annual World Fiddle Day that will take place on Saturday, May 21st at Historic Fort York, in Toronto. MacDonald and other special guests will lead morning workshops, play an afternoon concert, followed by the giant community “Around-the-World” Fiddle Jam. All activities from noon on free.

Dan MacDonald is from a family of musicians from the small village of Ironville, Cape Breton and began playing fiddle at a very early age. His fiddle education came mostly from his father, Lloyd MacDonald, and from the surrounding musical culture of Cape Breton Island. In the late 1980s, MacDonald, and his family formed Scumalash, a traditional Cape Breton band, with whom he toured throughout the United Kingdom between 1988 and 1992, culminating in the release of a self-titled album. Scumalash recently returned from a reunion tour of England.

Dan moved to Toronto in 2003, where he became a co-host at the Irish music session at Dora Keogh Irish pub and later became a member of the traditional Irish group Spraoi, who performed at the Tranzac Club, Hugh’s Room and the Brampton Folk Festival. In 2006, MacDonald became music director of The Magic of Ireland, an Irish dance and music show, with which he toured the UK, Canada, the USA and Europe.

An active freelance performer and teacher, MacDonald currently plays with North Atlantic Drift, with Brian Tahaney and Ross Grifithes, with whom he has released two CDs.

For more information go to www.worldfiddleday.ca

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Touch of MacMaster’s Hand

Natalie MacMaster - Blueprint
Natalie MacMaster – Blueprint

Natalie MacMaster

Blueprint (Rounder Records, 2003)>

Two tunes on Cape Breton fiddler Natalie MacMaster’s latest recording, Blueprint succinctly describe the power behind the 30-year old musician’s feisty gift. They are “Touch of the Master’s Hand,” based on a poem by Myra Brooks Welch; and the love song, “My Love, Cape Breton and Me,” which ends the recording. The first tune cites, “From the room far back a fair-haired girl came forward and took the bow. Then she wiped dust from the old violin and tightened up the strings. She played a tune so pure and sweet you could hear the angels sing.” I would bet that Natalie could also transform a tired old instrument into the stuff of angels.

Natalie’s cousin Bob Quinn wrote the second tune for MacMaster’s marriage to fiddler Donnell Leahy that took place on October 5, 2002. Quinn’s 18-year old daughter handled vocal duties at the wedding and on the recording. The song which was recorded in Halifax and produced by Natalie and her husband, speaks of the simple things in life and also about returning to one’s roots.

Natalie’s roots go deep into the heart of Canada’s Cape Breton. She was born into a fiddling community and is related to fiddling royalty, yet she relocated to Ontario after her wedding, giving the song a lasting poignancy.

The remaining 12 tracks were recorded in Nashville, Tennessee with “new acoustic” producer Darol Anger at the helm and embellished by an array of stellar bluegrass talent. MacMaster teams up with Bela Fleck (banjo), Jerry Douglas (dobra), Victor Wooten (bass), Alison Brown (banjo), John Cowen (vocals), Sam Bush (mandolin), Bryan Sutton (guitar), Edgar Meyer (Arco & Pizz bass) and her regular band mates to create a masterful marriage between traditional Cape Breton repertoire and new grass. They even toss in a few bluesy chops and jazzy bits here and there. However, besides this rich line up of musicians, what strikes me the most is being able to hear joy welling up in Natalie’s heart when she performs.

Her musicianship boasts both technical brilliance and absolute soul fullness that shouts integrity. If only there were more Natalie MacMaster’s in the world, I believe we would live in peace.

The tracks on Blueprint range from the pastoral “Eternal Friendship” to the tricky “Devil and The Dirk” with its alternating fiddle textures (staccato and sweet lyrical) and everything in between. Natalie’s fiddle kicks into gear on Gravel Shore then the musicians take turns at solos while building off of each others’ creative impulses. I am surprised to find Swedish guitarist Roger Tallroth’s (Vasen) “Josefin’s Waltz” on this recording, yet a few similarities between Swedish traditional music and fiddle music of the Americas do exist. Bela Fleck chips in Bela’s Tune and Natalie pays homage to her parents with the romp, Minnie & Alex’s Reel.

The musicianship is extraordinary on this spirited disc. Natalie plays straight from the heart and expertly turns musical phrases. She has toured the world and shared stages with such luminaries as Carlos Santana, Luciano Pavarotti, Alison Krauss and The Chieftains. And now she stars in her own show, accompanied by some of the hottest bluegrass musicians. Certainly her latest recording is a blueprint for success, but it also a CD filled with longing for one’s home. Whether or not you make your home in Cape Breton or elsewhere, finding your way home will be less complicated after listening to this heart-felt recording.

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