If the image of young adults clad in “comical” green “Kiss Me…” t-shirts and orange and gold beads doesn’t sound like your idea of celebrating Irish culture, let me offer a more traditional aural alternative: The Chieftains and Dervish.
Since a young age, I have always found the sounds of traditional Irish music a source of great joy despite having no Irish stock or ancestry anywhere remotely in my gene pool. A child of Caribbean (Cuban) heritage, the strings, winds, and percussion of Gaelic music is far from the Afro-beat and salsa rhythms from which I originated. And, yet, there is such an odd cultural bond between the two island nations: both were entrenched in struggles of independence against continental colonial powers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, both had famous artists who fled into exile and joined the fight for independence, both have a decidedly Roman tendency in their religious predilections, and both relish in celebrating life with fine spirits (or ales) while dancing feverishly to the music of their heritage. In other words, the Irish and Cubans know how to celebrate life (or, in the parlance of our times, party). So perhaps I’m touching a shared cultural vein or we’ve yet to discover that one of our ancestors was actually one of the famed “Black Irish” (a term for the offspring of shipwrecked Spanish naval men after the English Armada decimated the Spanish fleet off the coasts of Ireland, the death knell of the “Spanish Empire”), either way the music of the Emerald Isle has always been a palliative for my addled mind or much need boost of joyful life-affirming enthusiasm.
Rather than cavorting with all the revelers spilling into the streets, find yourself a nice little pub with some traditional buskers…
OR if the weather or obligations are keeping you at home share the day, evening, and sunrise with two great groups that play traditional Irish Folk. While there are many records from both of these artists to choose from I’ve picked four that I adore:
The Chieftains’ The Best Of The Chieftains While I generally avoid a “best of” collection, this set of songs by one of Ireland’s oldest and most widely recognized collectives illustrates the wide range and brilliance of these musicians. If by the end of the album you aren’t kicking and stomping you might want to check your pulse.
The Chieftains’ Tears Of Stone On this album, the Chieftains explore traditional Irish folk songs with a slightly modern twist, collaborating with some great contemporary musicians including Joni Mitchell, Bonnie Raitt, The Coors, Sinead O’Connor, and Loreena McKennitt, to name a few.
Dervish’s Spirit A couple of years ago, I stumbled across this contemporary set of musicians and fell in love with them. Hailing from County Sligo, also the birthplace of WB Yeats, the men and women of Dervish also explore the same plane of traditional folk music as the Chieftains but it’s the entrancing quality of Catherine Jordan’s vocals that always bring me back. Their rendition of Dylan’s “Boots of Spanish Leather” is at once astoundingly gorgeous and even more heartbreaking than Dylan’s confessional, talk-singing approach; for the love-lorn keep a handkerchief or tissue close at hand.
Dervish’s Live in Palma Although studio recordings are gorgeous, they miss the essence of folk music: it is corporeal and alive and needs an audience. So, here is a powerful live performance by the group.
for those with an itching for contemporary Irish musicians with whom to celebrate how about
Elvis Costello’s Spike (probably EC’s most “political record” with the genius “God’s Comic” and “Tramp the Dirt Down”)