Sunday, March 17, 2013

4 Irish groups for St. Patrick's day

I'd like to wish you all a very merry St. Patrick's day! While people in Ireland celebrate by going to church, people around here seem to celebrate by wearing green and getting plastered. While there's some cultural basis for celebrating green things and Guinness-driven drunkenness, here are some alternative things to celebrate on St. Patrick's:
  • Freedom from oppression and colonization,
  • Immigrant populations and our cultural inheritance from them,
  • Problems of crop monocultures (I don't think we've learned our lessons there), and
  • Irish traditional music!
So, to help you celebrate the last one, here are Irish music acts you should check out. Sure, you've heard of the Chieftains, Riverdance, and maybe even Eileen Ivers or Clannad, but these groups are my favorites, and I've been able to see all of them live!

1. My favorite Irish group of all time is Solas. Lead by multi-instrumentalist Séamus [SHAY-mus] Egan, their latest effort delves into the lives of the large Irish immigrant community of Butte, Montana. My favorite of their albums, however, are the first three with vocalist Karan Casey (who you should also check out). Yes, they're traditional, but they also push some boundaries...

2. Martin Hayes is a Chicago-based fiddler from County Claire and is on the cover of my Pocket History of Irish Traditional Music. While most of his playing is amazingly understated, sometimes he really pulls out the fireworks.

3. The instrumental group Lúnasa, especially their album The Merry Sisters of Fate. Their music really makes me want to bust out my jig and reel dance moves. One of their members plays the Irish Uilleann bagpipes; unlike their louder cousins the Scottish Highland bagpipes, they are played sitting down, pumping with arm bellows, reach more than one octave, and are made for playing indoors.

4. The venerable Altan, formed in 1987 and led by singer/fiddler Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, was one of the first Irish traditional supergroups. I remember hearing this song randomly on a train station in Spain, and I got really excited. When I saw them perform this live in London, everyone was singing along, even though it's in Irish. By the way, the chorus basically says: "Irish seaweed! It's the best!"

Well, I hope you like my selections. Do you have any favorite Irish traditional music you like to listen to?

Vocab: jig, reel, Uilleann pipes

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