(And related cultural issues...)
The band who calls themselves "Mouth Music" (also known to some as "Mouth
Mucus"), after the Gaelic term 'puirt a beul', have a new album
out. So this is a good opportunity to explain a little about this band
that may not be obvious from the commentary of those from outside the
Gaelic community. Since most music reviews and articles about this
band are going to be written by people in mainstream pop culture, they
won't be aware of the perceptions of the group by many people from inside
the Gaelic context.
Here's a review of their latest album, taken from a March issue of 'The
West Highland Free Press', written by Jim Wilkie:
"Since one is usually dealing with the work of friends or colleagues,
the West Highland critic's lot is not a happy one and I always
receive Mouth Music product with mixed feelings.
I know there is much I'm going to hate -- the electronic doodling,
the Peter Gabriel dabbling -- but experience tells me that I might
also like something very much. So I persevere.
By perceiving Gaelic music in terms of its underlying rhythms they
have guiltlessly slotted it into a world music bag and as a result
have travelled far in a short time. Well, to America anyway, where
last year they secured a Billboard World Music chart place with their
first album, besides contributing the music to the famous Drambuie
advertisement -- you know the one, where Robert Hardy drops the bottle.
Martin Swan and Chic Medley are still there but Talitha MacKenzie
and Mairi MacInnes have now moved on to be replaced by Jackie Joyce
and Michaela Rowan and instrumentally the new album - Mo-Di - is more
reminescent of the Bush of Ghosts, the David Byrne/Brian Eno cross-
There is much eco-spiritualism in evidence and less Gaelic than
before but the track I like is the waulking standard, He Mandu.
Culturally it is all wrong: the Gaelic is bammy, liberties are taken
with the melody and the beat is shifted to the back of the bar. It is
really nothing to do with Gaelic in fact, except that it recognises
a classic, simple rhythm and melody, has great energy and will go
down a treat with the young, international club/ceilidh audience at
which it is obviously aimed."
The West Highland Free Press, by the way, is the main newspaper of the
Highlands and Islands of Scotland, and hence is strongly tied to the
Scottish Gaelic speaking community.
As it should be evident from this review, the group Mouth Music is from
completely outside of the Gaelic tradition. In fact, none of the members
speak Gaelic and none of them even have any connection to Scotland. Their
interest in Gaelic culture only goes as far as finding new material to
for their cultural entrepreneuralism. Again, in fact, the only Gaels that
Swan has worked with have refused further work with him, and two of them
are pursuing redress through legal channels for exploitation.
Those who think of culture as being like every other item to be
purchased in a consumer society will find no fault with Martin Swan's
forays into a foriegn culture to steal and transform what sounds hip and
trendy to him. However, some of us would like to see culture maintained
intact, given the chance to raise its own voice by its own members, and
not have the public's perceptions of it biased by commercialisations and
transformations catering to an audience essentially uninterested in its