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CELTIC-L  April 1997

CELTIC-L April 1997

Subject:

"Celtic Connections"

From:

Neil Alasdair McEwan <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

CELTIC-L - The Celtic Culture List.

Date:

Sat, 12 Apr 1997 08:52:02 -0300

Content-Type:

TEXT/PLAIN

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

TEXT/PLAIN (113 lines)

A chairdean,


     The article below is from the latest (Spring 1997) issue of "Am
Braighe".  Some of you may have already met the author on Gaelic-L.


Celtic Connections or Celtic Pretensions?  by Michael Newton
-----------------------------------------


     "Glasgow, Scotland has been running a highly successful series of
concerts under the banner "Celtic Connections" for a few years now, with
acts as diverse as Billy Bragg, Eddi Reader, Salsa Celtica and Emmylou
Harris.  From the name, one assumes that they all have "Celtic
Connections", although exactly what this means remains rather vague and
undefined.  The one certain thing is that these "connections", or at
least pretensions, have come to mean big money.  Artists who would never
have recognized the word "Celtic" ten years ago are now claiming Celtic
roots and connections, and incorporating what the mass market perceives
to be Celtic into their imagery and sound.

     "A radio commentator speaking about the American country-folk singer
Iris De Ment, who gave a Glasgow performance, said that she must surely
have Scottish ancestry; and, anyway, country music was Celtic in origin.
While Gaels were certainly among those whose influences were to come
together in the melting pot of American folk music, there can be no doubt
that English, Spanish, French, African, German and other peoples had
contributions just as significant, if not more so.

     "The recent invention of "Celtic music" has been doubtlessly
triggered by consumer demand, especially from the massive English-
speaking market.  While the label "Celtic" is useful in many ways, it
can't be applied with any precision to cover or describe the musical
traditions of several peoples developing independently under different
influences, each with their own distinct musical idioms.

     "It is no surprise, given parallels in the oral traditions of other
peoples, that musical tradition is rooted in language [surely not! --N.Mc.E.]
The human voice is after all the universal instrument, and research in
Gaelic music supports the assertion that the Gaelic musical idiom has
grown out of the rhythms, cadences and characteristics of the Gaelic
language.  It follows that any attempt to understand and develop the
musical heritage of the Gaels hinges upon the health of the language
itself.

     "The traditional social setting for music, song, story and dance in
the Gaelic tradition was the informal, local ceilidh house.  The oral
tradition was appreciated because songs and stories had information
content -- a song might be the praise of one's ancestors, or the humorous
satirizing of one's neighbours.  The words of a song -- not the
instruments, not the personality of the performer, not even necessarily
the quality of the voice -- are of primary importance.

     "When aiming for a wide consumer market, unacquainted with Gaelic
culture and tradition, the information content and other traditional
aesthetic considerations are de-emphasized in order to "bring the product
to the widest possible market".  In other words, particular elements are
drawn out and used only if they can be readily assimilated into
mainstream Western music and consumed by a market looking for exotica.

     "Musicians are praised according to how effectively they can perform
the cultural asset-stripping necessary to create new commodities.  In
accordance with the modernist myths of "progress", importance is placed
on "absorbing influences", "pushing back boundaries", "doing newer and
bigger things".  Musicians are seldom celebrated for their virtuosity
within traditional idioms, and those who are conerned with understanding
and respecting tradition styles on their own grounds and merits are
dismissed as "purists".

     "After all, Gaelic music has only survived for culture vultures to
rip apart because some people had enough respect for it to resist
institutionss which attempted to either "improve" it or wipe it out.  If
the genuine tradition is absorbed into mainstream Western music and loses
its basis as a distinctive idiom, then it will no longer be able to make
a unique contribution to the world's music, let alone be pillaged for
ideas.

     "If we were considering the economics of forestry, we would be
concerned that we replanted at least at the same rate at which we removed
trees.  We would be careful that we didn't clear-cut in such a way as to
lose the top-soil or perform any operations that would threaten long-term
sustainable profitability.

     "Without better planning, we will continue to enrich the soil of
mainstream commercial music with the decomposing "Celtic" tradition,
rather than ensuring that Gaelic language and oral tradition are kept
fertile and healthy.

     "This is not to assert that music called "Celtic" cannot be
beautiful, energetic, haunting, and so on.  It is simply a fact that most
of it has little, if any, connection with the authentic traditions from
which they claim ancestry.  If people had more opportunities to
participate in traditional music, particularly as part of their
educational experience, they would be better prepared to judge its
progress with a critical eye and to recognize an irreverent exploitation
of it.  Whether music is pursued for purely commercial reasons or as a
vital aspect of a nation's artistic and cultural life, it requires care
and investment."

    [Editor's Note: Michael Newton is currently doing PhD research in the
Celtic Department of Edinburgh University about the relationship between
Gaelic culture and land.]


--


slainte

Neil
--

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