Long-time followers of Folk Radio UK may recall the great article that Lorcán Mac Mathúna wrote for us in 2008 on the Sean-Nós tradition (re-published in 2010). He has just finished working on a three year project called Northen Lights, a collaboration with Raphael De Cock (voice, pipes, siberian harp, shrutti, hardanger fiddle, jews harp), and James Mahon (uillean pipes, whistle flutes). The results are an album called Dubh agus Geal which is both fascinating and beautiful.
Raphael de Cock
Raphael (voice, pipes, siberian harp, shrutti, hardanger fiddle, jews harp) has a great command of lanuguages. His love for music extends to a deep interest in the singing of many minority traditions. He sings in a number of languages including Scots Gaelic, Gaeilge, Sardinian and Norwegian.
Raphael de Cock first came to my attention through his excellent singing of the traditional Irish song An Droimeann Donn. It is the fact that the song is in Gaelic that made this a veritable achievement as Gaeilge is not a common language in Ireland even, never mind Raphael’s home place of Antwerp. I made a note of this and though it would be interesting to try something together.
James Mahon (uillean pipes, whistle flutes) studies in ethnomusicology have given him ‘an insight into the distinctions in style that are manifest of the cultural differences between ethnic traditions.’
With seven all-Ireland titles under his belt between Flute and Pipes he has excelled amongst his peers. As a student of music his interest and understanding of music goes beyond his own heritage so he seemed a perfect compliment to this project.
Lorcán Mac Mathúna
Lorcán on the project’s origins:
Around this time there was a big hullaballoo in the City of Dublin as a relic from an age ago sailed up the liffey and docked at the port outside the Custom House. The Havhingsten fra Glendalough was originally built in Dublin nearly 1,000 years ago from wood which dendrochronologists traced back to Glendalough in the Wicklow Mountains just south of Dublin. The Sea Stallion, as it is called in English, sailed from the, then Norse port of Dublin, to Denmark, where it was eventually scuttled at the mouth of a Fjord to protect against sea raiders.
It was eventually excavated and a reconstruction project was undertaken using original methods and materials. The cities of Dublin and Roskilde worked on a joint project which culminated in a retracing of the original sea journey of the Havhingsten between Denmark and Dublin. The project highlighted some interesting possibilities regarding the cultural traffic that must have existed between these two nations 1000 years ago. For centuries Ireland had been under the influence of Viking invaders. This was not only a hostile relationship, but very often long lasting alliances emerged between the Gaelic population and the Nordic newcomers. Therefore it is not so surprising to discover a lot of similarities in the musical traditions of both regions, and of course, also intriguing differences. This is the focal point of this trio by combining sean-nos singing, Scandinavian kveding (medieval & traditional songstyle), fiddle, uilleann pipes, swedish bagpipes (säckpipa), norwegian hardangerfiddle, harmonic flutes, whistles and percussion.
We started talking about putting together a programme which contained elements of Irish and Norse music. It is interesting that in traditional music each place develops its own flavour, that while there may be similarities and influences there are still very divergent differences. So we asked could we find common themes.
We also wanted to highlight the differences between the traditions. Do they compliment each other? Do they clash? Is this more of a confrontation than a collaboration?
We thought that we would compare our older music types such as Kveding (the medieval singing of Scandinavia) and Aislings, marches, and laments. And then some of the newer dance tune forms such as jigs and polska’s. We also wanted to connect songs with common themes such as sea journeys and exile, and songs with common tonality and delivery.
Our style of delivery achieves these aims I think with interesting results. And after three years we have delivered on the theory with our debut album ‘Dubh agus Geal – Darkness and Light: Loric Colloquies’
Video and Preview
Like the historic relationship between Gaelic and Scandinavian cultures the traditional music of both sometimes clashes, creating a musical tension and a creative dissonance. Also, in keeping with that relationship, there is noticeable common ground borne of cultural exchange. Northern Lights delves the separate manifestations of the shared themes of these traditions to form a unique and intriguing cultural dialogue.