“I woke tonight from an ancient dream, a dream where tales of murder, exile and oppression flowed around my consciousness like the churning of the North Sea. A dream where voices, centuries old and worlds apart, enthralled me. A dream where Gaelic & Viking music, stories and song implored me to listen, to learn, to remember. And when I woke from the dream, all I longed for was to return to the green hillsides and the frozen seas, to immerse myself again in the timeless tales”.
Regular visitors may remember that back in July, Folk Radio UK reported on the completion of Lorcán Mac Mathúna‘s Northern Lights project, promising a ‘fascinating and beautiful’ album, Dubh agus Geal (Darkness And Light). Well, we’re delighted to confirm that was no understatement. In collaboration with Raphael De Cock (voice, pipes, Siberian harp, shrutti, hardanger fiddle, jews harp), and James Mahon (uillean pipes, whistle flutes), Lorcán Mac Mathúna has created an album that educates and fascinates.
Drawing on the historic affiliations of Gaeldom and Scandanavia, Dubh agus Geal celebrates the cultural traditions of folklore and music, unearthing both harmonious and contrasting associations. There are tales of exile and emigration, such as Over the Waves, where a young man looks forward to making his fortune on foreign shores, while his sweetheart dreads the inevitable separation; or Ardai Chuain, exploring the pain of unending exile.
Each song on the album comes from the musical and oral traditions of Ireland, Sweden, Denmark and Norway. Throughout, these traditions intertwine to produce songs that traverse the geographical boundaries. In, for instance the well known Irish celebration of a pastoral spring, Aililiu na Gamhna, The jews harp and bodhran instill a Nordic flavour. In Ceannabhan Bana / Paidin O’ Rafairte, pipes and jews harp combine in a lively session set.
Folklore the world over is full of dark tales and in The Frozen North, supernatural tales from Norway and Ireland combine in an eerie, lamenting epic, where throat singing adds a ghostly voice. In Sven In the Rosegarden medieval voices present a murder ballad that has parallels in many cultures, and is hauntingly reminiscent of ‘What Put The Blood?’ The song becomes more strident as the question and answer session continues, with soul stirring harmonies.
Life, however, isn’t all murder, mayhem and mystery – even in the frozen north. The Chicken’s Lip provides a set of dance tunes embracing the combined cultures, with hardanger and uillean pipes supporting mouth music traditions. To compliment the dancing, there’s music from the Nordic chill-out tradition of Lydarslått in Nordlys, and the beautiful and uplifting Bog Braon, a lullaby that gently skips toward a joyous conclusion.
This album defies reviewers, in the best possible way. It’s a challenge to do justice to the level of artistic and academic achievement presented. The best possible way to appreciate the wealth of creativity, imagination and study that’s gone into the creation of this masterpiece is to immerse yourself completely… lose yourself in the music, feed your mind with the extensive information provided in the sleeve notes. Anyone interested in the shared influences and traditions, musical, oral and political, of Northern Europe and Scandinavia will find Dubh agus Geal a treasure and a fascinating resource to return to time and again… I’ve only just started listening, and there’s still so much to learn.
Track: Aililiú na gamhna
I’m Sick to My Heart:
the chickens lip