Trad: Music returns to the air in Derry with the Imbolc International Music Festival


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“There was music out there in the Derry tune / Like a language we could all understand …”

And then came the Covid. The pandemic has taken a heavy blow to communities around the world, but few are as accustomed to facing adversity as Derry, aided by a rich musical legacy that has often channeled its difficult times into something new and hopeful. .

This year pits the Celtic Goddess or Christian Saint we know as Bridget against a global virus, but with the opening of the Imbolc International Music Festival at Cultúrlann Uí Chanáin on Great James Street in Derry, it looks like Bridget could take over.

The festival is named after the Celtic holiday that says goodbye to winter and hello to spring and welcomes the warming of the earth, the brightening of the skies and the growth of new life – more than ever this year after the start. of the artistic world. involuntary retirement in the face of the pandemic.

This year, back after last year’s online festival and taking place from January 30 to February 6, Imbolc 2022 has its usual wonderful mix of international artists and local emerging talent: but the coronavirus and its mutations have made devastation, as the director of Imbolc, Eibhlín Ní Dhochartaigh explained.

She said, “Well, I guess we coped – like everyone else – as best we could, but it was difficult because of the loss of income early on, the practical challenges of keeping buildings like this. the Cultúrlann open and alive. , and able to support themselves with a significant loss of income, whether from courses or events or business operations here.

“We have the cafe here and we also have tenants here, so that has been a challenge.”

But now it’s time to invite the public back into the Derry Cultúrlann for a musical and cultural awakening, which at the same time will ensure that they, the staff and the artists are in as safe an environment as possible.

“We ran the festival online last year, but it was well received,” Eibhlín recalls, “but the silver lining was that we probably had a bigger reach for people who couldn’t. attend events. But there is nothing like the live experience. “

And that certainly applies to Tim Edey, who is joined by Scottish piper and songwriter Ross Ainslie for a concert on January 30. Tim kindly entertained us (and himself sane, maybe) by performing tunes online and they were awesome – but there’s nothing like the energy that the Former Musician of the Year of the BBC arouses during a live performance, visitors to the Cultúrlann are therefore delighted.

Internationally renowned sisters Deirdre and Ella McGrory will join Edey and Ainslie, sisters from the Inishowen Peninsula in County Donegal, showing another side of the Imbolc festival: their musical journey.

Other highlights for me include an evening with Caitlín Nic Gabhann and Ciarán Ó Maonaigh, an excellent mix of Ciarán’s Donegal violin and Caitlín’s concertina. The pair are prime examples of what traditional music is – simplicity taken to new heights through sheer musicality. Two musicians, two instruments and a world of sounds and emotions created between them. Oh, and with a dance or two from Caitlín.

The duo will be joined by Alannah Thornburg who “explores her family’s musical heritage, reimagining ancient tunes and tunes from the Irish harp and American Appalachian and jazz traditions”.

Also among the trad A-listers are singer Daoirí Farrell, winner of two prestigious BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards in 2017 and NXNW (North by Northwest) which features Mayo musicians David Doocey (violin) and Stephen Doherty (flute / accordion). ) as well as Ryan Molloy from Tyrone (keyboards) and Kieran Leonard from Fermanagh (drums / bodhrán).

One of my favorite artists is the incredibly talented Jarlath Henderson, the first Irish solo artist to win the prestigious BBC Young Folk Musician of the Year Award, and a young man who has creativity to burn as a singer, piper, composer, arranger. You name it, Jarlath will be excellent at it.

For the February 4 concert in An Croí at Cultúrlann Uí Chanáin, he will be sharing the bill with Ruth Clinton, Meabh Meir, Sinead Lynch and Lily Power, alias Landless.

The highlight of Eibhlín is the evening honoring singer Geordie Hanna due to the intergenerational influence of the great man of Loughshore.

But Imbolc is a festival that just doesn’t offer concerts. It’s all about inclusiveness, as Eibhlin explains.

“One of the most important developments is the emergence of the Imbolc Orchestra and the commissions we have offered,” she says.

“This year we have a new commission with Martin Tourish who is composing a piece of music. And this will be worked on in a series of workshops with young people from Acadamh Ceoil Chaoimhín Uí Dhochartaigh in which 60 young musicians from all over the country all come. together to start this process.

“We see the commission as a kind of creative response to the pandemic and its effects on young people and young people and in particular young musicians.

“There is also a program for young people with special needs and other people with dementia with specialist musicians working in these areas. So we try to cooperate as much as possible to make as many as possible as inclusive.”

Looks like music is coming back to the air in Derry.

Aside from the Imbolc festival which takes place at the end of the month, right now, all up and going is Belfast’s Out to Lunch festival, food for the soul and manna for the spirit.

And yes, there is trad galore with the splendid Ríoghnach Connolly and Ellis Davies performing in the Black Box in Belfast on Sunday January 9th at 2pm. What the hell would you do better?

Husband and wife superstars Zoë Conway and John McIntyre will also perform at the same venue on Wednesday, Jan. 26 at 1 p.m. grab a bench for Aoife O’Donovan and support Donovan Woods when they perform at the 1st Presbyterian Church in Rosemary St on Friday January 28 at 8 p.m. and, finally, the roofs are going to be up, feet will be trampled and hands will be applauded as four Men and a Dog take the stage at the Back Box on Sunday January 30 at 3 p.m. for a concert / hooley / party type carry-on baggage.

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Gerald R. Schneider