Women’s Singing Traditions: African Praise Songs to Irish Ballads

 

Join us this Saturday evening for a free concert of Irish and African music featuring two remarkable female vocalists — Aoife Clancy and Adjaratou Tapani Demba. This concert will take place on Saturday March 19, 2011 in the sanctuary of St. Anne’s Episcopal Church in downtown Lowell.

Aoife Clancy brings a refreshing new voice to traditional Irish songs, ballads, and recitations. Originally from County Tipperary, Ireland, Aoife was brought up in a family steeped in music and poetry, which her father Bobby Clancy passed down to her.  She is a former member of the popular “Cherish the Ladies,” one of the most sought-after Irish American groups in history.  Now with seven recordings under her belt in the last decade, Aoife has clearly established herself as one of the divas of Irish folk music. Accompanying herself on the Irish bodhran (drum), Aoife will be joined by Shannon Heaton on flute and  All-Ireland champion stepdancer Jaclyn O’Riley.

Adjaratou Tapani Demba brings us the West African traditional art of praise singing. In her native Mali, she is known as a djeli – a kind of oral historian, peacemaker, and performer who is born into the responsibility of keeping alive and celebrating the history of the Mandé people of Mali, Guinea, and other West African countries. In addition to concerts, Tapani performs at weddings, baptisms, and other domestic ceremonies within the West African immigrant communities of Boston, New York City, and beyond. She will be accompanied by Balla Kouyaté on balaphon (forerunner of the xylophone) and Moussa Diabaté on ngoni (forerunner of the banjo).

The evening’s singing, music, and dance pay tribute to the rich musical heritage of Lowell’s Irish and African communities. The program is part of the recently launched Lowell Folklife Series sponsored by   Lowell National Historical Park.

In the Community: Music and Franco-American Food

 

Sometimes, a concert’s setting can make all the difference. When Lowell National Historical Park first thought of partnering with the Franco-American Day Committee to help celebrate Franco-American Week in Lowell, we planned on presenting a Franco-American/Irish concert on Park grounds. But after much thought and discussion, we all realized that the better idea was to pair the Park-sponsored concert with a community event — the traditional ham and bean supper, which is typically held in a French Church Hall. This year, the supper was served in the Immaculate Conception School Hall. When we arrived around 4:45 p.m., the hall was full of people, many of whom had grown up in Lowell and the surrounding communities. Although there were some children about, the average age was about 75. French was being spoken and the aroma was heavenly. Home baked hams and plenty of Cote’s beans, both the light and the dark, were being served.

 

People socialized and ate from 4:30 to 6:30. Music was scheduled to start at 7:30. Several hours before members of the “Irish-French Connection” took the stage, they rehearsed in the Park’s Visitor Center conference room.

The leaders of this band – John Whelan and Donna Hébert –are icons in their Irish and Franco-American musical communities. Each brings 40 years of performing, teaching, and recording experience to the newly formed band.

 

The tunes and songs they performed during the evening concert were once commonly played and danced to in Irish and French-Canadian immigrant communities throughout the Northeast, where both groups migrated in the 1880s to work in the textile mills. Indeed, when we asked the 135 audience members how many had relatives who had worked in the Lowell textile mills, about half of the hands went up.

Seated at one of the many tables was Lowellian Raymond Breault, who throughout the evening played his wooden spoons and clogged his tap-soled shoes in time to the music. On more than one occasion, he made his way to the front of the hall to demonstrate his rhythmic feet. This delighted the musicians. As Donna remarked from the stage, “There is no better compliment to a fiddler than to have someone who is moved to  get up and dance.”

Franco-American and Irish Tunes in Lowell

John Whelan and Donna Hébert: The Irish-French Connection will perform Wednesday, June 23 at Immaculate Conception School Hall, as part of Lowell’s Franco-American week. The free concert is sponsored by Lowell National Historical Park and Massachusetts Cultural Council as a way of honoring Lowell’s Franco-American and Irish American cultural heritage. Come experience award-winning French-Canadian fiddling, legendary Irish button accordion, brilliant flatpick and fingerstyle guitarists, and powerful songs in Gaelic, English & French.

Icons in their Irish- and Franco-American musical communities, John and Donna spark the Irish-French connection to life onstage! Each brings 40 years of performing and recording experience to this new group. In their stage and educational programs, repertoires and traditions stand distinct and separate and then find themselves blending and reinventing into something new, as did the Irish and French-Canadian immigrant communities in the northeast where both groups migrated in the 1880s to work in the textile mills.

This free concert will take place following the ham and bean supper in the school hall of Immaculate Conception School, 218 E. Merrimac Street, Lowell, MA. Concert at 7:30 p.m. All welcome. Free parking behind school.

Festival season

Poised to dance. Photo by Maggie Holtzberg

Fall (and shorter days, cool weather, and school) may be just around the corner, but festival season is still going strong in Massachusetts. Two in particular are well worth attending.

On Sept 12-14, the Irish Culture Centre of New England hosts Icons: Irish Music and Arts Festival. Luminaries in the Irish music world will be there, including Solas, John Whelan, Chulrua, and many more. Plus Irish wolfhounds, soda bread, and stepdancing. It’s like the Washington area Irish festival has been reborn.

The last weekend in September, I suggest heading to New Bedford for the Working Waterfront Festival which is the flagship event celebrating the region’s commercial fishing industry. Fishermen’s contests, fresh seafood, boat tours, live music — and it’s free. The festival brings together a cross-section of the commercial fishing community — both those who are currently working in the industry as well as old-timers who haven’t been down in to the docks in years. Don’t miss it.

Tugboat Muster Shucking osyters

Photos courtesy of Working Waterfront Festival.

To find out more about great festivals taking place around Massachusetts, visit Worldfest.

Fiddle through line

Suhas Rao and Tara Anand Bangalore. Photo by Billy Howard.For years I’ve wanted to pair a kora player with an oldtime banjo player. Or get rhythm tap dancer Rocky Mendes together with swing fiddler Matt Glaser. We did just that and more at a recent concert, African Roots, Fiddle Tunes, and Fancy Footwork — one of two performances complementing Keepers of Tradition: Art and Folk Heritage in Massachusetts at the National Heritage Museum. The concert gave us the opportunity to hint at the diversity of performance traditions thriving in Massachusetts today — African kora, old-time fiddle and banjo, swing fiddle, South Indian Carnatic violin, and Irish accordion and fiddle. This is music that makes people dance — and so we complemented the musician’s offerings with some of the extraordinary dance steps their music has inspired: rhthym tap dance and Irish stepdance. It wasn’t “Riverdance,” “Hee Haw” or “Bollywood.” It was the living, breathing root traditions from which they sprang.

We’re putting something similar together for October 4th. Stay tuned . .

Photo by Billy Howard