Northern Lights music from the album Dubh agus Geal Loric

Submitted by Lorcán MacMathuna

Northern Lights brings a new program in which Traditional Irish music and Ireland’s oldest singing style, sean nós, is put in contrast to Scandinavian musical traditions and singing styles.

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.

A little further investigation revealed that Raphael had a deep interest, and understanding of languages and musical traditions and that his command of languages, which he cultivated as a result of his love of the music and singing of many minority traditions, extended to the far reaches of Europe. Scots Gaelic, Gaeilge, Sardinian, Norwegian, were just some of the languages he had mastered well enough to sing.

Raphael also played the emblematic instrument of Ireland, the Uilleann Pipes, and had a more than passing interest in Irish Traditional Music.

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.

James Mahon (Dublin) is one of the newest generation to master the uillean pipes. His studies of ethnomusicology gave 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.

The newest member of the group, Rémi Decker, is from the Belgian Walloon area. Rémi, who has led many projects rooted in traditional and ethnic styles, comes from a well known family with strong links to traditional music. With a touring history that lists four continents, his involvement in traditional music; both playing and producing; is extensive. He has played a large collection of instruments from a very early age and in this group he provides Northern Lights with a host of instrumental variations and colours.

In building this project 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'

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