February 29, 2004

The Chieftains Visit The Twin Cities

The Chieftains, the most well-known traditional Irish music group, tours through the Twin Cities this week, and the Pioneer Press profiles the legendary band:

Chalk up another one for Irish charm and musical diplomacy. But Moloney and his bandmates have long been known as Irish music's foremost ambassadors, hauling their jigs, reels and airs across every continent but Antarctica. Wednesday, the globetrotters will stop in the Twin Cities for a performance at Orchestra Hall that will show off some of the cross-cultural fusions they've fashioned but will mostly be an Irish folk showcase from its most famous purveyors.

The Dublin-bred Moloney formed the group in 1963 with the idea of not only preserving his country's folk music traditions but also finding open ears elsewhere.

"I wanted to be able to do a kind of music that brought in the tradition," he said, "but made it a little more exciting, particularly to the uneducated ear. And you don't have to be Irish to enjoy it. We've played it all over the world, and it fits in with every kind of folk music you can imagine. We've done it with Chinese, South American and Cuban music, from Galicia right across to Japan. It just has that special thing that makes people happy and sad at the same time."

The Chieftains have survived across five decades by not only relying on traditions in Irish music but by merging and incorporating many elements into their repertoire. Several of their albums are collaborations with many popular artists, such as Sting, Sinad O'Connor, The Corrs, and others. Their latest album explores the similarities between Irish and American folk music, and as someone who has listened to a fair bit of both, you'd be surprised at how much the two are alike.

This marks their first American tour, I believe, without their long-time harpist, Derek Bell, who died in 2002. The writer describes Bell as their effervescent comic spirit, but above all he was a brilliant musician. Musicians have come and gone from the Chieftains, but I think Bell was the first to pass away, and it's remarkable that the band has carried on.

If you haven't heard them before, and they're coming your way, definitely go see them. Try a couple of their albums, especially Water From The Well.

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