It's no secret that Irish - or Celtic - music has been enjoying a happy worldwide heyday for some years now. Here we've also caught on to the intermittently fast and joyous, and dolefully balladic, vibes from the Emerald Isle with great enthusiasm, evidenced by the fact that the annual Murphy's Irish Festival is about to be held for the eighth time.
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Between January 3-6 the Tel Aviv Cinematheque festival venue, as well as a couple of Jerusalem locations, will resound to the infectious sounds of melodeons, accordions, fiddles and bodhrans (Irish hand drums) as the likes of the six-piece Danu band, singer Pauline Scanlon's trio from Ireland, and the Hevia bagpipe-led duo from Spain get locals up and dancing in the aisles.
The revival of interest in Celtic music has thrown up all manner of band over the past decade or so. Some clearly stick to the traditional approach, while others walk a more ethnic crossover line, sometimes straying into more commercially oriented areas.
Danu belongs firmly in the former category.
"We generally stay quite close to our Irish roots," explains the band's melodeon and accordion player Benny McCarthy. "We've all got very strong ties to the tradition."
Like many Irish musicians, McCarthy has numerous relatives who play and sing. "It's something that gets handed down through the generations," he adds. "We've all been exposed to this music since we were small and we would get together in each other's homes, or at pubs, to play and sing together informally. It really is in our blood."
Considering McCarthy is just 30, and the other members of the band are around the same age, one would have thought they might have taken on some more contemporary influences. "Of course we've all listened to modern pop and rock but we stick to what we know and what we do. If, for example, we want to work out a new song we'll sit around and figure it out together before we go to the studio. But we've recorded some English folk songs and some Appalachian stuff as well. I don't sense too much in the way of foreign influences in our Irish music though. We never try to play rock and roll, or country, or Celtic rock. We do what we're good at. I think that's the best way."
That certainly shines through in the band's latest release, When All Is Said and Done, the fifth album in the past eight years which includes jigs, reels, a barn dance and a couple of songs featuring the enchanting vocals of Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh, who also plays flute and penny whistle.
In fact this is something of a rare Danu foray beyond the Irish borders. The realities of life, it seems, sometimes get in the way of artistic endeavor. "We used to tour the States, England, Canada and all over Europe but we don't do that much these days," says McCarthy. "Some of us have got family commitments now - I've got a 16-month-old baby daughter myself - so we tend to stay closer to home."
The other foreign acts at next week's Irish festival include a trio led by acclaimed vocalist Pauline Scanlon, who follows a more across-the-board approach, with the Hevia Brothers from Spain - who played at the Red Sea Jazz Festival in Eilat a couple of years ago - adding cultural and geographic breath to the program. The most visual item on the agenda will, no doubt, be Celtic Fire, featuring former Riverdance troupe member Colin Ryan along with the Bodhran group.
Our own Celtic music community will be represented by Kahol, featuring rock singers Din Din Aviv and Nurit Galron, with the free lobby acts including 5 Tiltan, the comic Shatui Vemitnadned (Drunk and Teetering) troupe, a jam session, and Galilee duo Ada and Diane, who will kick off the festival proceedings on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.
The Hevia Brothers will perform at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque on Thursday at 8:30 p.m. and 11 p.m.; Kahol will appear next Friday, January 5, at 9 p.m., followed by Danu at 11:30 p.m. Boran and Colin Ryan will perform Saturday night, January 6, at 9 p.m., and Pauline Scanlon at 11:30 p.m. There will also be a free Irish happening in the Cinematheque square next Friday, January 5, between noon and 4 p.m. The Pauline Scanlon trio will also perform at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem this Thursday at 8:30 p.m. and Danu will appear at Hama'abada (The Lab) on Saturday night, January 6, at 9:30 p.m.
For information and tickets for the Tel Aviv Cinematheque shows, call (03) 606-0800. Tickets for the Pauline Scanlon show in Jerusalem can be booked by calling (02) 670-8985, and for the Danu concert by calling (02) 629-2000 or 1-700-700-920.