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When is an Irishman not an Irishman? That's easy - when he's a Finn. There was nothing overtly unusual about JP Kallio's brogue during our telephone interview from his Dublin home. So it came as something of a surprise to learn that 30-year-old Kallio spent the first 20 years of his life in his native Finland.
For the uninitiated, Kallio - who plays guitar, bouzouki and kantele (a Finnish string instrument) with Irish trio Sliotar (pronounced "slitter") - will be the foreign draw at the Jacob's Ladder Winter Weekend, beginning on Friday at Nof Ginosar by the Kinneret.
For the past six years Kallio has largely been earning a living, along with percussionist Des Gorevan and uillean piper and whistler Ray MacCormac, performing all over Europe and Ireland as a member of Sliotar. However, his musical beginnings were very different. "I started out as a teenager playing covers of Rolling Stones numbers," says Kallio. "It was a good learning experience."
Considering Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and the other Stones collaborated with veteran Irish band The Chieftains a few years ago, in retrospect, Kallio was heading in the right direction.
So how did he get from the raw strutting energy of Jagger & Co. to the more pastoral vibes of Irish jigs and reels? "There was a big Irish music festival in Finland every year, and I really got into that as soon as I heard it." Still, Kallio brings a lot of wild and woolly musical influences with him to Sliotar. "I listen to pretty much everything. My CD collection at home has rock and pop, a lot of jazz, classical, everything under the sun."
All three band members draw on a rich genre palette and that comes through loud and clear in between the traditional Celtic rhythms. But there is also the added element of energy that the threesome produce - hence the name "Sliotar". Sliotar (or "sliothar") is the ball used in hurling, Europe's oldest field game. Hurling is played with something akin to hockey sticks and has been chronicled as a distinctly Irish pastime for well over 2,000 years. There is absolutely nothing gentle about hurling, and so it suits the band's image.
"Hurling is the fastest field game there is," notes Kallio. "The ball travels very fast, and we have a tendency to play very fast sometimes." In fact, on occasion the trio plays so fast that things tend to get a bit out of hand. "Sometimes we almost lose control of the music," says Kallio. "It's like a fine balance between being in control and losing control." The band's Web site contains something of a health warning, cautioning the unsuspecting listener that Sliotar's music "is not for the faint hearted."
In some respects, Sliotar is following a well-trodden path. Increasingly, these days, Irish bands - such as Lunasa, which appeared here four years ago - embrace rhythms and musical vernacular from other cultural climes. While audiences around the world appreciate the world music syntheses, one wonder how the Irish view the foreign additives.
"Yes, there are the more conservative people in Ireland who don't appreciate what we do," says Kallio, adding he has no problem with that. "I suppose there wouldn't be Irish music without them, but I don't feel I have to apologize for the music that Sliotar plays."
Sliotar will play at the Jacob's Ladder Winter Weekend at Nof Ginosar this Friday at 9:30 p.m. For more information, go to: www.jlfestival.com