For many of us, the sound of a jig or reel conjures up images of Irish pubs, pints of the black stuff and a cluster of local musicians merrily strumming, pounding or blowing intoxicating joyful tunes that set your toes atappin’ and your heart atrippin’.
OK, so the Celtic dominion does also take in Galicia in northwest Spain, and Brittany, and there is a Gaelic cultural presence in Nova Scotia at the eastern extremity of Canada, but most of us Anglos naturally think of Scotland and the Emerald Isle when we hear the bewitching wail of the bagpipes or uilleann pipes, or the insouciant sounds of a penny whistle.
But Italy? What could the boot-shaped southern European promontory possibly have to do with the happy-go-lucky or, indeed, darkly humorous stuff normally performed by the likes of The Dubliners, The Chieftains or Dervish, to name but a few?
Anyone who pops along to Nof Ginossar on Thursday for this year’s three-day springtime Jacob’s Ladder Festival (taking place through Saturday) may very well be disabused of the notion that you have to hail from the areas on the regular Celtic beat to do the Gaelic business. One of the frontliners of this year’s festival is a group called Brigan, from Sant’Arpino, just north of Naples in southern Italy.
Naturally, it was music that brought the four band members together, although there was some integrative work to be done before they could achieve what they consider to be “the Brigan sound.” Vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Francesco Di Cristofaro – his music-making arsenal includes accordion, various whistles, mandolin and a sort of Italian bagpipe setup called a zampogna – says he and his pals were “united by interest and passion for traditional Mediterranean music and more.”
As a statement of intent that more than hints at an eclectic take on the Celtic musical core. “The musical background of each of us is very different,” Di Cristofaro continues. “In this project we try to bring together all our musical influences, from traditional music to various styles of modern music.” The venture in question is the group’s latest release, Rua San Giacomo, which will serve as the anchor of this weekend’s Jacob’s Ladder gig.
Brigan, says Di Cristofaro, is very much the sum of numerous musical and cultural parts, of both an indigenous and an adopted nature. The band’s genre spread takes in originals and time-honored numbers alike. “Our repertoire touches both passages of oral tradition and the popular repertoire of different places – Mediterranean and more. To this we enrich the whole with instrumental pieces and with our unpublished songs written in [the] Neapolitan language.”
The latter are largely the outcome of Di Cristofaro’s joint efforts with fellow band member Gabriele Tinto, who plays a wide array of percussion instruments, as well as the marranzano, or Jew’s harp. “[We are] always trying to work with the maximum harmony and inserting elements that start from our land, such as the use of the Neapolitan language embracing various places where we lived our latest musical and nonmusical experiences.”
Some of those life events have been accrued toward the far western end of Europe, although the elementary cultural bedrock is always there, somewhere in the mix.
“For years we have combined the various musical traditions,” Di Cristofaro explains, “first the Irish and then the Celtic part of the Iberian Peninsula, trying to create a unique hybrid language among the various musical cultures, without neglecting our background and our roots, always linked to our land of southern Italy.”
NATURALLY, ALL the Brigan boys are keen to take on new personal baggage, particularly on the road, as they proffer their craft to audiences across the world. They were drawn to Spain and the centuries of storytelling and music making that color the sounds that emanate from that end of Europe. That comes across in the new album.
“Rua San Giacomo is a diary of the last five years of travels and experiences between Galicia, Castilla y Leon and other territories of northern Spain,” Di Cristofaro says. “Meetings with local musicians, continuous travels and collaborations with the various exponents of the Iberian tradition led us to the conception and realization of this work, aimed at creating a hybrid musical language between the music of southern Italy and the music of northern Spain, especially in the Galician area.”
That sounds like stretching it a bit. What could the music of Galicia and other spots in the vicinity of northern Spain possibly have to do with the sounds and rhythms generated by the people of southern Italy? According to the Brigan guys, quite a lot.
“We think that the two musical traditions, so apparently different, are instead very close, rich in rhythmic, melodic analogies and social contexts,” notes Di Cristofaro. It appears that others got that too. “All this wealth of experience and music has ended up collected on this album, which was highly appreciated by critics and included in the best 100 world music albums of 2018 (Transglobal Music Chart).”
THE FOURSOME has been together for 10 years now, putting out four records and doing its fair share of globe-trotting in the process. The band members initially delved into “pure” Gaelic materials, before beginning to explore sonic sensibilities from adjacent cultural tracts and incorporating them into their evolving body of work.
“Over the years the band has undergone various transformations, starting with the acoustic trio with studies on [playing] Celtic music, especially Irish, with the release of the first album Irish Roots. The second and third albums, in which we merged the music of several territories with our traditional southern Italian music up to Rua San Giacomo, the last album, in which we tried to create a common language between the tradition of the Iberian northeast with ours.”
There’s more where that variegated lot came from. “We are currently working on a new album of unpublished [original] vocal and instrumental pieces, in which all our artistic influences will flow together, with a new sound and the fusion of acoustic and electronic languages and instruments.”
Guitarist Ivan del Vecchio and vocalist-percussionist Simone Lombardi rounded out the quartet.
As is their wont, Di Cristofaro says, he and the rest of the gang are looking forward to their inaugural visit to these shores, and hope to get some sort of handle on the local Celtic vibes and on street-level Israel. “We are very curious and excited to play in Israel for the first time. We have never been there, and it will certainly be very nice to be able to bring our music into a fantastic territory, rich in culture and traditions. Unfortunately, we do not know well the Celtic music scene in Israel, but certainly in our short stay there will be a way to exchange opinions and meeting with local people and musicians.”
Sounds good, as, no doubt, will the regular Jacob’s Ladder fare of Gaelic, folk, rock, pop, blues, klezmer and ethnic music, by the now happily replenished Sea of Galilee. Watch out for sets by Maya Isac, Yossi Fine and the Israel Klezmer Orchestra.
For tickets and more information: https://www.jlfestival.com
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