Passionate about the Emerald Isle

Celtan's Guy Kark draws parallels between Irish and Middle Eastern ways of life and types of music.

Celtan 88 224 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Celtan 88 224
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Guy Kark has been mixing things for quite some time. The "things" in question are a multitude of musical strands from cultures around the world which he, and harpist wife Iris Eyal, have incorporated in a string of albums they have put out over the last 13 years. Their Between Times group, for example, has recorded songs with seasoning from the Middle East, Greece, Spain, Ireland and other parts of the globe. Kark also enjoyed a fruitful synergy with Arab oud player Nizar Rohana, and he and Eyal - along with former Riverdance percussionist Abe Doron and accordion player Vitaly Podolsky - have just released a new album with the more or less self-explanatory title Celtan. The official album launch will take place this Saturday at the Irish Festival in Tel Aviv at the Celtan concert. Kark does little to disguise his passion for all things that emanate out of the Emerald Isle - chiefly, of course, the music. "The Irish love music," he notes. "Everywhere you go in Ireland you can hear music." One thing that Kark finds particularly attractive about the Irish is their off-the-cuff approach. "It's not like going to a concert hall to hear the philharmonic play. In Ireland, people play in pubs and churches, at home, in halls. It doesn't really make any difference where they play. It's the getting together which is the important thing." Sounds somewhat close to home, if you think about the hafla (party) ambiance of Levantine gatherings, or other impromptu jam sessions. Kark believes there is a lot of common ground between this part of the world and Ireland. "Both countries have been conquered and occupied by all different kinds of cultures and civilizations. They leave their mark on the music that comes out in Ireland and in Israel." It also leaves its imprint on the way we go about our business in general. "The Irish have a natural propensity to be joyful, but they also have the ability to express pain and sorrow and pining, and that comes out in our music too. That's certainly something Jews know about." KARK CONTENDS that Irish and Middle Eastern music may be closer to each other than one might ordinarily think. "I asked an Irish music researcher about that a few years ago and he told me the Celtic world stretched as far as Turkey at one point. They certainly took some music back to Ireland with them, so that might explain the common ground. There is also a legend about one of King David's daughters taking a harp to Ireland, and that is how the Irish discovered the instrument." The Irish theme runs through much of Celtan, but there are other inflections and colors in there too. Considering the geographic spread and cultural nuances embraced by the Celtic world, that is hardly surprising. "The Celtic culture not only included Ireland and Scotland, but you also find it in Brittany, in northern France, and in Galicia in Spain. That also has an influence on the way the music is played and sung." Fittingly, Celtan includes a track in Breton - the indigenous language of Brittany - called "Tri Martolod" (Three Sailors). "It is fascinating to feed off the various offshoots of the Celtic culture," says Kark. "They all come with slightly different baggage." There is also a modicum of bluesy content on "Betty's Tune." "Betty is my cat," laughs Kark. "I don't know if she gets the blues a lot but that's what came out when I thought about her." Celtan also includes some seemingly extraneous musical flavoring from much further away, courtesy of Erez Monk's contribution on tabla (Indian hand drums). Kark, however, sees an Irish connection here too. "The left hand tabla drum, the bass drum of the pair, I think adds similar color to the music to the way the left hand plays on the bodhran [Irish frame drum]. When it comes down to it, it's all just music." Celtan will appear at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque on February 2 at 8 p.m.