Monday, September 29, 2008

In Review---Julie Fowlis Preserves Scotch Gaelic Culture

Photo from
Photography by Ashley Coombes

Julie Fowlis (Scotland)

Shoeshine Records and Cadiz Music

Hailing from one of the westernmost points of Europe, on the island North Uist, vocalist Julie Fowlis shares ancient and contemporary Scotch Gaelic songs with an international audience on her recording, Cuilidh. This crossover artist and music-preserver prefers to sing the songs in Scotch Gaelic, a language spoken only by 60,000 people and on the remote island where Fowlis resides.

The Scotch Gaelic dialect bodes well for these lilting melodies reflecting on scandals, shipwrecks and defiant women who either walk out on their own wedding or marry someone against their parents' wishes. According to the press notes, the songs on this album range from 10 years ago to several 100 years ago. The songs are sung in a clear lyrical voice backed by traditional Celtic/Gaelic instruments and the songs range from rousing to melancholic ballads.

And also in the press notes, "North Uist is one of the few places in Scotland where this age-old song line has been broken and where a majority of people still speak Gaelic as their first language. Long denigrated by Scotland's overlords and neglected by modern cultural authorities, Scottish Gaelic was not recognized as an official language in Scotland until 2005…" As late as the 1950s and 60s, children were forbidden to use the language at school. Thankfully, these songs also keep the language alive and well along with stories of ancestors of the people living on North Uist--and what beautiful songs they are.

Some of the songs on Cuilidh (pronounced Kul'i), are working songs, for churning butter, rowing, hay making and other tasks. I even found that these working songs help with modern urban tasks like washing the dishes, typing reviews and whatnot. Since I like to do my chores with music playing in the background, I find Fowlis' CD contributes to joyfully completing my tasks.

In fact, this even brings up the idea that many cultures have songs that derive from various farming, milling, sewing and other daily chores. The Swedes even have a tradition where musicians accompany them while they go for strolls. You can collect these songs from Scotland, Ireland, Eastern Europe, Estonia, Finland and other places and then listen to the songs while you work.

I have often thought that blasting 70s and 80s hard rock while painting or doing chores is unhealthy so what if people listened to old working songs while completing those chores? Wouldn't this be a healthier route to go? Even shopping at natural food or grocery stores can drain my energy when nostalgic rock music blasts through the store sound system.

Two missions are accomplished when we adopt these old work songs in our daily routine. First these old songs are preserved for the future and two, we pursue the songs' intended uses.

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