Celtic serenade

A Musical journey

Celtic serenade

“Mei niem is Francie, don’t call me sir,” he rumbled in earthy Northern Irish. Preparing a cup of tantalising black tea for his guest, he offered me a seat among pipes, drums and flutes of different sizes at his Belfast conservatory.

Indeed, Francis McPeake 3, Ireland’s living legend and Guru of none other than John Lennon of The Beatles was shockingly forthcoming and magnanimous for this Hindustani musician otherwise accustomed to baited-breath reverence and hierarchical hyperboles for Khan sahebs and Panditjis!

A relaxed afternoon unfolded as the maestro spoke about his great lineage of traditional Irish musicians, demonstrating his own soulful compositions on the Uilleann Pipe commencing with “Will you go, Lassises go”, an all-time international classic. “Indian and Irish music have a spiritual connection,” he smiled, explaining technical nuances of both streams that ultimately culminated in appeasing the god. My rendezvous with one of the most fascinating musical traditions had just begun.

Republic of revelry

A train ride through the scenic Irish landscape had me cross over to the Republic of Ireland, a kaleidoscope of colours and cultures, the Irish sea frothing in welcome as I passed by the sleepy seaside villages of County Dublin, announcing my arrival in the land of merry-making and the effervescence of youth.

Surrounded by verdant wonders at Dublin’s St Stephen’s Green, the lapping waters of the nearby ponds were an apt prelude to a rehearsal with Ireland’s iconic traditional singer for a duet on Raidio Na Life, a Gaelic language national radio station. The giggles of dark-haired Gaeltacht (traditional Gaelic villages) girls, a lilting banjo and fragrance of fresh grass reminded me of Persian poet Omar Khayyam’s words — “Jaami o boti o barbati bar lab e kesht. In har seh maraa naghd o tu ra nasye behesht” (the goblet, the nymphet and the lute in a verdant field as my paradise on earth)!

Pub crawling

Known to be a city soaked in music and dance, Dublin never sleeps. Now emerging as a multicultural megapolis, music invariably stands out as the city’s official language in a symphony of international languages unfolding at its every corner and alleyway. “The true-blue Gaelic spirit is summed up by us Irish in three Gaelic c’s, caint (drinking), ceol (music) and  craic (chatter),” explained scholar Paudy McCaughey, sipping hardy Guinness at an old pub in Temple Bar, Dublin’s famed pub complex housing icons like Gogarty’s, The Auld Dubliner and The Temple Bar Pub to name a few. “Temple was a wealthy Irishman who once owned the area,” he explained. A pub in Ireland is anything but a shady, dimly lit waterhole like in many parts of the world. “It’s a place for family and friends to gather, dance, sing, drink and rejoice,” smiled Mc Caughey.

Traditionally, a typical Irish ‘session’ comprises an uilleann pipe (bellowed bagpipe), tin whistle, bodhran (frame drum), fiddle with singers, banjos, guitars and button accordions often adding to the cheerful, bubbly and mellifluous renditions of jigs and reels. Temple Bar’s pubs with the warmth of their old-style wooden interiors, sumptuous traditional delicacies and a repertoire of scintillating spirits draw in the multitudes, revelling in all-night lock-ins and pub crawls.

In the thick of one session, Seamus, a wiry young fiddler, happened to notice the coconut shell of my single-stringed fiddle popping out of the case and invited me for an impromptu jam! Putting my knowledge of our common fundamentals to test, I discovered pure magic, the spark, instantaneous, inspiring many members of the audience to join in. A gregarious Tunisian lady singer crooned in Saharan sonorocity, a Macedonian Gypsy with his thunderous foot-tapping and a West African beat-boxer made it Temple Bar’s most unforgettable soiree!

Treading on tradition

For the more serious, ‘non-touristy’ performances, Dublin’s cozy all-Gaelic speaking club, the Conradh Na Gaeilge, is host to traditional musicians and their ardent connoisseurs. Attending a session at Conradh is considered a matter of prestige and an insight into Ireland’s most authentic cultural and linguistic heritage.

In a club notorious for its intolerance to the Queen’s Language, I decided to smother a smattering of rustic Kathiawadi, Turkish and Maghrebi Arabic on the charming hostess, McCaughey having narrated tales of how a group of Italians were entertained as long as they spoke Italian, but asked to leave the moment they broke-into an English song!

While Dublin’s glamour strip and shopping haven Grafton Street dazzles with light and sound, some of the most talented street performers, right from Flamenco mavericks, African drummers and Croatian Gusle fiddlers contributing to Dublin’s international music scene, mega festivals like The Temple Bar Trad Fest with celebrated line-ups make waves on Europe’s music scene each year. Looking back in reminiscence, I often feel it was as if mystic poet Hafez had once been on an Irish sojourn to say, “Many long nights did I tread the path of purity, with the music of the drum and the harp!”

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