Tap-dancing to Irish overtures

Tap-dancing to Irish overtures

There is a spiritual connect between Indian and Irish music and Bollywood is now waking up to it, says Krishnaraj Iyengar

The traditional celtic harp

The mystics believe that music is a reflection of universal harmony. It is nature in motion. Right from the dancing waves of the pristine blue Irish Sea caressing Dublin’s creamy white shores, to the summer breeze making the soft blades of grass atop the forbidding Cliffs of Moher bow in humble obedience, to the heart-pounding, foot-thumping rhythms of some of the country’s finest young dancers in action, Ireland breathes music.

A land of ancient musical traditions and an intriguing history, music is what makes the Irish a happy-go-lucky folk who believe in the 3C Mantra ‘Caint, Ceol, Craic’ (chatting, music, fun). Every corner of the scenic island country that stands as Western Europe’s musical capital, throbs with song and dance round the year.

Ancient influences

Many streams from around the globe influenced Irish music over centuries. But one of its most ancient forms is Sean Nos (pronounced ‘Shan-Nos’). A form of singing unaccompanied by any rhythmic instrument, it embodies exquisite ornamentations of the voice. Usually set to heart-warming melodies, the elaboration is slow and the lyrics are predominantly in the ancient Gaelic or ‘Irish’ language.

Sean Nos dancing is a fascinating form, which is relatively more free-style compared to step dancing or tap dancing.

Foot-tapping melodies

‘Step Dance’ is Ireland’s most sought after musical treat. Young dancers, both men and women, take the stage wearing special shoes and mesmerise audiences with intricate and complex rhythms they create with their feet. While the hands move less, the feet create pure magic at incredible speeds as traditional instruments accompany the dancing. Legends like Michael Flatley of Riverdance fame, have brought step dancing to a global audience.

Jigs and revelry

Ireland’s most popular form of music is ‘Dance Music’. Not to be confused with modern racy grooves or techno, Irish dance music is an integral part of its heritage.

The Uilleann Pipes (pronounced ‘Ilen Pipes’), the Tin Whistle, the Banjo, the Button Accordion and the Bodhran Drum form the backbone of Ireland’s dance music. Jigs (6/8 time) and Reels (2/4 or 4/4 time) are the two principle forms of this bubbly, cheerful style. A pub is the place to catch the music in Ireland. Anything but a typical watering hole one might visit for a weekend binge, a ‘pub’ in Ireland is where the music happens. Families, friends and connoisseurs gather for informal sessions as traditional musicians entertain them with classics from the country’s age-old repertoire. In every part of the country, pubs are colourful and homely. The quaint and old-style wooden interiors with barrels, paintings and large windows, create the perfect vibe that compliments the music.

‘Pub Crawls’ in areas like Dublin’s famed Temple Bar pub complex are a treat for first timers and the uninitiated from around the world. Musicians take the audiences on a tour of Temple Bar’s grand old pubs. With hilarious anecdotes, wry Irish humour and spontaneous participation, the musical traditions of Ireland are presented in a light-hearted and entertaining style.

Tanpura link

Many towering greats of Irish music like Francis McPeake believe that Indian and Irish music share a spiritual connect. The ‘chanter’ is a drone attached to the Uilleann Pipes, the pitch of which decides the note on which the melody would be set. This is exactly similar in function to the Indian Tanpura which plays the ‘Sa’, the first note of
the Raga. Bollywood too, has had its share of Ceol! The song ‘Slow Motion Angreza’ from the film ‘Bhaag Milkha Bhaag’ is based on Irish dance music with a spontaneous dance taking place in a typical Irish pub. With an American Country touch, the song is a fair attempt at recreating Irish revelry.

 The author is a musician, a polyglot and a poet passionate about globetrotting.

 Sounds Of Music is your new genre-bending fortnightly column on all that is groovy in global music.

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