music and community
The varied landscapes and legends of the county of Kerry in the southwest of Ireland inspire artists of all sorts, and have, across the years. Musician Niamh Ni Charra and her mother painter Olivia O Carra are two such artists.
Niamh took to the fiddle and the concertina early. While still in primary school she was playing at local sessions nearby her home in KIllarney. As it happened, attending one of those sessions was Terry Teahan, an accomplished fiddle player himself, who had emigrated to Chicago years before and made a life for himself there. He told the father of one of the young players that he saw in her the gift for a career in music. That player was Niamh.
While still in primary school Niamh won the All Ireland under 12 in concertina and continued to play her fiddle to high standard as well. At first she followed another career, becoming a software engineer. The music called to her, though, and she decided to follow it full time. This led to a ten year career with the production of Riverdance, and in recent years two well received solo albums. Her third solo recording Cuz is a tribute to Teahan, who when helping others find work in Chicago told them all to say they were his cousins, and so acquired the nickname Cuz.
Archival recordings of Cuz’s own sound add flavour to Ni Charra’s selections for the album, as do contributions from other musicians connected in some way to Teahan, among them Liz Carroll, Séamus Begley, Anne and Nicky McAuliffe, and Donogh Hennessy. It is Ni Charra’s fiddle and concertina and her artistic vision which anchor the project, though There’s a fine balance of music made for dancing -- you can almost see the dancers swirl and hear their steps through the opening set of slides which begins with The Lonesome Road to Dingle -- and quieter tunes. There are slides and polkas a plenty for the dancers and toe tappers, tunes which set off a set of slow highlands or a waltz, and in the midst of it all a fine and thoughtful song in Irish. It might be one of those evening sessions in Kerry, indeed, if the music is to a very high standard and the community feeling and sense of land and landscape very present.
Olivia O Carra knows how to evoke that sense of land and landscape with her brush as much as her daughter does with her instruments. Olivia’s chosen subject is the land around her Killarney home and the national park nearby. She likes to go out into the landscapes, to sit and reflect and watch as the light changes, and then bring what she’s seen and learned back to her easel. Though her style is representational and holds a distinct sense of place, O Carra’s not afraid to move things around a bit -- light or landscape -- to address the story she wishes to tell. The countryside through the seasons as O Carra sees it proves to be a place of welcome and one that yet holds a bit of mystery. In creating this, she invites one to come back and look again at her work, much as Niamh’s music invites one to listen more than once.
You may see and hear the work of Olivia O Carra and Niamh Ni Charra here
and you may also wish to see
Niamh NI Charra’s first solo album Ón Dá Thaobh / From Both Sides
Niamh’s sister Deidre is also a talented musician
Scotland's music: Katie McNally: Flourish
cathie ryan: the farthest wave
Highlander's Farewell: Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas
photograph at top of page is by Kerry Dexter and is copyrighted. thank you for respecting this.
by Kerry Dexter