Monday, June 01, 2015

Scotland and New Zealand: Inge Thomson and Maisey Rika

Fair Isle, Scotland, is a small place, lying about half way between Orkney and Shetland to the far north of mainland Scotland. North Island, New Zealand, is quite a bit larger in area and ar distant from Fair Isle, lying as it does at the opposite end of the world in the southern hemisphere off the coast of Australia. Both places, though, are connected and bound to sea and weather and distance. Those things arise in and influence their music, as well.

Perhaps that is one of the reasons the music of Maisey Rika, who is of the Maori people indigenous to North Island, and Inge Thomson, who comes from Fair Isle, seemed to resonate one with the other on a winter evening in Glasgow.

The two artists did not perform together at their concert at The Tron, which was part of Celtic Connections. Yet there was resonance.

Rika began the evening with a song in Maori telling of the legends of the sea and how the Maori people came to be in New Zealand. Many of her songs through evening were in Maori -- she has won many awards for her work as a songwriter and a tradition keeper in that language -- and, recognizing that however international the audience at Celtic Connections concerts often is, not many would be fluent in Maori, she gave gracious and thoughtful and occasionally witty insights into the meaning of the words she sang. Sharing several songs she has recorded in English showed another side of her music, a more easy listening sort of sound. While listeners at The Tron enjoyed both aspects of Rika’s music, it was the music of her native language and the stories told with that music that clearly kept the audience engaged. Rika also often shared the spotlight with her supporting musicians, stepping aside as they took lead voice or instrument, and at times supporting them with harmonies as well. It was, however, Rika’s powerful voice and engaging storytelling through music which anchored the time -- and the audience enjoyed her inclusion of swirling the traditional poi, as well.

Rika’s most recent recording at this writing is Whitiora with all songs in the Maori (Te reo) language, which includes a song referencing the earthquake in Christchurch and that song telling of Maori legend with which she opened her Celtic Connections concert, called Tangaroa Whakamauta.

For her part of the evening, Inge Thomson focused on the music of her project Da Fishing Hands.

Inspired by consideration of the geography, natural environment, and stories of Fair Isle, the music she and her bandmates offered readily evoked wind, water, sea, northern travels, and the interconnection of these things. Thomson herself sang, in a light soprano, and played accordion as well as the occasional bit of electronic addition to the atmosphere, which fit in surprisingly well with acoustic instruments and human voices. The songs she offered, with lyrics of her own and also ones by her cousin poet Lise Sinclair, who passed away as they were working on the project together, included Wind and Weather/The Fishermen and The Sea, The Snowstorm, Dark Stacks, and Here We’ve Landed.

As Rika did in her set, Thomson also made the music a truly collaborative journey with her supporting musicians, who included Sarah Hayes on flute and vocals, Fraser Fifield on sax, pipes and other instruments, and Steven Polwart on guitar and vocals. Thomson, who was perhaps best known to most of the audience as member of songwriter Karine Polwart’s band, delivered music and stories creative, thoughtful, and unusual, and showed that she is well able to carry a concert in her own right.

Both Maisey Rika and Inge Thomson offered music that draws from their home lands and their knowledge and love for the stories told in word, music, landscape, weather, and change drawn from those lands. Stories of an island in the South Pacific and one the North Sea: differing one from the other, but connected by experience of water, weather, time, and music. Indeed, this concert offered just the sort of thoughtful and unexpected -- and not so likely to occur elsewhere -- connection and resonance that marks out Celtic Connections as one of Europe’s top music festivals.

At this writing, World Oceans Day is on the near horizon. Listening to the art of these two talented musicians would be a good way to celebrate.

“From a cultural point of view the sea has always been a life giver to the island, it is so important we look after our marine resources for future generations.” ~ Inge Thomson in an interview with Folk Radio UK.

Photographs are by Kerry Dexter and were made with permission of the artists, the festival, and the venue. Thank you for respecting copyright.

You may also wish to see
Julie Fowlis: Every Story
Celtic Connections 2014
Scotland's music: Capercaillie: At the Heart of It All

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posted by Kerry Dexter at


Blogger Jane Louise Boursaw said...

Sounds beautiful. I love everything about the Maori people.

12:55 PM  

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