The Starman became “An Réaltnach” this October as Liam Ó Maonlaí of Hothouse Flowers fame honored the musical icon David Bowie with Irish-language versions of his greatest hits.
Bowie died on January 10, 2016, leading to a year jam-packed with various tributes to the artist idolized by so many. The latest Irish commemoration to the “Heroes” singer took place as part of the Irish language literature festival, IMRAM, during which Cork jazz singer Hilary Bow, the Brad Pitt Light Orchestra, poet Gabriel Rosenstock, and visual artist Margaret Lonergan joined Ó Maonlaí to present David Bowie as Gaeilge.
Presented at the Pavilion Theatre in Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin on Friday of last week, the translations put to pen by well-known Irish writer Rosenstock were sung by Ó Maonlaí, who often sang in Irish with the Hothouse Flowers, and by Bow, who has previously worked on Irish-language reimaginings of jazz standards.
“As a teenager, I loved him [Bowie],” Bow told the Irish Examiner.
“I always found him more of an artist than a musician. The songs were great songs. You know them as a passive listener, but it’s very different when you start working on them. That’s when I noticed how jazz-influenced all of his stuff actually was.
“Some would say you can’t improve on perfection, but this isn’t about improving on any song – it’s just about having a different experience of them.
“They flow beautifully and when you hear them in Irish, it brings a whole new experience of the songs.”
The show, entitled Réaltnach (“Starman”) combined some of Ireland’s most talented artists to recreate some of the magic of Bowie classics, allowing you to re-experience hearing them for the first time with their Irish reworkings. Not only taking on the likes of “Five Years,” the show included new takes on his latest work “Blackstar,” the album released just two days before Bowie died.
“I don’t think any language can directly translate, so it is, in a way, a reinterpretation of the songs,” Bow continued.
“Gabriel really honors each song, so that nothing is lost in the delivery of the song in Irish: poetically, rhythmically, meter-wise, it really works.”
Not only did the work contain the input of the honored poet, playwright, and haikuist Rosenstock, tasked with the difficult challenge of translating Bowie, but the input of Ó Maonlaí and the Brad Pitt Light Orchestra rounded off the showcase of Irish talent.
“They’re extraordinary musicians from Limerick and Galway,” said Bow of the Brad Pitt Light Orchestra. “They’re also just great people, and wonderful to work with. Then, of course, there’s Liam Ó Maonlaoí. He’s a master and to get to work with him is an honor.”
On-screen projections of the lyrics contained images by artist Lonergan while the artists performed.
IMRAM or Féile Litríochta Gaeilge (Irish Language Literature Festival) is an annual festival that celebrates the best of Irish-language writing. Established in 2004, the main program of events takes place throughout October.