The large task force that Culture Ireland amassed for the January artistic invasion has mostly come and gone, but not without planting seeds which will prove fruitful in the months and years ahead.
I firmly believe that the arts matter in fostering communications and dialogue down many a path that opens to wider opportunities and understanding, making it a wise investment. It’s one which I am thankful for as a traditional music writer because it allowed me to sample some of the finest talent that Ireland had to offer the weekend before last, some of whom were known to me already and others whose talent I experienced for the first time.
The music performances that we were exposed to as part two separate evenings at the Irish Arts Center in Manhattan during the APAP weekend served many different purposes beyond their artistic merits.
Since they were short sets or more like sampling, it wouldn’t be appropriate to review them as if there were the full breath of performance. As a journalist it was far more important to me to have conversations in social settings outside of the showcases to glean what was important about the efforts that Culture Ireland was making and its impact on the artists.
Gerry Godley is involved in the promotion of jazz music in Ireland through the Improvised Music Company based in Dublin, and also the presenter of an RTE Lyric FM radio program Reels to Ragas. Part of the eclectic and well-produced programming on that channel was part of the delegation’s music group.
Recognizing that Culture Ireland is still evolving as an entity while boldly stepping forward to organize and display Irish artists and genres under the glare of the Big Apple spotlight, Godley accepts it is a learning process in a couple of ways.
“In a macro way, it is important for a national entity like Culture Ireland to present a unified face, while in a micro way, for the artists they must learn what showcasing is all about and how to build on it,” he elaborated in a broad discussion with musicians Brendan Begley and Caoimhin O Raghallaigh in his New York hotel room.
Saying that they might have to experience it a few times before mastering the process or strike employment gold, he added “For the younger musicians, it is almost like doing an advanced degree in performance in road show fashion from place to place like to Celtic Connections” taking place now in Glasgow, another site for influential movers and shakers in the Artistic scene.
Godley would have been instrumental in making sure that the cultural forces and bodies in Ireland received their due recognition for enhancing Ireland’s place in the world worthy of critical funding over the past year when the debate was fevered about its value back at home.
Without disagreeing with that notion, fiddler Caoimhin O Raghallaigh, one of the more innovative and thoughtful musicians plying the trade in Ireland at the moment wondered though if there wasn’t a more direct way now of reaching potential lucrative venues now after experiencing it once where there was better value for money invested in the effort.
To that end, Brendan Begley, a veteran of these showcases from previous forays with the Boys of the Laugh in other years, one of the more goals that he and O Raghallaigh were after was finding a U.S.-based agent who could help secure the more lucrative and artistically pleasing gigs in a series of performing arts centers around the country.
The APAP weekend afforded me the opportunity to see the iconic sean nos singer Iarla O Lionaird (pictured above) from the West Cork Gaelthacht for the very first time as he worked as a solo act on stage, but as a multi-faceted artist off-stage over a very busy weekend, he told me over coffee at his New York hotel.
As a seasoned performer, the invitation from Culture Ireland provided him a welcome opportunity to come to New York not just as a “Jurassic singer of an ancient art form wheeled in to make sean nos acceptable,” with perhaps limited entertainment value, but rather “as an artist who knows his gig and is always applying it in different contexts” so necessary in today’s multi-media marketplace.
In the past he has also worked outside the traditional sphere in groups like the Afro-Celts and the Crash Ensemble, two groups that remain within his creative tableau whose message he was also delivering over the weekend for possible work here.
“Commerce and face to face contact” were important objectives in attending the New York City cultural nexus and hiring fair, and he maintained his focus on “keeping it all business for the first time on any trip to America.”
He even achieved the bonus of meeting European folks with whom he was in discussion for work abroad while working the Big Apple circuit on an early to bed-early- to-rise regimen. It was very likely a very productive sojourn for him in New York and he was a worthy emissary for the missionary work of Culture Ireland whom we look forward to seeing again in his many artistic guises in the not too distant future this year.
The Atlantic bridge is a cultural super-highway when it comes to the arts fueling cultural tourism and artistic expression at the same time that is developing rapidly, and I hope it continues to do in myriad ways for a long time.