Gaelic mouth music and high tech

Issue 

Solas

Talitha MacKenzie

Riverboat Records

Reviewed by Jill Hickson

Talitha MacKenzie, born and raised in New York, has been singing all her life. She came across a collection of field recordings of Gaelic songs and was so impressed with the music, she was compelled to learn the language.

What MacKenzie has produced in Solas is often referred to as "Gaelic mouth music". This is the traditional dance music of the Gael. "Much as I feel self-conscious about it, Scotland is my adopted country; and the music is more important than me — I'm just the mouthpiece", says MacKenzie.

Here is music that has a strange quality. The first song of the album, "Hoireann O", is light and airy with a defined rhythm and feel. Just as you are beginning to get a feel for it, the music changes, the voice changes and a whole new sound is created with a wide variety of high energy rhythmic textures and vocal colour. It's a pleasure to listen to even though you don't understand the words.

Songs like "Sheatadh Cailleach" (The Old Woman's Reel) and "Seinn O" (Sing!) have an insistent, compelling rhythm with an underpinning dance club tempo. So does "Bann de Ribinnean/Dannsa nan Tunnagan", translated as Band of Ribbons/Dance of the Ducks. Other songs such as "Rol hol ill leo" (sea shanty) and "Chi mi na Morbheanna" (Mist-Covered Mountains) have the traditional ballad rhythms long associated with this type of music.

MacKenzie has co-produced one other album of mouth music, which when released in 1990 went straight to the top of Music Week's industry chart and straight to No 1 in Billboard's world music chart.

This is her attempt to go solo, and the songs on this album make it clear that MacKenzie has every chance of achieving her aim. She has a stunningly powerful voice which is extremely well suited to this album, an interesting fusion of traditional Gaelic music and state of the art technology.