As we enter the fourth week of Global Music Match, I am so excited to introduce you to the incredible Canadian trio, Vishtèn! Comprised of multi-instrumentalists Emmanuelle and Pastelle LeBlanc of Prince Edward Island and Madgalen Islands’ native Pascal Miousse, they have been dazzling audiences with a fiery blend of traditional French songs and original instruments for over a decade.
The name Vishten is a nod to the eponymous song whose lyrics are a percussive amalgam of French, Mi’kmaq and English, a musical realisation of the band’s fascinating Acadian heritage.
For millennia, Acadia, a region in north-eastern North America, was occupied by the Mi’kmaq people. It was colonised by the French in 1604, hence the strong Francophone influence in the songs. Whilst subsequent settlers from Ireland and Scotland left their Celtic stamp on the music. In the 1750s, following the British conquest, the Acadians’ refusal to swear allegiance to the British crown resulted in a deportation that saw the expulsion of nearly twelve thousand Acadians to the lower British American colonies. When they returned, they added their newfound American influences to the Acadian musical melting pot.
Consequently, within Acadian music there is much variation and there is a clear sense of the history that has led to these stylistic distinctions. Pascal pinpoints his bowing style to his home on the Magdalen Islands, distinct from neighbouring islands’ fiddle techniques.
But it’s not only emigration patterns that have led to these regional accents in the music, according to Vishtèn the radio has a lot to answer for. Prince Edward Island had access to Cape Breton radio and its Scottish musical influences. Whilst Southern Nova Scotia’s access to American radio from Maine gave a strong bluegrass flavour to the music.
Vishtèn’s music reflects the community’s wonderful patchwork heritage and in their latest album, aptly named Horizons, they broaden their style further still, seamlessly fusing the Celtic and Acadian genres with modern rock and indie-folk influences. And its success has not gone unrecognised, with the album receiving a Juno Award nomination in 2019.
The island environment is clearly important in Vishtèn’s music. Their fiddle tune Trois Blizzards was inspired by a particularly harsh winter, isolated in a cottage, as twenty foot of snow fell outside. And the sounds of the winter, the creaking of boats and the whistling of the wind, are reflected in the foot percussion and distinctive bowing style. Whilst their song Terre Rouge references the famous red sand of Prince Edward Island. The dramatic island landscapes have clearly left an impression on their music. And how could they not.
Community and family are another important part of the music. Two thirds of the band go way back. Twins Emmanuelle and Pastelle jest that they ‘met a while ago’. And they were raised in a world where traditional music, percussive dance and kitchen parties were part of everyday life. Keeping the music alive for the next generation is hugely important for the band, as it is for the whole community, with fiddles thrust into the outstretched hands of toddlers and step-dancing proving more popular than ever. Not only is it being kept alive but there is a real sense that this music is being moved forward. The genre brings a breath of fresh air that is hugely popular amongst the UK folk scene, and with bands like The East Pointers leading disco trad dance parties into the night, it is no surprise.
Vishtèn have toured extensively in the UK (they are notably unimpressed by our inability to deal with a smattering of snow) and all being well, they will be back again in Spring 2021, with critically acclaimed duo Catrin Finch and Seckou Keita (hopefully during a snow-free season). They are hugely popular in the UK and there’s a reason they and their Acadian compatriots are such a hit here. Their music is always moving forward. It’s music that is very much alive.
Next week we'll be introducing you to Finnish duo Zäpämmät!
The Magpies x
We're into the third week of Global Music Match and this week we've been getting to know the wonderful OOPUS from Estonia.
OOPUS, an Estonian nod to the Latin opus (work of art), are an audio-visual band who combine light installations and visuals from Aleksander Sprohgis and modern electronic sounds and rhythms from Johannes Ahun, with Estonian traditional instruments from Mari Meentalo (Estonian bagpipes, flute, whistles, jaw harp and vocals). In a nutshell, 'folk on acid'.
At first glance, folk and electronica perhaps make for an unusual fusion. But both have dance at their core and, as Mari tells us, combining electronic dance music with traditional dance tunes ‘seemed logical’
The lineage of folk music in Estonia, like many of its neighbours, was interrupted by the country’s occupation by the Soviet Union in 1940. Although traditional music was an important part of Soviet life, OOPUS tell us how the meaning and identity of the music had to be adapted to fit with Soviet values, swallowing Estonian heritage with it. In 1947 Gustav Ernesaks set the old Estonian poem Mu Isamaa On Minu Arm (My Country is My Love) to music and defiantly performed it at a festival, where it became an unofficial national anthem.
In the late 1980s, music became the mechanism under which Estonia split from the Soviet Union. Large groups began to gather to organise independence, under the guise of gathering to sing. It became known as the ‘Singing Revolution’. Activist Heinz Valk wrote that ‘a nation who makes its revolution by singing and smiling should be a sublime example to all.’ In 1988, 100,000 Estonians gathered for five nights to sing protest songs until dawn. The movement culminated in the country’s non-violent independence in 1991.
The country’s independence sparked a revival in the Estonian folk scene. The Estonian National Literature archives are a well-preserved collection of traditional songs, archived by folklorists in the 19th and 20th centuries. The nation yearned to refamiliarise itself with its traditions and heritage. And with over 1.5 million songs in the collection, there’s well over one song for every Estonian. Viljandi Culture Academy started to teach traditional music in the ‘90s, where Mari and Johannes met and subsequently formed OOPUS. They describe the movement as a ‘second wave of traditional music in Estonia’.
At the forefront of this revival, OOPUS are rekindling traditional dance tunes for the next generation. But storytelling is also important for the band. Traditional songs tend to focus on myths and folklore. Their song Hingesandid (Soul Mummers) celebrates an Estonian tradition that begins in November at the start of ‘the dark months’. Similar to Halloween, children dress up as their ancestral spirits and sing songs in exchange for sweets. Consequently, there are many traditional songs associated with this time of year. Hingesandid is a song for the souls ‘from behind the stars and over the clouds’. Another storytelling element, albeit conversely futuristic, is the immersive element of their live show. At the beginning of the concert, they invite the audience to climb on board their spaceship and navigate the galaxy with them through their set.
OOPUS perform from the centre of the audience, just as traditional musicians would have done back in the day *insert time-period of your choosing* when there was no division between stage and dancefloor. A seemingly ultra-futuristic staging choice is actually a nod to the archaic. And combining the old with the new is at the core of the band’s message: to remember an almost-lost heritage, rewritten for today.
Next week we'll be introducing Arcadian band Vishten from Prince Edward Island.
The Magpies x
We're back again with the second edition of our Global Music Match newsletter! And this week it was our turn to be in the hot seat and be featured by our group.
If you're reading this, you probably don't need too much of an introduction to us, as you're either someone who's been desperately coerced into joining our mailing list at a gig, you visited our website, tried to get rid of the pop-up 'subscribe' box and now reluctantly receive our monthly newsletters or you're my mum. So we won't be giving you our life stories but we thought we would briefly share what we've been up to this week.
Here we are looking excited about the week ahead! A week of competitions, Instagram takeovers and interviews. Follow #GlobalMusicMatch to see more and hear us chewing our teammates' ears off about albums, lockdown and being women in music.
We were super psyched that Australian band Hussy Hicks did a cover of 'No More Tears'! Here they are playing their wonderful version of the song on a boat on the River Tweed in New South Wales - as you do! Check them out here.
And in other exciting news, I'll be documenting our Global Music Match experiences in a column in The Morning Star. This week kicked things off with an introduction to the programme and folk music - what is it? A question that sparked an 800-word musical identity crisis. Read the full article here!
We'll be back next week with an introduction to Estonian folktronica band Oopus!
The Magpies x
And welcome to the first of our special edition Global Music Match newsletters! Just in case you missed it or you weren't paying attention last week - quick recap! Global Music Match is a world-first collaboration between 96 artists from 14 countries around the world, in response to the limitations imposed on the live music industry by COVID-19. Over the next 6 weeks, we'll be introducing you to 1 artist each week. And this week we're kicking off with Outlet Drift from Taiwan!
Music is clearly important in Taiwan. So important in fact that even the refuse collection lorries play music. Something we experienced first hand when the start of our interview with Outlet Drift is loudly interrupted by the 'garbage truck song'. Not to be confused with the icecream van. But the eccentricities of the refuse system aside, the Taiwanese music scene is thriving. And its eclecticism reflects the diverse culture of its people. An amalgam of Mandopop and Western classical, pop, rock and metal sit alongside folk culture and the distinct artistic identities of indigenous tribes.
Outlet Drift are an indigenous band from the Amis tribe. Siblings Putad (bass) and Wusang Pihay (guitar) and their cousin Linken (drums) grew up in the city of Taitung but returned to their indigenous community 10 years ago to explore their heritage and reclaim their tradition.
The Amis people make up one of the largest indigenous groups in Taiwan. But in 1949 the arrival of the Republic of China's Kuomintang government suppressed native Taiwanese culture and almost entirely eradicated the Amis language in the shadow of Mandarin. Outlet Drift describe it as their 'mission' to rekindle their traditions and keep the Amis language alive. Their music is their 'way to let people know'. Although heavily rooted in Amis culture, their music is far from traditional. In their own words '[the elders] think our music's not the traditional way - but who cares!' Their jazz, rock and psychedelic influences have made them a hit in the bigger cities like Taipei, especially with younger audiences. And educating the future generations is paramount for the band. They want to breathe new life into the traditions rather than simply preserving them.
Outlet Drift sing about nature, the land and the ocean. Their songs are a celebration of traditional ceremonies such as the Harvest Festival and express their gratitude for the resources they've received from their ancestors. Their traditional trades of farming and fishing also feature heavily in their writing. Not a million miles away from the 'All Jolly Fellows that Follow the Plough' or 'Greenland Whale Fisheries' type of songs so familiar to us.
Outlet Drift mention that the Amis society is matriarchal. And - word of the week - matrilineal! If like us you reach this word and have to proverbially rummage around for a dictionary, we'll spare you and Google the hassle. It means that inheritance passes through the maternal line; a man marries into a woman's family and children are considered part of the mother's family. Outlet Drift tell us that in practice their societal roles involve men doing the physical labour, whilst women usually play a key role in the family and in educating the next generations. Interestingly, the way they speak about these gender roles seems almost identical to the traditional Western view of gender. But their perception of their importance is reversed.
Putad tells us a bit more about how they reflect the matriarchy in their music. Much like many of the traditional songs we might be familiar with, Amis traditional music features call and response, which in their culture is always led by the woman. Similarly, she often sings a musical counterpoint to her male band members, a simultaneous and yet rhythmically and melodically independent line, which she says represents her role as a woman. The themes of their songs also illustrate the importance of women and motherhood in their society. During our interview they sung us a song about breastfeeding. Not a songwriting topic we'd ever come across before! But as their voices travelled the 6000 miles to us our hairs stood on end. At a time when it's easy to feel isolated from the rest of the world, what an enormous privilege it was to hear them. As Putad said as we waved goodbye 'music is the universal language' and she's absolutely right. No language barrier or frustratingly slow broadband can get in the way of that.
The Magpies x
Hope you're doing well and had a nice July! We had a lovely month, we actually saw each other for the first time in 4 months. Of course from a 2 metre distance. And it was wonderful. We went on a camping holiday/writing retreat/reunion in the Malvern Hills where we played lots of tunes and worked up some new songs for when the world is ready for them! We also walked up some very nice hills, including an Iron Age Hillfort which the nerds in us were very excited about. We had our first real-life pints in a real-life pub. Played an excessive amount of Kubb, our new favourite outdoor stick-throwing game. Bathed in a spring. Made fire. Foraged. Generally became one with nature. Apart from in the night when we thought we were going to freeze to death. We stopped being at one with it then.
We even recorded a gig for you all, which premiered last week. But don't worry if you didn't catch it 'live', it's available to watch right here! If nothing else it's an insight into the nonsense we say when we think we don't have an audience, but have forgotten the camera's rolling ... The gig is free, but we've set up a tip jar and any contributions, however big or small would be very greatly appreciated!
In other news, our new album - Tidings - had its first play on the Radio 2 Folk Show. Mark Radcliffe said some very lovely things about it. So if you haven't had a chance to check it out yet, here it is again!
Coming up this month, we're taking part in Ripon Folk Club's Virtual Mini Fest on Saturday 15th August, which will be raising money for the Yorkshire Air Ambulance. We had a lovely gig there in February and we're thrilled to be performing there again, albeit virtually!
We were also very excited to find out that (fingers and toes crossed!) we will be playing at one non-virtual festival this summer, or 'festival' as they used to be known, and it's a lovely one - Beardy Folk Festival from 17th - 20th September. It's a wonderful line-up and an all round lovely festival. We'd love to see you there! Here we are at last year's festival where Polly is playing a version of charades we call 'Flamingo or Jethro Tull?'
And that's about it for news, so without any further ado we'll move on to ...
The Magpies' Pick of the Month
Campsite of the month:
Karen's campsite at The Malthouse in the Malvern Hills. It's got everything you could want. A stream. A wood ... That's about it but what more do you need?
Artist of the month:
Lido Pimienta with her new album 'Miss Columbia'
Quote of the month:
'Don't shoot the newsagent!' - Polly Bolton's autocorrect being too clever for its boots.
Stay safe and look after each other.
Until next time,
The Magpies x