Haunting Celtic Airs

March 11, 2007 at 8:53 pm (History, Horror, Languages, Music)

NPR today did a segment on Navan, an a capella Celtic group hailing from Madison, WI. The only word that I can find to adequately describe their music is ‘primal.’ It’s a bit like Dead Can Dance, but without the bizarre melodies and obscure instruments (in other words, it’s actually quite accessible). If you want, NPR has three of their songs linked from the article’s webpage.

The most intriguing part for me, however, is a song that was described and partially demoed in the article itself (starting at around the 4:30 mark). Called “Thig an t-Eathar” (if I’m understanding the Scotch from the interview correctly), it is formally a lullaby, but it is at the same time a story of jealousy, murder and justice. The short version (which doesn’t do it a bit of justice; go to the article for the longer story, plus a sample) is that the lullaby is itself also the last words of a mother to her children, before she was let drown by a jealous handmaiden trying to steal her place at her husband’s side. Since the handmaiden disguised what was essentially murder by claiming to have saved the children from drowning, the husband was fooled, for a time, until her heard the handmaiden (now his wife) singing this very lullaby to the children, which clued him in to the murder (since the lyrics are both the story and the last words of the mother; presumably, if I knew Scotch Gaelic and/or had a translation in front of me, I’d understand exactly how it works). How wonderfully bleak. And a lullaby, no less; it looks like Mother Goose and the Grimm Brothers have some company in the “twisted, violent children’s tales” category.  Only someone who’d spent their whole life at the mercy of the North Sea could have come up with something so incredibly dark, and yet hauntingly beautiful. And it IS beautiful; just listen to the article to hear a sample. The ghost-story wheels in my head are already spinning with the possibilities…

1 Comment

  1. Bryan Alexander said,

    Very nice catch. Some of these songs are gorgeous mood pieces. Thanks!

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