Saturday, 6 March 2010

Beoga: A new era in Irish music

In keeping with its tradition of featuring Irish music for St. Patrick's Day, the Barre Opera House Celebration Series will present Beoga on Friday, March 12, at 8 p.m. If you haven't heard or heard of Beoga before, you'll be happy to know that this young band from County Antrim in the north of Ireland extends the high quality as yet another exciting musical ensemble from Erin.

Beoga represents a new era of Irish music. The formative first wave included groups like Planxty, the Chieftains and The Boys of the Lough. In the second wave came Patrick Street, Altan and Dervish, among others. Beoga (Gaelic for "lively") represents the third wave. Here we have younger musicians imbued with both the heritage of their traditional music and, also, a more worldly outlook that encompasses rock music, the blues, elements of world music and other influences.

Beoga has, to this reviewer's ear, a bit more of a percussive approach, with an emphasis on accordions and keyboard, as well as fiddle, guitar and bodhran. It's a somewhat different sound than heard in other Irish groups as there are no whistles or flutes, and keyboards often carry the musical energy. And it works well.

Beoga also composes a lot of its material including many of its own jigs and reels in its repertoire and recordings. These musicians are fine composers and their own tunes certainly could be mistaken for traditional melodies.

While the group's bedrock sound lies firmly within the Irish tradition Beoga is not afraid to incorporate other genres' nuances into their music. You'll hear some bluesy riffs and Astor Piazzola-style jazz, and a bit of raunchy New Orleans jamboree vibe which gives the music a wonderfully bouncy traditional sound. I think this band likes to have fun as well as being an adventurous ensemble.

The Irish Times stated, "Individually talented and collectively inspired, (Beoga) speaks a language called music with a fluency beloved of the best multi-linguists."

Their YouTube videos are really wonderful. Ah youth! There is a real energy here and their name "lively" certainly seems appropriate. Watching them I had a sense that they are not yet jaded by years on the road and still find the music they play fun. The band members also feed off of each other's energy in a way that is refreshing and entertaining.

This quintet formed in 2002 after "jamming" in a session at the All-Ireland Fleadh (a series of musical competitions that judges players on a variety of traditional Irish instruments). From its inception Beoga has featured the twin accordions of Damian McKee and multi-instrumentalist Seán Óg Graham, a rarity in Irish music; pianist Liam Bradley; and four times All-Ireland bodhran champion Eamon Murray. In 2005, the group added Niamh Dunne on vocals and fiddle. Hers is a lovely voice, silky and emotive. She hardly looks old enough for such a mature voice and stylish fiddling.

In 2004, the band released its debut album "a lovely madness," to critical and popular acclaim in Ireland, Europe and America. The repertoire included self-penned tunes and inventive arrangements and was chosen one of the "Top Trad/Folk Albums" of the year. At that time, Irish Music Magazine declared Beoga to be a "phenomenon" and the group was nominated for the 2005 best traditional newcomer's award.

"This rhythm-oriented contemporary reworking of heritage is unbeatable," wrote Philadelphia City Paper.

Beoga now has three really fine CDs and has performed worldwide gaining a variety of accolades from music writers.

The future of Irish music will be on the stage at the Opera House on March 12. If you are a fan of the music this is a concert you should plan to attend.

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