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Q&A: Kaela Rowan Band

Kaela answers a few quick questions ahead of the band’s performance at TradFest

What does the Kaela Rowan Band have planned for 2017?

2017 is going to be a really interesting year for myself and the Kaela Rowan Band, with some great gigs. 

Firstly, I’ll be working with Shooglenifty through the summer, doing some festival gigs, part of which will see us heading to Galicia to work with some amazing musicians from A Banda Das Crechas. I will also begin development of a new album through the summer months with my husband James, which is an exciting prospect.

The Kaela Rowan Band is then hoping to head to the MIMO Festival in Brazil in November, after interest on the back of our Celtic Connections gig earlier this year. We’ll also be heading back to Rajasthan with Shooglenifty in October to play at Jodhpur Riff and continue a documentary film on the band, again working with some wonderful musician friends out there.

I will also begin to develop more work with our good friend and wonderful singer Day Khan Manganiyar who featured on my Fruited Thorn album, with the intention of releasing a collaborative Marwari/Gaelic/Scots album in the spring of 2018. Then I have a tour of Scotland and England in November and December, so it’s pretty jam packed!

Which other performers/musicians have been your main influences?

I have so many influences it’s impossible to say really. Everything I hear is an influence. Growing up I listened to a very eclectic mix and, of course, still do. I love great ballad singers like Dick Gaughan, Andy M Stewart, Cathal McConnell and Andy Irvine, as well as the likes of Cathy Ann MacPhee, Roddy Campbell and Sheila Stewart. I also love the more contemporary writers and balladeers like Joan Armatrading, Nina Simone, Joni Mitchell and John Martyn.

My mother’s record collection introduced me to a wide range: the beautiful harmonies of Crosby, Stills and Nash, the incredible writing of Dylan and Stevie Wonder, the chilled grooves of JJ Cale, the iconic songs and grooves of Bob Marley and the Wailers with the incredible backing vocals of the I Three (I always wanted to be one!)

I remember listening to Marley's album Exodus, the classic rite of passage of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of Moon, the exciting classical album Carmina Burana, and African Congolese spirituals like Missa Luba. In the 80s I got into ground breaking Irish bands like Planxty and The Bothy Band, and Scottish bands like wonderful Ossian, Silly Wizard and the Easy Club. I also adored Talking Heads, The Clash and Ian Dury and the Blockheads. Then in the 90s I was lucky enough to play WOMAD festivals and discovered World music, like the mesmerising Indian classical singing of Sheila Chandra and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, the fantastic harmonic and atonal singing of Bulgarian groups like Les Myster de Bulgar, as well as the beautiful rich harmonies of Georgian singing.

Then it was house music and clubbing: I loved the hypnotic grooves and slow cyclical musical developments; to me it touched my soul in a similar way to the World music rhythms I had come to love. Then there was drum 'n' bass influences like LTJ Bukem and intriguing bands like Massive Attack, William Orbit, Lemon Jelly, The Orb and the wonderful Leftfield. I also love Bjork's originality, and the raw power of PJ Harvey. Since the early 90s I have adored seeing incredible performers such as Baba Mal, The Grateful Dead, Ivor Cutler, Nick Cave, David Byrne, Neil Young, Kate Bush; even The Residents were completely mesmerising. There is so much more this is not even the half of it, but it’s a good start!

What inspires you when writing or singing?
Good grooves, lovely melodies, amazing people and their stories, politics and not forgetting our powerful mother nature.

Which bands or artists from the contemporary Trad music scene, in Scotland or elsewhere, do you rate most?

Macmaster/Hay create beautifully inventive killer grooves, Daimh are straight ahead brilliant tunesters and lovely singing from Ellen MacDonald.

Shooglenifty – I spent so many years dancing to them in village halls and they always picked me up and transported me to another place, as they created their soulful hypnotic spell over the dance floor, it was always completely irresistible.

Rachel Newton is doing beautiful and slightly dark music and I think she is quite brave with that and I have fallen in love with the singing of Kathleen MacInnes since I heard her.

Karine Polwart for her inimitable and powerful political song writing and Ewan Macpherson, for his lovely inventive tunes and instrumental backing.

Treacherous Orchestra for their bonkers arrangements and big crazy boy energy, and Lisa Knapp for her kind of witchy, intriguing sound.

And so many more!

Have you played TradFest before? Are there any other acts on the programme you’d recommend seeing?

It’s my first time, but I’m looking forward to it very much. Going on previous years it will be another amazing festival. There are so many fantastic acts to choose from, but if I could just see one band I would choose Dallahan.

Shooglenifty played with them on the Isle of Eigg a couple of years ago, and I was really impressed by their infectious brew of Irish and Transylvanian inspired tunes, so would be great to catch them again.

What does Tradition mean to you?

To me, Tradition is a vast bedrock of human experience through time. It is our story and we tell it through music, art, language, words, craft and ways of life. It informs our politics today and gives us the place from which we can project into our future.

It is like a rich and beautiful home, a place you feel you belong, but somewhere from which to branch out. For me, tradition needs to be a place that lives, breathes and grows. Something with the deepest most beautiful roots that is youthful and vibrant, just like a tree in spring. Today’s traditional music takes so many forms and I love the fact there is a home for everything; from the very root to every branch. We are constantly informed by it and refer to it all the time, and it deserves respect as we move into our own musical experiences today.

Kaela Rowan Band is on Sat 29 April, 8.30pm

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