Celtic sounds in curious places Music: Passion takes the Chieftains to Spain, Cuba and other havens of Irish folk feeling.

March 12, 1997|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

Paddy Moloney attracts folk musicians the way rock stars attract groupies.

No sooner does word get out that he and the Chieftains are looking for people to play with than a mob scene ensues. Take, for instance, the sessions that went into "Santiago de Cuba" and "Galleguita/Tutankhamen," two selections from the Chieftains' recent Grammy-winning album, "Santiago."

"The musicians are just out of this world," says Moloney, over the phone from a New York hotel. "Starved for exposure and just dying to play. I'd ask for just six or seven and a huge amount would turn up. I couldn't refuse anybody, so the whole kitchen sink, everything, moved in.

"They just wanted to play. Reminded me of the West of Ireland, you know? The same feeling, same temperament and improvisation. When the recording was over, that wasn't the end of it; they wanted to keep going. So there was a big session in the studio for about three hours afterward."

An amazing tale, to be sure. But what on earth were the Chieftains -- the foremost exponents of Irish traditional music -- doing in Cuba in the first place?

Why, following the path of Celtic music, of course.

Cuba may not seem one of the more obvious places on earth to find Irish music or its relations, but that was part of the point the band wanted to make with "Santiago." As Moloney explains, "It was sort of a pilgrimage. Originally, I called it my musical pilgrimage to Galicia, because I find the music of Galicia closest to ours, after the Scottish music."

In his liner notes for the album, Moloney mentions that Galicia, in the northwest corner of Spain, has been called "the world's most undiscovered Celtic country," and while its link to Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Brittany may not be obvious on the map, it's easy to hear the connection in the music. In fact, "Santiago" offers proof in virtually every tune.

Nor did Moloney stop in Galicia. Part of the reason "Santiago" took six years for the group to complete was that the deeper Moloney looked into the music, the more he learned about its far-flung impact. "Well, the Galicians were a seafaring people, and the Irish were, too, of course," he says. "So there were a lot people that did travel, and a lot of music traveled that way."

Like any musical tourist, Moloney invariably brought back far more than he originally set out to find. "I went down to South America in November," he says. "I went to Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico and Colombia, and came back with a sack of recordings. I mean, I don't know where I'm going find time, but I would just love to take off and do a whole album for each country. The music is there. It's fabulous, fabulous altogether."

As always, Moloney and the Chieftains will be bringing a taste of their travels with them on tour. "We're going to have four musicians on tour with us: We've got Carlos Nunez, whom we'd had before; plus, we've got two of his band; and we've got a singer coming with us," he says. "And God only knows who else! We seem to be gathering as we go along."

He also wouldn't mind some input from Baltimore's own Irish music community.

"Well, I'm hoping -- and put it in your paper -- for some of your own local talent to turn up. You had some great dancers there," he says. "And if there's any local musicians who want to join in with us at the end of the show, please tell them to come along for the soundcheck."

Listening to him enthuse over the musicians he has met and played with, Moloney sounds a bit like a successful evangelist. He feels that way, too. "I always had great hopes for this wonderful art," he says. "It just has got to be heard. So I set out on my mission to spread the gospel.

"When the first album came out in '63, there were things happening, and there was a great interest in what we were doing, in my approach to it, my arrangements and presentation, in creating the sounds and getting back roots.

"But I never realized it would it get to this stage. It was my dream that it would be played on all the major stages throughout the world, but it has gone beyond the beyond."

The Chieftains

When: Tonight at 7: 30

Where: Meyerhoff Symphony Hall

Tickets: Sold out

Call: (410) 783-8000

Hear the Chieftains

To hear excerpts from the Chieftains' new release, "Santiago," call Sundial at (410) 783-1800 and enter the four-digit code 6117. For other local Sundial numbers, see the Sundial directory on Page 2A.

Pub Date: 3/12/97

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