Musically, I was raised on a strange brew. My Da, Irish by birth, loved traditional Irish music. The Clancy Brothers were the high priests of his musical church. Any deviation from the canon was met with the hairy eyeball and a thunderous silence. My Mum, an East Ender from Stepney, was a devotee of West End musicals. In the days before personal musical devices, there was often a tussle at the record player and a lot of good-natured ribbing at the other’s musical choices.
I was the middle child, so I learned to sing Roddy McCorley and also appeared as von Trapp in the high school version of the Sound of Music. I was keeping the peace.
At nineteen, I strapped on a backpack and with a summer’s worth of wages from working sheet metal, I headed for Europe. I returned a changed musical man. To Da’s horror, I arrived with a ton of Irish music not sung by beefy guys in Aran sweaters. There was incredulity from my Mum at what had happened to the West End. What the devil was Che Guevara doing in a musical?
I love traditional music in its pure form, but I also love when it steps outside the box. We have a couple of acts at this year’s Summerfolk that certainly do that.
At the heart of the trio, are the piping of Sandra Vabarna and the singing tradition of Jalmar Vabarna’s family. His great-grandmother, Anne Vabarna, was one of the most famous Estonian folk singers — he grew up immersed in the tradition.
Sandra has been playing pipes since she was thirteen. The Estonian pipes have the drive of the highland pipes combined with the sweetness and reediness of the Northumbrian variety. She also plays flute, jaw harp and adds mouth music into the mix.
Tõnu Tubli rounds out the trio. His father was the conductor of a brass orchestra, and Tõnu was playing brass before he could walk. He settled on classical trombone also adding drums and percussion to his bag of tricks. Tubli is one of the most in-demand drummers in Estonia.
Many of their songs build upon loops created from archival recordings of Estonian folk singers. Sandra might add a jaw harp riff before exhorting the audience to sing along. Jalmar is a master of the twelve-string guitar with a sound like Shawn Phillips or Richie Havens — driving rhythms with that textured twelve-string jangle. There’s a lot of power behind their sound. They are going to turn quite a few heads at Summerfolk
But you can never be sure…
I have some friends who are not folk music fans. I keep trying to win them over. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I don’t. My friend, Oliver, is a hard nut to crack. “Festivals — not my thing,” he would say.
I finally got him to come up to Summerfolk40. Oliver arrived late-ish on the Saturday evening and caught the last half of the last act on the Amphitheatre stage. Wanting a tour of the site, I obliged and we ended up at the Down by the Bay tent just as Delhi 2 Dublin was cranking it up. We went up to the monitor position on stage right so he could get a good look. After a minute or two, I turned around to see his reaction — he wasn’t there. Oliver was right in the middle of the dance pit at the front of the stage! Mission accomplished. Delhi 2 Dublin was my not-too-secret weapon.
I would hire Delhi 2 Dublin every year if I could. Even to an inveterate non-dancer like me, they are irresistible. They serve up a mix of South Asian sounds, club beats and Celtic tunes. The band started as a live collaboration for the CelticFest Vancouver in 2006, a performance piece called Delhi to Dublin. The audience reaction was so overwhelming that it led to the formation of the band as a permanent entity. The band members have changed over the years but, at the core, they remain true to the spirit of their birth.
They manage to connect roots music to the future. Delhi 2 Dublin features a heavy, electronic backbone with live, traditional, Indian instruments and more. Ravi Binning plays dhol and dholak, the large and small versions of the two-headed drum ubiquitous to the Indian subcontinent. Tarun Nayar plays tabla, the distinctive percussive and the melodic heart of Indian classical and popular music. He also handles the electronics and the beats. Serena Eades on violin provides the Celtic splash. Topping it all off, are the stunning, punjabi-english vocals of frontman, Sanjay Seran. If they don’t have you moving, I’ll eat my hat.
Summerfolk42 is going to get you outside your box August 17, 18, 19 and 20 at Kelso Beach Park in Owen Sound. Information can be found at summerfolk.org or by phoning 519-371-2995