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RIMINI MEETING/ The Chieftains, a living tradition discovering the world

Interview with Paddy Maloney and Kevin Conneff of the Chieftains, along with Irish journalist John Waters on the importance of the tradition as well as the freedom to experiment in music.

The Chieftains   (photo ANSA) The Chieftains (photo ANSA)

“I have always found that Italian people have a great love of Irish music. At home, perhaps, we are so used to the music that it doesn’t strike us in the same way”. John Waters, pillar of Irish music journalism, begins his story to ilsussidiario.net in this way. “When the discussion was started about who should come from Ireland to Rimini, the obvious answer was the Chieftains because they are the greatest and most long-running. 50 years and 50 albums. They are a phenomenon beyond any other in Ireland. Their custodianship of the music was extraordinary in that time. They have taken the tradition and brought it on all kinds of adventures in the world and, in that way, have really informed us in Ireland about that tradition and created alliances with all kinds of other cultures, so it was not a very difficult decision. Then, I was in Starbucks one day thinking about how I would get Paddy Moloney’s telephone number and I turned around and there he was. It was that simple. It was an event, an encounter in Starbucks! Once you decide something, and it is right, then it happens. That is the answer.”

Your music, though it contains many other genres, obviously has Irish tradition at the core. What is the importance of the tradition for you?
Traditional music is us. Anything else is a step down the ladder. It is very important that we play our music, and people respond to it. You don’t have to be Irish. As a famous actress once said, it is “music that gets you in the gut”.
I remember playing in Milan for the first time, in 1979, and the audience didn’t understand my garbage, but they recognized the tunes and, when we would start playing, everyone would get excited. After that we came back many times, including the big concert where we played Funiculi Funicula with Pavorotti U2.

So, in your case, the tradition is open to other influences?
Having made so many traditional albums, maybe 30, and winning some Grammys (six total), we started to have invitations to appear with other people as special guests. People like Mick Jaggar, Paul McCartney in 1972, James Galway and Van Morrison.
Our last project was the Mexican album, San Patricio, and, given the European influence on the Mexican music in the 19th century, including Irish music, it was a great project. We matched some of our music and did a bit of fusion. Tonight we will play a polka which a lot of people think is an Irish polka, but it is actually Mexican. Music is so important; it is such a great folk art that we can spread the wealth for the last fifty years and get to various countries, and it still happens to this day. The music itself is so alive.

Is this tradition still alive in Ireland?