Nóirín Ní Riain: Celtic Soul
By: Manuel Montes.

Celtic Soul. Thus is the latest album by Irish singer Nóirín Ní Riain called, an already legendary artist in her homeland because of her extraordinary performances of religious music.

Nóirín was born in Caherconlish, in County Limerick, Ireland. From her time as a student, at the University College of Cork, she felt firmly attracted to ancient music and most specifically to religious music. He gained an M.A. degree with a paper about the religious songs sung in Irish, introducing her into a marvellous world that continues to amaze her.

It was her university research what put her in contact with the most orthodox roots in this field, allowing her to an unprecedented access to a great deal of written and musical material. From her experience a couple of specialized books, as well as several articles, cropped up. In this sense, her scholarly work has not ceased, since her latest reference work, dealing with Gregorian chants, was published quite recently.

Nóirín has also used her musical and artistic education for something more than merely write. Thus, she recorded three albums with the Benedictine monks from Glenstal Abbey (Seinn Aililiu, Caoineadh na Maighdine, and Good People All), as a further side of her valuable task of divulgation and preservation of Irish religious music. Her fascination for the ancient songs of her country and the fortunate fact that her mentor, professor Pilip Ó Laoghaire, was an expert compilator of this kind of material, provided her with an enormous traditional background that she has not hesitated to make known even outside her frontiers.

Her cultural work in search for the preservation of the Irish musical wealth has been acknowledged by the government of her country, that has named her as an official representative for different events overseas in several occasions. In some of such occurrences, Nóirín travelled to India, where she has found many contact points between the Hindi and the Irish tradition. In this sense, the artist has learned many songs in the Hindi language, influences that can be detected in Celtic Soul.

No wonder Nóirín, with her special interest in the religious aspects of music, her spirituality and her personal basis, has found in both kinds of music, the Irish and the Hindi types, contact points that she has at once transferred to her performances. The artist, on the other hand, uses Hindi traditional instruments like the Shruti boxes or the Surpeti, a sort of harmonium.

En 1989, in Costa Rica, Nóirín was selected to musically present to the Dalai Lama, during an interreligious conference. She also released Stór Amharán: A Wealth of Songs from Irish Tradition and Vox de Nube. Later, in 1992, she would have a main role in the performance of Ordo Virtutum, a work by Middle Ages author Hildegard von Bingen. This same year she represented Ireland at the summit at Río de Janeiro, organized by the United Nations (where she performed in the closing session before the Religious and Spiritual Leaders of the World). In 1994, Nóirín released Soundings: Spiritual Songs from Many Traditions, which emphasized the great interest of the singer for this kind of music. Meditation in Wort und Klang, also from 1994, showed us once again the best Nóirín. Already in 1995, she participated again in a summit of the United Nations, this time in Copenhagen, as well as in a conference on women which took place in Beijing, China.

Her relationship with the Paul Winter Consort started approximately a decade ago. The performances of the band for the summer and winter solstices at the New York cathedral of St. John The Divine impressed her greatly, in such a way that a lasting friendship began then, both at a personal and at a musical level.

Nóirín and the Paul Winter Consort have given several live concerts jointly, both during the wonderful solstices and in other occasions. After recording in 1993 a live album (Solstice Live!), Celtic Soul (1996) has become the new album by Nóirín where the Paul Winter Consort and other friends have a special relevance.

In this album the songs in Gaelic and Hindi intertwine in an extraordinary way, displaying the most spiritual side of the singer, yet with a sensitivity that will no doubt attract a much more varied audience than that of her former works. The themes are traditional, drawn from the apparently unending Irish source. Even though the most festive and popular aspect of Irish music has already been divulged in its manifold shapes by other bands and artists, Nóirín's work performing religious and spiritual songs, much less popularized, fills a very important gap.

Celtic Soul was recorded at Paul Winter's studio, in Connecticut, as well as at a Shaker chapel from New Hampshire. In the album, Nóirín sings from the deepest inner self of her soul, stirring and thrilling us with each note. The Celtic tradition, always present, gives us in this work a different side of its unending wealth. With the presence, furthermore, of a couple of Hindi songs, we will discover how this Celtic tradition appears to fit with the image of an eternal Buddha in meditative contemplation.

The vocal virtuosity of this Irish artist will no doubt take us to the motto of this album: "There is but one history, and that is the soul's" (W.B. Yeats).

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