SOUNDS OF SCOTLAND
Doha's residents were transported to the Scottish mountains by the soothing sounds of the award-winning folk band, Breabach. The band has played together as a group for the past 10 years. On their first visit to Qatar, they performed at Souq Waqif's Al Ra
Doha's residents were transported to the Scottish mountains by the soothing sounds of the award-winning folk band, Breabach.
“We are a fivepiece acoustic contemporary folk group,” says James Lindsay, who is the double bass player and vocalist. The band plays a range of instruments unheard of in this region.
Popularly considered as the new face of traditional Scottish music, Breabach won Live Act of the Year in 2012 and Folk Band of the Year in 2013 at the MG Alba Scots Traditional Music Awards. They have also been nominated twice for Best Group at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards in 2014. Before arriving in Qatar they performed in Australia and New Zealand. They have also played at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games and other venues around Europe.
Calum MacCrimmon plays the bagpipes, whistle and bouzouki and handles vocals for Breabach. The bouzouki “is a Greek instrument that's been adopted by Irish and Scottish tradition. It resonates and buzzes and lends a great sound,” he says.
The group looks back on when it all started. “Glasgow is a hub for traditional music which has grown steadily over the past 20 years. We came there to study music and met more than a decade ago,” says MacCrimmon. Since then the band has released four albums with a fifth on the way. With time, their music has also evolved. “One of the biggest influences on traditional music is using modern instruments. Using the violin is relatively new to Scottish music,” explains guitarist Ewan Robertson.
Their one-time performance in Doha included a collaborative set with Qatari artist Mohamed Al Saegh who is not only
one of Qatar's leading musicians but also a television actor, playwright, artist and researcher in folk art. “I play the tanbura, a long-necked string instrument, and an African pipe. There are only a handful of musicians who play these instruments today,” says Al Saegh.
“Performances like these are a way of extending our understanding of different cultures,” says MacCrimmon. “Individually we have been involved with musicians in the Middle East in the past, but playing with a Qatari artist is a first for us,” he adds. With Breabach singing in Gaelic and Al Saegh in Arabic, music is the language that brings the two cultures together.
Breabach gets its name from a piping term. “The Gaelic term literally means kicking,” says Lindsay. “Much like classical music, piping has variations. Breabach is all about energy and rhythm,” he adds. From stomping tunes to soulful ballads, the music has a distinctive sound, says James Mackenzie who plays the pipes, flute and assists with vocals. “It's energetic and the tunes are upbeat and have a dance aspect to them,” he adds. The slower ballad,
Scotland’s Winter, evokes a call to the snowcapped mountains, while Greenfields, takes you back to a nostalgic time over a long-lost love.
“One of the defining sounds of the band is the twin sets of bagpipes which is rare in folk bands,” says MacCrimmon who asks if bagpipes have been played live in Doha before. “The harmony created between the pipes is our defining sound,” he says.
Their current album, Urlar, is a Gaelic term which means foundation. “It's related to the first movement in a type of pipe music and helped us tie in to what our roots are. It shows a connection to the different parts of Scotland that we come from,” says Lindsay. Many of the band members contribute to the traditional music education programme in Scotland and some have solo albums.
“The oldest surviving pipe music from Scotland is about 300 years old. One particular piece called Proud to Play a Pipe, was written at a time when playing the pipes was discouraged, explains MacCrimmon.
Keen to discover Middle Eastern music on their short visit, they explore Doha's Souq area. Lindsay is hoping to buy one of the oldest Arabian instruments, the Oud. Megan Henderson step dances to most of the songs and provides vocals in Gaelic and English. She and her group are keen that their Doha audience dance at the show. “We will have everyone singing in Gaelic before the night is finished,” says MacCrimmon
Breabach members from left JAMES LINDSAY, MEGAN HENDERSON, JAMES MACKENZIE, EWAN ROBERTSON and CALUM MACCRIMMON.
Band members of Breabach with Qatari musician MOHAMED
AL SAEGH shortly after their performance at Doha's Al Rayyan
Theatre at Souq Waqif.