Steve Bell with Ismaila Alfa (CBC)
I hear a word or a phrase and it goes through me like a hot knife. And I needed to know what it was and I started to research the word keening. It's a Celtic phrase for a primal lament.
—Steve Bell, singer-songwriter
It started out like a lot of familiar jokes: A poet, a theologian and a musician walk into a bar.
Except it was actually a pub in Cambridge where Winnipeg singer/songwriter Steve Bell met up with poet Malcolm Guite and theologian Jeremy Begbie.
It was their discussions over a pint that gave Bell the idea for his 17th album. The chat turned to the concept of keening, and Bell was intrigued.
"This happens to me, I hear a word or a phrase and it goes through me like a hot knife. And I needed to know what it was and I started to research the word keening. It's a Celtic phrase for a primal lament," Bell explained to SCENE On Air host Ismaila Alfa.
"It's a lament in the darkness knowing the dawn is coming. So it's not hopeless. You're in the dark, but you're almost calling in the dawn." Bell said he was drawn to the sadness of it, ultimately naming his new album, Keening for the Dawn.
He said it connected to his increasing disaffection for the materialism of the Christmas season. "Of course I come from a Christian background, so something in me feels there should be something meaningful," he said with a laugh.
"It did speak to deep, deep longing that isn't satisfied by the latest toy or gimmick or a plate of food. But the longing isn't a hopelessness."
So while Keening for the Dawn isn't a Christmas album in a nostalgic sense, themes of the season do surface on the disc. "I think the season really is meaningful, Christian or non-Christian, I think there's themes here that are universal. And I think that we can unpack them and we can say there is something to this tradition that's worth preserving."
Hear more of Steve Bell's interview with Ismaila Alfa on SCENE On Air. The show airs every Saturday from 5 - 6 p.m. on CBC Radio One, 89.3 FM/990 AM/97.9 FM in Brandon.