Loreena McKennitt returns to Manitoba to perform and speak in Portage la Prairie, May 16
Loreena McKennitt has spent a career channelling the music of the world into her unique brand of "musical travel writing."
She is just back in Canada from a virtually sold-out 32-concert European tour. And with this Celtic Footprints tour she is, in a way, returning to her Celtic musical roots.
"In essence, a lot of the material was what initially inspired me to get into Celtic music," she admits in a phone interview with Manitoba SCENE.
The history of the tour goes back two years to the recording The Wind that Shakes the Barley, a collection of traditional Celtic music. The album itself was a response to many people writing or communicating that they been involved with her career early on and wondered if she would ever go back to making a traditional recording.
McKennitt was born and raised in Morden, Manitoba to parents of Irish and Scottish descent. Early on she developed a taste for Celtic music. She already had a powerful and clear soprano voice. She learned to play the Celtic harp and cut her performing teeth busking.
After moving from Manitoba to Ontario, a favourite busking venue was the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto. But she also had many busking adventures in England and Ireland. She once nearly got into a fist-a-cuffs with a flower-seller on Grafton Street in Dublin.
"It was really a great time to touch a different kind of street culture that survived and worked in a whole different kind of code of living."
McKennitt had many other memorable experiences in Ireland, where she travelled often in the 1980s.
"I think one of my most favourite memories is being in O'Connor's pub in Doolin in the early 80's -- it was still at a time when music was a part of the fabric of rural Ireland -- and sitting next to what appeared to be a farmer who could do recitations as well as play the penny whistle. This is some of the richness of travelling."
McKennitt's innate curiosity and notion of musical travel writing have taken her beyond Celtic lands, to Spain, Russia, Japan and the Middle East. She is passionate about really immersing herself in the history, the culture and traditions. The music then weaves its way into her own work and the memories of her travels become part of her on-stage storytelling.
For example, she was moved by experiences between 1995 and 2003 in Turkey and Morocco where she witnessed the whirling dervishes. She clearly had the feeling that she was observing an activity that was an indigenous part of the community.
"It's completely mystical," she says. She got a "deeper appreciation for how music becomes integrated in a religious or spiritual experience. It was an evolving discovery."
"So someone from the prairies, seeing and hearing the music that goes along with this visual expression was quite impactful."
Watch Loreena McKennitt sing "Caravanserai" from her project Nights of the Alhambra:
Loreena McKennitt, the world traveller and world musician, returns to Manitoba this week.
On Wednesday, May 16, McKennitt will be a special guest at Big Brothers Big Sisters lunchtime event in Portage la Prairie. She'll perform a few songs with her Celtic harp and will share stories about her travels and her influences.