KíLA - Mind the Generation Gap
"Irish music is like a river into which different pebbles are thrown"
is how Sean O'Riada, one of Ireland's greatest musicians, described
this Irish tradition. One very important pebble for the band called KíLA
was an unexpected birthday present.
In an effort to encourage a bit of culture in her son, Mrs. Ó Snodaigh
bought him a Chieftains album. Not exactly what Top of the Pops fan
Rossa was expecting. He was not impressed, but instead of using it as a
frisbee, he listened to the record. He liked one tune, so he listened
to it a few more times and found that he began to like the rest. Two
years later, he learnt how to play the tin-whistle at school and his
attempts to be like the musicians on the album, along with those of his
brothers Ronan and Colm, laid the ground work for KíLA, the hottest thing
to happen to fiddles, bodhrans and whistles in quite a few years.
Rossa himself has recovered well from that early trauma and plays a list
of traditional instruments too long to list here. After only two albums,
"Mind the Gap" and "Tóg é Go Bog é", the band are now filling venues
around Ireland and receiving a reaction normally reserved for the hottest
Speaking about the band in Dublin's famous Bewley's Café, Rossa has the
relaxed demeanour of one who is succeeding in something he enjoys and
has nothing to prove. Visually, he is the typical Irish eccentric with
his mad hair and enthusiasm. As we sat and drank coffee, Rossa proved he
also has that legendary Irish gift of the gab as he listed the band's
"Top of the Pops was a big influence in knowing what not to do to music.
Cos, all those bands were fucking butchering music."
On the other side, Lance and Brian (the second set of brothers in KíLA),
their biggest influence was probably their father.
Their father, Larry Hogan Snr, was in a band called "We Four" who had a
hit single in the 60s. He brought the Lance and Brian to play on tour
with him and their cousin around Ireland and Europe. They've been in a
few rock bands as well. "They're more influenced by popular music than
Fiddle player, Dee Armstrong, has a far more 'respectable' music
Her parents were classical musicians and she was going to lots of
classical shows. She was in the Youth Orchestra as well, for a while,
but not now.
"Myself and herself are more into world music, she's seriously into gypsy
music at the moment. Ronan, my brother, who sings a lot, he's started
getting into African music."
While all these influences explain the diversity and experimentation in
their music, it is their traditional influences which showed the band
that traditional music could be used in a modern way. Influences include
all the bands Donal Lunny has played with (Emmet Spiceland, Planxty,
Moving Hearts, among others) - "he's been brilliant", Mushroom - "big
hippies with fucking huge hair and massive bell-bottoms", Horselips, the
Bothy Band and Moving Hearts - "massive, they just blew us away any time
we put it on."
At the time they started playing as a band at school, they simply played
the same tunes the Bothy Band played. Then one of the members of the
band decided that they weren't going to arrange the songs the same way
as the Bothy band, as that had already been done. They wanted to do
their own thing so they started to write their own tunes. It soon became
the policy of the band to write their own material instead of playing
"If you think about it, jigs and reels are Irish. You can put any
instrument on them. If you've got a chair, you can paint it as many
colours as you want, it's still a chair. It's just instruments that we
like, want to play and tunes suit them."
They found their experience of going to an All-Irish school very
enriching, leaving them with an experience that very few other people in
the country have had. They learnt "stupid little songs like Dillin O
Damhas that no-one else in the world knows." They were encoured to play
music, and not Irish music alone.
"We put on a concert once and we had a jazz band, a rock band, two pop
bands and two traditional bands playing, a poetry launch and a classical
pianist. The emphasis was Irish, but people weren't discouraged from
being anything else."
Rossa wasn't surprised by the success of their single "On Taobh Tuathail
Amach" which was a big hit in the Irish charts.
"I mean, it's sung in Irish, but there's no remnants of any traditional
idiom in it at all. It's an Irish song because it's sung by an Irish
person, but it's got a lot of percussion. In fact the only Irish
percussion piece on it is the bodhran. When Colm wrote this album
people said 'it won't sell 'cos it's in Irish. But, the Gypsy Kings are
massive and they sing in Spanish. I'm in no doubt about Irish music or
Irish lyrics. It's not a hindrance, it's just record companies' concepts
that make it a hindrance."
While KíLA are relatively new to the music scene, some of them have
experience playing with one of the most popular bands playing ethnically
influenced music, Dead Can Dance. Rossa's brother, Ronan, and Lance
Hogan played as part of their rhythm section on two tours and recorded
with them on the live album, "Toward the Within", and their latest studio
album "Spiritchaser". They also played with Lisa Gerrard's solo band.
When KíLA lost their bass player they nabbed the bassist from Brendan
Perry's solo band.
Not only did Ronan and Lance play with the band, but they added something
extra to the music. "Lance tells me that while Brendan was the
choreographer, everyone else had their input."
The band have been dubbed the Riverdance of traditional music, a tag
that Rossa doesn't give much credence to. Rossa's not quite sure if
KíLA are going to bring the music to the same heights as Riverdance
brought dance. He considers it an attempt by people to label their
"What Riverdance has done is that it's given employment to a lot of
skilled dancers, we're not giving employment to that many people.
If you're saying we're going to bring Irish music to the heights
Riverdance has brought Irish dancing, I don't know."
Nor does he think that what they are doing is as new to music as what
Riverdance has done in dance. "I think Moving Hearts (the '70s
traditional music collective featuring Donal Lunny, Davy Spillane and
Christy Moore among others) blew a hole bigger than has been or will be.
So there's a whole structure of bands coming up, so we're not the
first people to be a band in traditional music. Whereas, Riverdance was
really the first mega-show."
When any band tries to do something new in traditional music, there are
always protests from music purists who make accusations of bastardising
the music. This tends to be very strong when, as in KíLA's case,
commercial success comes with the changes. However, Rossa's reaction is
short and not so sweet.
"I don't consider purism in any form, so I don't give a shite."
|Kíla - Lemonade & Buns
Kíla - Tóg é go bog é
by Donnacha DeLong