5 thoughts on “Kate & Anna McGarrigle: French-Canadian Folk Traditionalists – Tikun Olam תיקון עולם إصلاح العالم
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  1. Richard,
    I did listen to them on Youtube because I had never heard about them before.They recorded with the Chieftains
    whom I like to listen to when I miss the emerald isle.
    Good to vary the mix on your posts every so often.
    It let’s us see more of the man behind the blog.
    May I ask where you grew up in the Hudson Valley.

    Thanks for the post.

      1. The Cajun-music is originally Acadian (descendents of the first French settlers in present-day Canada).
        The Cajun (from the French ‘cadien’) were Acadians deported to Lousiana during the second half of the 18th century because of their refusal to swear allegiance to the British Crown.
        Many French settlers in North America came from Brétagne (Brittany), where Celtic was still spoken at the time, and Brittany music is very close to Irish folk-music. With the McGarrigle sisters, of Irish-French descent, we’ve come full circle.

        1. Deïr Yassin, I don’t know how I missed this entry and your comment back in June, but I did. As a Bretonne, I would like to add a few corrections, if I may.

          Breton (Brezhoneg) is still spoken in many parts of Bretagne (Breizh). Here in the Finistère (Penn-ar-Bed ), Breizh Izel, quite a few people are native speakers of Breton, including my family and my neighbours. I speak the language, sing and play Breton music, and have done since childhood.

          Breton is a Brythonic language, related to Cornish and Welsh. It bears little resemblance to the Goidelic languages, Irish, Scots Gaelic and Manx.

          Breton music differs greatly from the music of the other Celts. Traditional Breton music lacks the beautiful, often haunting, melodic quality one hears in Britain and Ireland and differs greatly in form. Breton music tends to be stolid and achingly repetitive. A traditional Kan ha Diskan (Call and Response) can last for as long as a half hour, often sung unaccompanied.


          Other forms include Gwerzioù and Sonioù (Laments and Ballads) which deal with such cheerful subjects as untimely deaths, grisly murders, wars, forced emigration, and lost love. Breton music is seldom cheerful or playful.

          Often written in sets of linked couplets, what saves Breton music from total tedium are the musical arrangements, each couplet set differing slightly, subtly, in its musical arrangement and vocal presentation from the others.

          Compared to the tuneful music of French Canada and Louisiana, the uninitiated listener tends to find Breton music to be dead boring, and even painful. The high-pitched squealing of dozens of biniou kozh, the Breton bagpipes, have been described as going through one’s head like a nail shot from a nail gun.

          Our music is an acquired taste, a taste that many people never acquire. Compare a Breton Bagad to a Louisiana Two-Step, and you’ll see what I mean. This makes sense as Bretons were only one of a number of people who emigrated to North America from all over France to mix with the Mik’mak and others to form the vibrant French musical culture of Canada, and later, Louisiana.

          Modern Breton music has become popular, as young Breton musicians bring to our ancient music non-traditional instruments and styles, and form their own interpretations of Breton music. Ancient songs are now played in a manner that my grandfather wouldn’t have recognised in 1950, just as my sons sing and play thousand year-old songs in a manner different to my own. New compositions are lovely and haunting.


          So no, we’re not at all like these brilliant French-Canadian singers. I find it interesting that you hear a French influence in Kate and Anna McGarrigle, as I hear the Irish and Scottish influence.

          Hard Times, written by the American Stephen Foster, is a very popular song amongst Irish singers, who have taken it as their own.

          Deïr Yassin, I appreciate that you even know we exist. So few people do. For centuries our language has been forbidden in schools. Breton speakers have been derided. Our Breton-speaking parents refused to let us formally study the language. Today we Bretons number fewer than 5 million.

          Richard, I apologise for the length of this comment and I hope I haven’t broken any rules.


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