A Gaelic songwriter’s ‘love letter’ to her native Hebrides will be heard in public for the first time at the Hebridean Celtic Festival next month.
Eilidh Mackenzie, from Gress, was commissioned to write the new song as part of a suite of traditional music showcasing the islands’ musical heritage and young talent.
To mark the Year of Young People 2018, HebCelt has brought together 20 musicians aged between 12 and 16 from Barra, North and South Uist and Lewis and Harris and their collaboration will be premiered on the main festival stage next month.
The project has been organised by HebCelt and Fèisean nan Gàidheal and builds on the relationships grown with Fèisean nan Gàidheal, local fèisean in the Outer Hebrides and other youth arts groups.
Eilidh, who comes from a family of Gaelic singers, is a former Royal National Mod Gold Medal winner. She has been tutoring Gaelic song for 25 years and in 2005 devised, co-wrote and produced the first ever Gaelic musical, ‘Taigh Màiri Anndra’, celebrating the life and work of American folklorist Margaret Fay Shaw.
Her new song, called ‘A Sheann Chaillich on Iar’ (Old Woman from the West) is written from the perspective of a young islander addressing the islands as an old woman.
“I suppose the theme is learning from what has gone before”, said Eilidh. “The Outer Hebrides are portrayed as an old woman, a symbol of generations past with several direct references to specific songs from different islands tying in with a theme of pride in place and culture through a modern perspective.
“I got the idea from a satellite photo I had years ago. I always thought the islands, with the light reflecting off the sand on one coast, looked like the profile of an old woman, beannag (headscarf) and all.
“It was just lovely to be asked to do this. I was brought up in Gress in Lewis and the song is really just my love letter to the islands.”
She added: “The Hebrides is such an important place for Gaelic song, with the tradition still very much alive and thriving. It is so great that the festival is celebrating the Year of Young People through a new song, among other things."
The suite of music will be made up of about ten minutes from each of the groups performing material from their own area, followed by an ensemble piece which will include the newly-commissioned song. HebCelt director Caroline Maclennan said: “Eilidh has done a remarkable job in capturing the musical traditions of the islands in a modern way."
The project is also supported by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar under its Dìleab (Legacy) and Sgioba na Gàidhlig (small Gaelic grants) funds; Lewis Wind Power, which also sponsors the festival’s Islands Stage; and Highlands and Islands Enterprise.
The 2018 HebCelt will be held from 18-21 July and will be headlined by Deacon Blue, The Fratellis, Eddi Reader, Skipinnish and Roddy Woomble. Day tickets are available exclusively from the festival website. See www.hebceltfest.com