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root salad f34 NAFCo


The North Atlantic Fiddle Convention is a festival with a difference, reveals Derek Schofield


furrow. To start with, it’s not called a festi- val, but a ‘convention’, and instead of a wide-ranging programming policy, the focus is on a single instrument – the fiddle – and its role in dance accompaniment. The ubiquity of the fiddle across conti- nents gives plenty of scope for variety of style. Across continents? The event is not called the North Atlantic Fiddle Conven- tion for nothing – there are performers and visitors from the US, Canada and many countries in Europe.


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The original idea for NAFCo came when Ian Russell was appointed director of The Elphinstone Institute at the University of Aberdeen. Though best known for his con- nections with South Yorkshire and its singing traditions, especially the carols, Ian was born in Aberdeen and relished the opportunity to lead the Institute’s commit- ment to academic research in ethnology, folklore and ethnomusicology based on the culture of North-East Scotland, as well as to public engagement. That engagement involves working in partnerships to organise concerts, festivals, workshops, conferences and community initiatives to increase understanding of traditional or vernacular culture. NAFCo was Ian’s first big event; focusing on the fiddle acknowledged the instrument’s importance to the traditional music of North-East Scotland.


NAFCo is not an annual event, and nei- ther is it wedded to Scotland. The first one was held in 2001, returning to Aberdeen in 2006 and 2010, Derry in 2012, and with


Paul Anderson NAFCo 2010


any folk festivals tend to fol- low a similar format, but there’s a festival in Aberdeen that has ploughed a different


Newfoundland (2008) and Cape Breton (2015), reflecting the importance of the fid- dle in these Canadian provinces. Each loca- tion has worked with the local community to make the event their own. The conven- tion has not yet visited continental Europe, but hopefully a Scandinavian country will host it soon.


Ian has now retired from the university and from directing NAFCo but is still involved as the organisation’s president. The festival director for Aberdeen, 11–15 July 2018, is Carley Williams. From Vancou- ver, Carley came to study in Aberdeen, and worked as convention co-ordinator in 2006 and as event consultant in 2010; she is now studying for a doctorate and plays fiddle in Scottish ceilidh bands.


What’s on offer in this different fur-


row? First off, there are more instrumental and dance workshops than you can shake a fiddle bow at. There is the opportunity to learn style and repertoire from the many countries and communities represented in the guest list – mainly on the fiddle, but also other instruments, as well as dance tradi- tions. Youth Fiddle Camp is an innovation this time, with support from the Royal Edin- burgh Military Tattoo Youth Talent Devel- opment Fund; led by Patsy Reid, participants will learn and perform a new piece of music she has written.


But perhaps the key aspect that marks out the event as different is the accompany- ing academic symposium. After all, NAFCo is hosted by a university, and for Carley Williams, “It’s what makes NAFCo unique and why it works so well.” So far, four vol- umes of papers presented at past confer- ence have been published. Symposium con-


venor Frances Wilkins observes that many researchers in music and dance are also per- formers, and vice versa. This is illustrated by Matt Cranitch: this former member of Na Filí, now touring with Jackie Daly, will both perform and present a paper. His doctoral thesis was on Pádraig O’Keeffe and the Sli- abh Luachra fiddle tradition in Ireland.


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ith Aberdeen’s Lemon Tree as the convention’s base, work- shops and concerts are held all over the city as well as in


Aberdeenshire (thanks to county council and EventScotland funding – Creative Scot- land is also a major funder). Not surprising- ly, Scottish fiddlers are well to the fore in the guest list. A regular NAFCo performer is Alasdair Fraser, whose musical partnership with cellist Natalie Haas was premiered at the first NAFCo (Natalie’s sister Brittany Haas also appears this year). Paul Anderson is one of North-East Scotland’s best-known fiddle players, while Shetland Fiddlers’ Soci- ety will bring a whole orchestra of fiddle players and also accompany the Shetland Folk Dance group. Shetland is also repre- sented by Catriona MacDonald and one- third of The Nordic Fiddlers Bloc, alongside Norway and Sweden. There are further Scandinavian collaborations from Fru Skagerrak, a fiddle trio from Sweden, Nor- way and Denmark.


From Nova Scotia come acclaimed musi-


cians Troy MacGillivray, John Pellerin and Shelly Campbell. Canadian Anne Lederman will be presenting her stage show Spirit of the Narrows, which includes musical influences from First Nation Ojibwa and Cree communi- ties. Alicia and Liam Bloor are a sister-brother duo from Toronto whose family comes from the Métis community in Manitoba.


Back to Europe: Jani Lang and Janos Kallai are two Hungarian Roma musicians, Figelin are a German-based trio that mix German dance music and klezmer, From- seier Hockings are a Danish folk duo who came to NAFCo in 2010, and there’s Eng- land’s Rheingans Sisters. Alfonso Franco is a legendary figure in Galician folk music who will be bringing a twenty-strong young fid- dle orchestra to Aberdeen. There’s transat- lantic collaboration from Sophie and Fiachra, a trio showcasing Irish and Québe- cois musical traditions. From further afield, Jyotsna Srikanth from Bangalore, now based in London, is Europe’s foremost Indi- an violinist. On the dance side, Nic Gareiss makes a return visit: a truly innovative per- cussive dancer. And many more. Oh yes, plenty of variety!


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Photo: Derek Schofield


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