ENTERTAINMENT: Celtic Connections gears up for 30th edition 

An exceptional extravaganza of stars from an eclectic range of genres lined up for the festival.

By Bill Heaney

Preparations are well underway for Celtic Connections, Europe’s premier folk and roots music festival, which launches in Glasgow one week today. This year marking its 30th edition, the 18-day event kicks off on Thursday 19th January, and will feature some of the world’s most celebrated musical artists in genre-defying spectacles and one-off collaborations.

Organisers and contributors are full steam ahead with arrangements for what is set to be a full-scale return and celebration of the Scottish music scene’s resilience in the face of adversity.

The festival will pay homage to the last three decades, shining a spotlight on musicians and groups who have been involved with the festival since the inaugural event, as well as providing a platform for further generations of talent to grow in decades to come.

1200 musicians will take to the stage for 300 events at more than 25 venues across the city, with shows spanning traditional folk, roots, Americana, jazz, soul and world music from Thursday 19th January – Sunday 5th February.

Donald Shaw, Creative Producer for Celtic Connections, said: “It feels remarkable that in just a matter of days the 30th edition of Celtic Connections will kick off in Glasgow, celebrating all genres of music, a variety of world cultures, and bringing communities together from across the globe. A huge amount of work and preparation has gone into this year’s festival; it is testament to the strength and tenacity of the Scottish music industry, which has successfully overcome an incredibly tough period.

“We are so appreciative of the musicians and artists who have contributed in all manner of ways to Celtic Connections over the past three decades, and we will pay homage to them throughout the 2023 festival, as well as looking forward towards a bright and hopeful future. We look forward to seeing venues full, artists doing what they do best and the musical community thriving right across the city in a week’s time.”

Among the wall-to-wall shows taking place across the start of 2023 is a show-stopping performance from  Irish six-piece contemporary ensemble NOTIFY, who celebrate their 10th anniversary at Saint Luke’s on Saturday 21st January, with special guests Caoimhe and Séamus Uí Fhlatharta. Support comes from The Canny Band, whose music fuses piano, diatonic button accordion and bodhrán.

On Wednesday 25th January, the Mackintosh Church will play host to Scottish folk singer, songwriter and ukulele player Claire Hastings and Welsh language singer, songwriter and musician Gwilym Bowen Rhys, along with Icelandic sibling trio Blood Harmony, who are making their unmissable Celtic Connections debut with their unique fusion of Nordic melancholic folk and Americana.

Elsewhere, Róisín Reimagined sees award-winning Irish singer Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh and the Irish Chamber Orchestra team up for an exciting new project that combines Muireann’s exceptional vocals with fresh orchestral arrangements of sean nós songs, breathing new life into the noble, classical music of 16th-19th century Gaelic Ireland. The first time another national orchestra has played Celtic Connections, they will share the stage at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall on Wednesday 25th January,with Brìghde Chaimbeul, Ross Ainslie and Steven Byrnes, who will perform their new album LAS, a collaboration featuring tunes from France, Scotland, Bulgaria, Ireland alongside self-penned compositions.

On Friday 27th January, Afro Celtic Connections will see Saint Luke’s play host to Rise Kagona, the founder, lead guitarist and only remaining member of the mega-successful Zimbabwean rock band The Bhundu Boys. Also on the bill is  Diwan, who bring an exuberant fusion of funky mbalax and Afrobeat grooves, with undercurrents of ska, rock and Senegalese soul led by charismatic Senegalese singer Samba Sene and Chief Cheb, a celebrated African philosopher, poet storyteller and music teacher.

One of the most successful contemporary folk musicians from Finland, Maija Kauhanen will be combining her expressive voice with Finnish kantele and inventive percussion on Friday 27th January. She will perform at The National Piping Centre along with acclaimed traditional trio Oakes // Bews // Thorpe, and talented accordion player and composer Andrew Waite.

On Sunday 29th January, audiences at Drygate Brewery will be able to enjoy uplifting performances from Rozi Plain and Terra Kin. London-based folk musician Rozi Plain will perform tracks from her upcoming fifth LP, Prize, which continues to display her musical growth whilst retaining the home-grown intimacy and a familial warmth she is known for. Local musician Terra Kin will present their debut EP Too Far Gone. Combining a love for jazz, ambient and folk music with a soft soulful voice, the resulting sound defies genres and is sure to delight audiences.

Malian husband-and-wife duo Amadou Bagayoko and Mariam Doumbia will bring their rich, radiant blend of desert blues, Afro-pop, rock, disco and hip-hop to Glasgow Royal Concert Hall on Wednesday 1st February. Since their 2004 breakthrough album Dimanche à Bamako, produced by Manu Chao, the duo have grown a passionate international following, and have regularly appeared in Damon Albarn’s Africa Express and collaborated with Johnny Marr, Flea and David Gilmour as well as fellow African greats including Toumani Diabaté and Bassekou Kouyate.

The incredible wealth and breadth of talent on display doesn’t stop there. Saint Luke’s will also showcase the talents of Hen Hoose and Man of the Minch on Saturday 4th February. Founded by Tamara Schlesinger (aka MALKA), Hen Hoose are an all-female/non-binary songwriting collective, bringing together an array of artists from across the creative industries including Karine Polwart, Emma Pollock, Jayda and Elisabeth Elektra to produce groundbreaking new music. Man of the Minch is the stage name of Pedro Cameron, who has become one of the most exciting names at the forefront of Scottish folk music. Performing tracks from his debut album, The Tide is at the Turning, with a full live band, he blends traditional Celtic sounds with personal and profound storytelling.

Also on Saturday 4th February, The Old Fruitmarket will host Rokia Koné’s first UK live performance of her debut album Bamanan, which was named as one of the New York Times Best Albums of 2022. One of Mali’s most beloved and dynamic artists, Rokia will share the stage with the Togo All Stars, renowned for their spectacular live performances showcasing their distinctive blend of afrofunk and voodoo rhythms from the musical heart of West Africa.

Tickets for Celtic Connections 2023 are available from www.celticconnections.com.

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