Celtic, Swing, and Jazz: Brittany’s Strongest Trad Players Team up with California Jazz Artist for Collaborative Breizh Amerika Tour of California
Brittany, France’s farthermost western province with its Celtic roots and language and strong regional culture, prides itself on its unique identity. Yet non-profit organization Breizh Amerika—part international business accelerator, part cultural collaboration instigator--is devoted to highlighting the strong similarities between Brittany and the many cultures and scenes in the US.
The half-decade old program has paired up Breton folk musicians with Garifuna drum ensembles, a dialog between minority communities fighting to keep their languages and powerful musical heritage alive. It took Breton artists to once (and in some cases still) Francophone and Breton-influenced areas of the US, from St. Louis to New Orleans. It has toured these unexpected musical conversations on the East Coast and through the Midwest for Fête de la Bretagne..
Now the initiative returns with a musical exploration of how traditional Breton tunes can speak to and through jazz. Thanks to a close musical friendship between accordion whiz kid Thomas Moisson and SF jazz mainstay, bassist Joe Kyle, the Breizh party is coming to the West Coast with several performances and educational residencies in San Diego and San Francisco this May. Joining them on keys will be Breton composer and performer Julien Le Mentec, who has played around the world at festivals and backed up tradition-inspired performers like Goran Bregovic and Carlos Nunez, as well as champion bombarde player Gweltaz Rialland who has translated his stunning traditional reed chops to alto sax.
“When you put Breton artists together with artists from all different American backgrounds, to have them play and perform together, you are more or less demonstrating how people are similar,” reflects Breizh Amerika founder and driving force Charles Kergaravat, born in New York to Breton parents. “American audiences love it because we look for the commonality between people. The current global climate of division and mistrust has made us want to spotlight our similarities.”
Building relationships where none existed before and crafting new repertoire from long-standing sets of tunes and songs is not for the faint at heart. “You have to be a little mad, a little crazy,” chuckles Kergaravat. “We’re not just performing music from Brittany, which in itself is very, very rare in the US, but we’re also getting Americans involved who may have never heard Breton music before. They connect it to what they know and hear new things, and then they become great ambassadors for the music. I like the openness and the structure of our projects obliges Breton musicians to engage with it. It breaks them out of their scene, their comfort zone.”
The newly formed ensemble will perform traditional concerts, but also engage young listeners and learners at school programs. The tour coincides with an exhibit dedicated to the Bretons who shaped California, as part of the early history of the Bay Area—a Breton rancher once owned wide swaths of what’s now San Francisco—and the Gold Rush. After their American performances, the project will head to Brittany to play the Festival Interceltique de Lorient, one of Europe’s biggest music festivals, with an audience that often reaches 800,000.
Though few Americans have had a chance to experience Breton music, Kergaravat and his collaborators have noticed a pattern: US audiences tend to be truly enthused and effusively share this enthusiasm with visiting musicians, an attitude starkly different from the more staid receptions back home. “Americans are often genuinely curious and excited, and they don’t hesitate to share that with the musicians,” says Kergaravat. “It has made the Breton artists see their own work in a new light.”
Upcoming shows : https://www.breizh-amerika.com/the-collective.html
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is an organization established to create, facilitate, promote, and sponsor wide-ranging innovative and collaborative cultural and economic projects that strengthen and foster relations and cooperation between the United States of America and the region of Brittany, France.