From San Francisco to Lorient, violonist Colm Ó Riain demystifies Parisian perceptions of Breton culture
Breizh Amerika Collective member, Colm Ó Riain, tell us about performing in Brittany this summer. Hailed as a "genius fiddler" by Mike Scott of The Waterboys, Irish-born violinist and composer Colm O'Riain is an accomplished and fiery improviser in multiple genres (jazz, classical, blues, Irish). In the USA, which he currently calls home for over a decade, he has enthralled audiences on stages as diverse as CBGB's in New York to Fillmore West and Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco. He has performed at festivals and venues throughout the world from Alaska to Argentina, Sweden to Vietnam.
What surprised you the most in performing with the Collective and performing in Brittany?
How many bands do YOU know that have launched their own beer at the beginning of a festival? (Breizh Amerika craft beer was launched summer 2018)
Other surprises? Thanks to British Airways’s stellar baggage loss performance, I stayed a day in Paris before TGVing to Lorient. I met a few friends, including some amateur musicians and I was struck by the general negativity expressed toward Breton music — and perhaps implicitly, Breton culture? — in my conversations in Paris. These unhelpful stereotypes of “simplicity” are , for me, way off the mark and ignoring a great richness. Not only is the use of beat and rhythm in Breton music quite complex compared to a wide variety of other musics but any music that can absorb the influences that the Breizh Amerika Collective introduce is clearly a powerful vehicle.
Also .. maybe after seeing how the audience in San Francisco responded with their feet, it wasn’t a complete surprise but ... the strength of the relationship between dancers and musicians was a delight to behold: circle dancing in their hundreds and Lors Landat shepherding them all the way!
You performed with the Collective in Lorient without much rehearsal time before. How did your musical influences of classical, jazz, and Irish help you make a smooth transition when playing Breton music?
Yes, due to travel and time restrictions, the rehearsal schedule was eh, abbreviated!
In talking about the smoothness of my transition — trugarez — you can’t downplay Julien Le Mentec's clarity of vision and the fact that all these guys are great musicians. It’s a real pleasure to be part of.
As for me, while I’m sure I missed a lot of things, it’s possible my various influences have taught me to listen for a wide variety of musical features — melody types, rhythmic styles , phrasing and ornamentation techniques etc. I’d guess that my jazz and blues experience is where I primarily meet the Collective but my grounding in Irish music was probably very useful for quickly recognizing the general forms , which are quite similar, as you’d expect of musical cousins.
Do you see yourself taken part again in the Breizh Amerika Collective? If yes, how should it evolve?
I certainly would love to — I felt like I was with brothers with the Collective. I really like the combination of fun and serious: a lot of laughter but let’s get this done ... right.
As for your second question, I’m not sure evolution does “should” — go ask the dodo! — but I have no doubt that in the Collective’s hands, this music has the inherent strength and richness to absorb and adapt — taking influences here, messing with people’s minds there and in general, being a real celebration of music, culture and the World.
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.