Celtic Music Reels In Listeners

From Enya to Capercaillie, artists pluck inspiration from traditional music

If you cheered for those kilt-wearing warriors in "Braveheart," then you did so with the Scottish band Capercaillie playing in the soundtrack. If you wept during the Tom Cruise movie "Far and Away," you were probably soothed by the Irish singer Enya.

Celtic music has arrived on the American music scene with the force of a swinging shillelagh. Visit your local record store, and you'll find the fiddling jigs and sprightly reels of a culture that extends from Ireland, Scotland, and Wales to the coasts of Spain and North America.

Sales have jumped 50 percent in the past three years at Green Linnet Records of Danbury, Conn., the nation's largest Celtic label, and eight of the top 15 albums on Billboard's world music chart are Celtic.

But if this sounds like a handful of four-leaf clovers, it hasn't always been so. Until recently, Irish music meant "Danny Boy" and little else.

The folk movement of the 1960s and '70s changed all that. Following in the footsteps of American songwriter Bob Dylan, groups like Silly Wizard in Scotland and the Chieftains in Ireland began to learn and play the music of their fathers and grandfathers.

"Young people used to consider it uncool, but then they began to see traditional music as an expression of themselves," says Judith Joiner, a spokeswoman at Green Linnet. "It was tied up with almost this sense of nationalism."

Today, Celtic music has become a vibrant melting pot of styles. Irish accordionist Sharon Shannon spices up her music with reggae beats, and the Scottish rock group Wolfstone would make many a head-banger proud.

One band, Afro Celt Sound System, has even helped create a new form of dance music, called "trance," by combining traditional Irish melodies with the African polyrhythms of Senegal.

But whether it's an age-old jig or something more cosmopolitan, Celtic music has kept true to its purpose. "Like the rest of the world-beat scene," says Ms. Joiner, "it's really just music made by folks to dance to."

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