FolkWorld article by The Mollis:

2 minutes from Ireland to Spain

Expo Tops & Flops

Carlos Nunez; photo by The Mollis

Expo 2000 - a world-wide showcase with plenty of superlatives as controversial as they are: Hanover's Expo is the first World Exhibition taking place in Germany, and never before more countries have taken part in a world exhibition. At the same time, Expo 2000 seems to become the first big financial disaster of the new millennium, with only about half of the expected visitors. Michael & Christian Moll went to see Expo 2000, visiting there a high profile concert of the Galician Celts and finding out from the local music spies what the Irish music contingent during the first two EXPO months was like...

Having the theme "Humankind - Nature - Technology", it is quite a symbolic progress that a world exhibition puts the nature and its relationship with the humans in the foreground, wanting to promote a sustainable development of our planet to save it for future generations. Though having this pretentious and complex theme, first of all a visit to the Expo is one thing, and that is fun. Anybody expecting much information and solutions on the future of our planet might be a bit frustrated, still it is most exciting to walk in a couple of kilometres through nearly all countries of the world, seeing in their presentations the way the countries would like to be seen - often being quite far away from what they really are... Talking about music, the EXPO has had (and still has) quite a few delicious folk music concerts on offer - yet you have had to find out about them, which proved to be a very difficult task. If you called at the EXPO to find out about Folk music, you needed to be more than lucky to get decent info. Only those deeply involved in the folk music scene had of course their canals to find out about the EXPO events, with the result that some of the concerts were very poorly visited.

Xurxo and Carlos Nunez, photo by the Mollis The Galician concert at the end of July was probably one of the most special moments of the EXPO - at least folk music wise. It was the first time ever that the two main stars of the Galician scene, the Carlos Núņez Band and Milladoiro, played on the same stage at one evening. Put together by the Spanish musicians' union, it is remarkable that the EXPO put the Galician Celts into the centre of an evening of the world exhibition.
The atmosphere at this concert in the EXPO's concert hall "Beat Box" was relaxed and enthusiastic - also because of the big Spanish contingent in the audience, proving once again that the Spanish temper is just the right thing to get a party going. Starting off the night were Luar Na Lubre, a relatively traditional Galician band having built up quite a name in their home country and recording for a major label. It's good music they are offering, yet they miss out to be a really special band - there is always the special bit missing. Still, Luar Na Lubre were the perfect opener for three hours of brilliant Galician music.
Carlos Núņez had this night a very strong programme, now having only a five piece band, featuring Carlos' old friend, the magnificent string instrumentalist, fiddler and singer Pancho Alvarez, then Carlos' brother Xurxo, who is quickly becoming one of the best percussionists of the Celtic music worlds, a new bass player and finally young Irish fiddler Denise Boyle. The music of the new band sounds closer to the roots of the music than Carlos' last line-up; it just puts the music in all its beauty into the centre of the show - and there is still enough show element as well. Carlos brought along two great special guests, the one being the gorgeous Portuguese singer Teresa Salgueira joining the boys in two songs, the other being the magnificent flamenco bass player Carles Benavent. It's been another powerful proof of Carlos Núņez' virtuosity and taste. Although Carlos has just brought out a new CD in Spain (which is not too likely to be released interantionally; it's mainly intended for the Spanish market) which has once again directly become gold, the music of the evening was mainly based on Carlos' latest international album release, "Os Amores Libres", definitely one of the most exciting CD releases of the last year.
Denise Boyle, photo by the Mollis Finishing off the night was the band which might be best described as the Galician Chieftains: Milladoiro. Having been probably the most important folk band from Galicia of the last 30 years, Milladoiro offer strong and beautiful music with a very own destinctive sound. This concert at the EXPO was one of the first concerts since founding member Rodrigo Romaní left the band after having given for more than 20 years his strong contribution to the band's sound. He is now replaced by two youngsters - a fiddler and a harpist. Milladoiro's music is very mature and secure, yet it is exciting music from musicians who know very well their business.
An interesting note gives the fact that all three Galician bands left some Irish tunes for the encore or the last official number, with the audience always just then going wild and crying for more. Is this still a lack of self-confidence of the bands, that they tend to lend some safe (and often not too original) Irish tunes for their finale numbers? And is this really what the audience loves to have? Who knows, at least this a strong sign that the Irish dominance in the Celtic folk music market is still very much alive, even with the top stars of Galician music.

But let's now walk on from Spain to Ireland, which is at the EXPO only 200 metres away. The Irish pavilion itself presented Ireland as a modern technology country with a very old heritage, shown in the monuments and relicts of the old times. The pavilion did not present the traditional music culture though. At quite the other end of the EXPO area, you could also find an Irish Pub, where you could buy your Guinness for a high EXPO price, and listen to the often poor Irish music on offer in the Pub (well that's perhaps a fitting tribute to a big share of commercial Irish pubs around the world).
The Irish National Day at the EXPO in June had some music stars on offer: There was Donal Lunny presenting his orchestra piece written for the EXPO, which was maybe for some of the folk and trad music lovers a bit too heavy, too orchestral.
On an other occasion Iarla O'Lionaird played in one of the big EXPO venues, singing Sean Nós to slides from Ireland, and this star of the Irish scene attracted only five spectators to the free (except of the Expo entrance fee) concert. August saw also for a full week Kila playing at the Irish pavilion, finishing the week off with an official gig at the EXPO's "Beatbox" concert hall.
Still not every cultural, and not every Irish event at the Expo is excellent - the Irish delegation invited for three days an Irish band to the EXPO that played only the best known and much too often played tunes of the Irish traditions - and this even not too good or original. The audience went nevertheless wild - it is not always a too pretentious audience at the EXPO...

Milladoiro, photo by the Mollis Later on, during the second half of the EXPO, more Irish concerts will happen, including as possible highlight a Donegal evening with Altan at the 20th October, just a few days before the final day of the EXPO.

Besides Irish and Galician music, there was also a high profile showcase of Breton music, featuring Alan Stivell and many more. No Scottish, Welsh or English folk music contingent, though. The Cubans had a lot of their music on the Cuba National Day, the WOMAD arranged their festival at the EXPO, and there were so many more music attractions at the world exhibition.

But there is not only the Expo - Hanover has for Irish music fans more to offer. On the one hand there is the excellent MacGowan's Irish pub (Bruederstrasse, In 2000 it got for the second time the prestigious Guinness award 'Irish pub of the year'. Many of the Irish musicians playing at the Expo go afterwards for their pint to this institution; and they have also regular well known music guest from Ireland. On the other hand there is a healthy scene of younger (German) musicians playing excellent Irish traditional music. We have interviewed some musicians of Hanover's premium Irish band Dereelium - you can read this second part of "Irish music in Hanover" later this year.

Photo Credit: All photos by the Mollis:
(1) Carlos Nuñez (in front of Cologne Cathedral)
(2) Xurxo & Carlos Nuñez
(3) Denise Boyle
(4) Milladoiro

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