Common Ground: Carlos Nunez' Celtic Journey
at the Port Hawkesbury Civic Centre, Port Hawkesbury, Cape Breton
(10 October 2008)

In Port Hawkesbury, Nova Scotia, on the southern coast of Cape Breton Island on a warm October evening, Carlos Nunez shone, as fully as the hunter's moon did during the week of Celtic Colours, as he opened the 2008 international festival. Host Nunez, a musician from Galicia, was here for the fourth year to participate in the festival, and his energetic presence continued to impress. Dressed in stark white while performing against the black Celtic Colours' backdrop, he reflected the music emanating from all areas of the stage and orchestrated its flow to the audience with rhythmic body movements, even while he wasn't playing.

To begin, Carlos talked about the commonalities and connections to Celtic music and proclaimed that the first Celtic music festival in Cape Breton probably took place many, many years ago -- when the fishing boats of the Spanish, Basques and Normans gathered.

The Carlos Nunez Band, consisting of Carlos and a fiddler, drummer and guitarist, were fantastic together and individually. They played off each other and set the mood throughout the night. Their fiddler, in a black vest and white blouse, had a bright smile and a special Irish charm. As she played, she stood swaying in one spot as if rooted to the floor, and one could almost see the music rising from her fiddle to sweep around the arena.

Though the night's music often displayed the beauties of piping, we heard Jerry Holland play his composition "Lonesome Eyes" and other pieces with accompanist Marion Dewar, for a special treat. Holland, one of the most accomplished fiddlers and composers on the island, did a duet with string-master J.P. Cormier, bringing stepdancers onto the stage for a lively Cape Breton rally. Buddy MacMaster, unfortunately, was unable to play due to health issues.

The Cape Breton lineup continued with Sabra MacGillivray and her young Celtic Touch Dancers in an interpretive Highland dance style. In contrast to the white-and-black dress of the other performers, both sets of dancers wore bright red, signifying bright leaves twirling and shifting in Cape Breton winds.

Other performers strongly represented their brand of Celtic music, including Annie Ebrel, a vibrant traditional Breton singer; the Blue Engine String Quartet from mainland Nova Scotia, who individually are members of the Symphony Nova Scotia and worked hard to be ready for Celtic Colours; and talented harpist Corrina Hewat, from the old country of Scotland.

Besides Carlos, whose play was smooth and enticing on his variety of instruments, Cape Breton pipers and a group of Cuban pipers called the Gaiteros de La Habana performed. Of interest, the Cubans wore kilts, and they were fine pipers. I almost didn't believe what I was hearing when Celtic-based pipers played music from a Japanese movie soundtrack. The music at first whispered across the stage and then it filled the whole venue.

I enjoyed every minute of this concert. The acts paused with only a breath or two between. The night air absorbed the music and surrounded the audience. From the far end where I stood, watching the stage was just as compelling as watching the two side screens. This little Civic Centre transported listeners into a world of music. Much credit goes to stage manager Declan O'Doherty and to Nunez's sound man, according to co-organizer Joella Foulds, who said creating the concert was "a real team effort." It was well worth the effort.

review by
Virginia MacIsaac

6 December 2008

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