Many years before what we call "World Music" appeared on the scene, certain individuals had already understood the enormous value and vast variety of the world's various musical traditions and had dedicated their lives to their study. One such person is Ross Daly.
Although of Irish descent, ...
World Music/Contemporary | World Music/Traditional
Music doesn’t understand national borders. It can’t be so easily constrained. Music grows, it travels, and it resonates. Traditions, sounds, styles all interconnect. The modal music that Ross Daly explores almost seems to exist outside time, weaving strands from so many parts of the world and combining past, present, and future together in gliding, mesmerizing melodies. He’ll be bringing that beautiful musical magic to New England on his tour in March.
“Modal music – music that’s based around tones or modes rather than Western scales – covers a region that stretches from the north west of Africa to west China,” Daly explains. “All of those areas have things in common, and they’re all constantly changing and evolving.”
Daly is a master of the Mediterranean lyra, a bowed fiddle that also has more than a dozen sympathetic strings. He’s spent his life exploring the possibilities and connections in modal music, recording and performing all over the globe as well as hosting the annual Labyrinth musical workshop in his home village of Houdetsi on the island of Crete.
He’s lived there since 1975, drawn to the place as part of a musical odyssey that began when he was just thirteen years old.
“I’m of Irish descent, born in England and raised everywhere,” Daly recalls. “I studied classical music when I was young, but once I was in my teens and heard Indian and Iranian music everything changed. I went to India and Afghanistan and studied the sitar and rabab. On the way I passed through Crete and fell in love with the lyra and the music. I came back in 1975 and stayed. Some things in life grab you; Crete and its music did that for me.”
In 1982 he began Labyrinth, which started as a very loose collective, a study group delving into the modal music of different traditions.
“We’d invite people to come and play,” Daly remembers. “It developed into a group called Labyrinth, then a production company, and extended to an annual music school.”
After some years in Athens, the Labyrinth Musical Workshop moved back to Crete, hosting students who wanted to study modal music and traditions. “A village is better than a city for this, everything’s in walking distance. We began with one-week seminars, everyone living together.”
Lyra virtuoso Kelly Thoma was a musician who attended the Labyrinth workshops. Now Daly’s wife, she’ll accompany him on the four-date tour through Massachusetts, Maine, and Vermont, as will contrabassist Michael Harrist and tanburi Tev Stevig. Boston Greek and Balkan favorites Beth Bahia Cohen and Vasilis Kostas will open the program for the March 29 concert. It’s hardly his first time in the U.S.; Daly’s a regular visitor, playing dates here almost every year. One of his most recent appearances was at New York’s Carnegie Hall in 2015.
Although he’s deeply versed in many modal traditions, these days Daly plays what he calls ‘contemporary modal music.’
“My earlier recordings were a mix of original music and traditional pieces that I arranged,” Daly says. “But I’ve always been drawn to composition, so in recent years the work on the albums has all been my own. I can construct my own strange point of view.”
He’s amassed a large catalogue of music over time, a remarkable total of 38 albums, with 2014’s The Other Side his most recent release. Along the way he’s also developed a generous ethos about his work.
“Everything except the latest one is available free from my website,” Daly notes. “It’s not as if I expect to make money from them. Once the newest one has earned enough for us to go back into the studio, that will be free, too.”
The music he writes pulls from different corners of the world. Threads of North Africa mingle with the bright, varied colors of India. Swooping melodies from the Balkans are tempered by Asian delicacy, and the whole has a transcendent quality. Daly’s contemporary modal music comes from no time and all time, from everywhere and nowhere. But perhaps that’s apt for a man who’s never considered himself a national of any country.
“There’s a way to belong but not to be a native,” Daly says. “I live outside a national identity and that’s always been a great advantage; I can feel at home anywhere.”
Ross Daly’s concerts with Kelly Thoma, along with Michael Harrist (contrabass/percussion) and Tev Stevig (tanbur and plucked strings). Beth Bahia Cohen (bowed strings) will open the program for the concert in Cambridge on March 27th.