The only Irish band ever invited to play the massive Rock in Rio festival, the members of Dervish were pleasantly surprised to discover that even heavy metal fans responded enthusiastically to their traditional music.
"Rio was the best trip ever," recalls Dervish's lead singer, Cathy Jordan. "We had never played to 250,000 people before, and they loved us. We played on two different days, once between Sheryl Crowe and Neil Young, and the other day we played before Iron Maiden. We were worried about playing trad music to heavy metal fans, but they were well up for it. Some of them thought that heavy metal had its origins in our music."
Hailed as one of Ireland's best traditional music bands, Dervish has been winning over fans worldwide for years, performing in nations as diverse as China and Colombia.
Maui Arts & Cultural Center photo
Unleashing the Celtic power of Dervish are Cathy Jordan along with Shane Mitchell; (from left, back) Michael Holmes, Tom Morrow, Brian McDonagh (turtleneck) and Liam Kelly.
"We consider ourselves very lucky to be able to travel the world while playing the music that we love," Jordan continues. "We are representing our country and our culture on a world stage."
Usually associated with Sufism, Dervish seems like an unusual name for an Irish band, but then they are known for enrapturing audiences.
"The name Dervish is borrowed from the Sufis, but Brian (McDonagh) who was responsible for the name felt there were many parallels between the Whirling Dervishes and an Irish session of music," she explains. "They spin around and become enraptured by music and reach a higher level of consciousness. The word Dervish means 'the sill of the door into enlightenment.' We feel the same about Irish music."
Formed in 1989, the band features Brian McDonagh on mandola, Liam Kelly on flute and whistles, Shane Mitchell on accordion, Michael Holmes on bouzouki, Tom Morrow on fiddle, and Jordan on vocals and bodhran.
Growing up in a musical family on a small farm in Scramogue, County Roscommon, Jordan loved singing from an early age.
"I was the youngest of 7 and my entire family sang," she recalls. "I had a repertoire at the age of three. I was happiest when I was singing maybe because singing meant timeout from chores and hard graft for the whole family."
Besides Irish music she also absorbed traditional music from America. "There was as much American folk and country music on record in my house as there was Irish music and I loved it all - the Carter family, Hank Williams, Bill Monroe, Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton," she says. "A neighbor came home from living in Dublin with a huge collection of records and introduced me to music by people like Bob Dylan, John Prine, Willie Nelson, as well as Planxty and the Bothy Band. It was a brilliant age of discovery."
Dervish's exuberant style of Irish music is rooted in the Sligo tradition. "Irish music had and has many regional styles," she explains. "The Sligo style is fast, passionate, highly ornamented and strong, yet delicate when required."
"It takes a little rowdiness to appreciate a band like Dervish," noted a review in Rambles magazine. "Alternating between blistering instrumental sets and songs sung in both English and Gaelic, the band seemed completely at ease on the stage. Jordan's voice is a pure drop of Ireland, one of the best to come out of a country known for its singing."
Reviewing their recent album "Travelling Show," The Irish Star praised: "Dervish's attention to tunes render them with an undeniable effervescence. 'The Masters Return' captures the incendiary quality of the band's live performances, the driving percussive forces of bouzouki and guitar propelling fiddle and flute towards delirious infinity."
While primarily focused on traditional music, they have recorded songs by American artists like Bob Dylan ("Boots of Spanish Leather") and Suzanne Vega ("The Queen and the Soldier").
"I chose to do those two songs and (Cher's) 'Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves,' " says Jordan. "To me they sound like they could be from Ireland. I love the stories and language used in them, not to mention the melodies."
These traditional artists have sometimes contended with pressure to become more commercial and pop-flavored. "We went through that phase, but we're safely out the far side of that pressure," she notes. "That's not to say we're not open to new musical journeys, but not for the sake of the commercial world."
Last year the band launched an ambitious multi-media production designed to bring Irish music into the contemporary age, performing with audio-visual animation footage and archival material. "It was really challenging to do and great fun and interesting," she says. "But it's too expensive to take on the road for all shows."
Irish music is said to contain three elements - goltrai, geantri and suantra - and Dervish's music embraces all three. Goltrai means the music is so moving it makes you want to cry. Suantra means it can be so soothing and melancholy that it makes you want to sleep. And geantri means that it's so energetic and lively it makes you want to dance.
People shouldn't think Irish music is "old-fashioned, outdated, and simplistic," she says. "It's a living, breathing tradition that takes a lifetime to get to the bottom of, and then you realize you've only scratched the surface."
And what does she love most about performing Irish music?
"I feel like I'm carrying the flame of Irish music that has been passed on to me and others like me to take care of it and hand it on to the next generation," she says. "I love the fact that it carries with it the stories and struggles of our ancestors - their pain and their excitement, their loss and their longing. I also love how it makes people feel. I can see their happiness and sometimes their tears."
* Dervish performs at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Castle Theater at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. Tickets are $12, $22 and $32, plus applicable fees, available from the MACC box office, 242-7469 or www.mauiarts.org.
Can you imagine hearing a guitar jam session between Led Zep's Jimmy Page, U2's The Edge and the White Stripes' Jack White? This historic teaming of rock guitar gods is captured in the Maui Film Festival screening of "It Might Get Loud" Wednesday in Castle Theater.
"Does this sound like rock heaven? It is," praised Rolling Stone.
"The cameras follow each of them home, let them talk shop and then put them onstage together in Los Angeles for an electrifying jam session."
The film shows how each musician bonded with his instrument and broke with the prevailing sounds of the day, and it includes revealing glimpses of the musicians' practice spaces and other locales that figured in their careers (including the school where the teenage members of U2 first rehearsed).
All express admiration for each other, and as the Florida Times-Union noted: "Watch the admiring smiles that creep onto the faces of The Edge and White as Page turns his Les Paul to 11 and starts blasting out the riff from "Whole Lotta Love." They're big rock stars, but all of a sudden they're 14 again."
* "It Might Get Loud" screens at 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in the MACC's Castle Theater. Tickets are $10, and half-price for kids 12 and under, available as above.