“Kennedy doesn’t so much imbibe or inhale as swallow, whole and unadulterated, melodic and rhythmic influences from beyond her kith and kin. A delicious mix of influences abound, without ever sacrificing identity.” – The Irish Times
Nuala Kennedy’s singing and flute playing springs from the traditional music of Irlend and Scotland, and from the fathomless realms of her own imagination. A consummate performer with a buoyant personality, her m usic has been described as “unique,” “evocative,” and “soul-satisfying.”
Nuala grew up in Dundalk, County Louth, on the East coast of Ireland, a musical area steeped in mythology and with long historical links to Scotland. Sche began paying traditional music at the age of seven when her father introduced her to her fierst whistle teacher. Nuala instantly fell in love with traditional Irish tunes and became a quick study. By the age of twelve she picked up the wooden flute and joined a local ceilidh band, with whom she was winning awards by the time she was thirteen. “I never dreamed when I started playing in that very social and visceral way,” Kennedy says, “that something that was such an organic part of my childhood would lead to a career in traditional music. All I knew was that I loved the music and that I wanted to play all the time.”
At the age of eighteen, Nuala moved to Scotland to study art at Edinburgh College of Art. Captivated immediately by Edinburgh’s traditional music session scene, she developed good friendships with many of the musicians there and was tremendously influenced by fellow Irish expatriate Cathal McConnel, who over the years played an important mentorship role in Nuala’s music. Her instrumental prowess deepened and her repertoire expanded to include both Scottish and Irish tunes. Nuala began touring widely in Europe, Canada, and Australia with her first band, Fine Friday, a trio including guitarist Kris Drever and fiddler Anna-Wendy Stevenson.
Nuala moved to Inverness in the Highlands in 2007 to deepen her knowledge of the Scots Gaelic musical traditions. This one-year intensive study of the best influences of the two cultures expanded Nuala’s knowledge and repertoire even more, shaping her instrumentation and vocals to an extraordinary level. During this time, Nuala formed her own band and released her first solo CD, The New Shoes. It was warmly received around the world. The album was voted traditional album of the week by The Irish Times, and traditional highlight of 2008 by Hotpress. The Irish Times called it, “A dazzling debut. Unhurried yet freewheeling, loose-limbed yet disciplined, [Kennedy’s] voice is a natural, earthy instrument entirely in concert with her woody flute lines. She is not only an exceptional interpreter of the tradition: her own tunes glisten with freshness. Spellbinding.”
Kennedy was invited to write a piece for Glasgow’s prestigious Celtic Connections festival. She put together an hour-long show featuring nine players from around the world. It received a rapturous response from the audience and press, including The Herald, saying this was “a great big gorgeous musical event – one seamless segue of breathtaking music and tight vocal harmonies.” This experience whetted her appetite for both composition and collaboration, and led to her participation in Burnsong 2007 and ArtOmi in New York, both important artistic residencies where her talents for both organization and creativity were brought to the fore. Several of the musicians with whom she worked at this stage are featured on her 2010 solo album, Tune In (Compass Records), inspired by a vintage radio dial. “Radio Kennedy,” says The Scotsman, “is never static.”
In addition to performing the traditional music she grew up with, Kennedy often works with musicians from other genres. In July 2009, in collaboration with support from the Scottish Arts Council, she toured a successful new world music project entitled ‘VOYAGE DE NUIT,’ showcasing songs and compositions inspired by flamenco, jazz and traditional music. In October 2009, she toured Ireland with MISLAID, a collaboration with Norman Blake (Teenage Fanclub), Euros Childs (Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci) and Irish fiddler Caoimhin O’Raghaillaigh. She has performed and recorded with American hipster and indie-poet Will Oldham (Domino Records 2008), French guitarist Philippe Guidat, Nova Scotian traditional musician Troy McGillivray and cutting-edge Canadian composer Oliver Schroer, with whom she recorded Enthralled, a duo album of entirely original compositions. She is also part of the group ORIEL: the Music and Song of South-East Ulster, which features Gerry ‘fiddle’ O’Connor, Giles le Bigot, and Martin Quinn.
Nuala’s contribution to traditional music has been recognized in her adopted homeland of Scotland, where she has been awarded numerous grants and commissions. Kennedy continues to deepen her understanding of, and commitment to traditional music, which is evident in her powerful and passionate performances.