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Baile An Salsa: Closer Than It Seems

I stream directly from the beautiful city of Galway, Ireland, where everything that can happen is likely to happen and the music scene is so vast and varied that it will bump into you on the supermarket line. It's not all uncommon, for instance, for you to join a session, play a couple of tunes, and then find out the next day that one of those musicians is the fiddler of a band you've been into for years! That happens to be just what I'm here to talk about today: those things that are closer to us than they may seem at first glance. Would you believe me if I told you that I only recently found out that the host of a session where I regularly play here is the fiddler of one of the most remarkable Irish bands I've ever had the pleasure of adding to the Daily Pint playlists?

Well then.

I give you Baile An Salsa, a group formed in Galway in 2012, who plays a very interesting fusion of traditional Irish music with Latin rhythms that they nicknamed “Salsa-Trad”. A fusion, like, in which everything that is fused remains as well defined as it is meticulously well executed. A combination of Latin and Irish musicians creates a unique sound that is true to both musical traditions and at the same time stands out as nothing quite like we've ever heard before. We've Andres Martorell, Uruguayan, on vocals; Alan Preims, Italian, on congas; Benjamin Becerra, Venezuelan, on bass; Brendan McCreanor, Irish, on flutes and uilleann pipes (Irish bagpipes); Ger Chambers, Irish, on accordion; Frailan Moran, Cuban, on percussion; Michael Chang, American, on the fiddle; Brian Ferguson, Irish, in bodhrán; Colm Naughton, Irish, on banjo and mandolin; and AnnaLisa Monticelli on piano, whose nationality I couldn't figure out. As diverse as the origins of each musician are the stories of their interest and involvement with Irish and Latin rhythms, and therefrom is the sound of Baile An Salsa – which, by way of bouncing one style off the other and combining percussions, melodic lines, harmonies and sensations, suggest that ineffable sense that everything is but a single thing at the end of the day – that is to say, that distinctions are fun to play with so long as we don't take them too seriously.

Traditional Irish tunes are played over Cuban rhythms, and songs like the classic “Chan Chan” (popularized by the indelible Buena Vista Social Club) are commented on by typically Irish phrases on the flute and fiddle; and the various percussions intersect and follow each other in a way that I have rarely heard in my life – even more so when talking about trad, in which percussion usually gravitates around just one or two instruments (guitar and bodhrán, for example). Lyrics are sung in English, Spanish and, why not, Irish! The moment we settle into a style, the band immediately throws us across the Atlantic, only to bring us back as soon as we realize what's going on again. The result sounds like a heated discussion between the Latino family, with their passionate and often rather radical counterpoints – while the Irish sound, in its fury and assertiveness, seems to bring a conciliatory intention. Once again, that is to say that the kind of contrast that this band brings about with a dance of such distant music cultures elicits a sense of unity emanating from the very disagreement between different musical grammars. Commenting their take on trad, fiddler Michael Chang once told me that their sound is "not exactly everyone's cup of tea", which is to say that the deviation from the norm they bring about may not be always accommodated by the more traditionalist perception. I am, however, reminded of remarks by modern musicians such as jazz bassist Adam Neely, according to whom there are no real rules to music so long as it sounds good. Moreover, I am brought back to one of the classic lectures by philosopher Alan Watts, who once said that "when we examine our blood streams under a microscope, we see there's a hell of a fight going on. All sorts of microorganisms are chewing each other up. And if we got it overly fascinated with our view of our blood streams in the microscope, we should start taking sides. Which would be fatal. Because the health of our organism depends on the continuance of this battle. What is, in other words, conflict in one level of magnification is harmony at a higher level." The sound of Baile And Salsa seems to resonate with such style of thinking, to the point where we might catch ourselves wondering where are all these borders after all?

It is, perhaps, a breath of hope in humanity to appreciate this kind of sound. In a time when world tensions only seem to tighten more and more, that is, and our differences, swollen into disproportionate conspicuity, are sold as matters of greatest calamity – conflicts, I mean, between your anti-this and pro-thats, between political cardinal points and, time and again, between countries that take their borders way too seriously. I mean that a piece of art like this might just suggest us a bit of a fresh outlook on how illusory these dividing lines are that we draw on maps. I find myself thinking: what a lovely thing that cultures isolated by an ocean can produce in consonance with each other when they simply stop to admire and play off whatever is beautiful and unique to one another – making these differences intertwine into a wholesome musical novelty.

Baile An Salsa has two albums available on Spotify, and this is the week's recommendation from The Daily Pint.

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