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Showing her roots with pride

Maria Smith | Friday, April 8, 2005

If you’re the kind of person who loves a top-notch fiddler, this is the time to turn out.No, she’s not Irish, she’s not Scottish and she doesn’t play bluegrass. Natalie MacMaster and her music are pure Cape Breton. But you might be surprised at how familiar MacMaster’s music sounds. This Canadian strain of the Celtic genre dates right back to settlers from the 18th century Scottish Highlands and has stuck as close to the Celtic tradition as just about anything out there.”They say the music of Cape Breton is an older form than the music of Scotland today,” MacMaster said. “We always call it Cape Breton music because it sounds so different, it’s not really the same any more.”The name Cape Breton might not pop up too often on the musical map. But if anyone can put it there, it’s MacMaster. The musician has been touring the United States for a decade, attracting anyone who loves a good Celtic reel or jig. In 2000 she won a Juno award, the Canadian equivalent of a Grammy, for her 1999 release “In My Hands.” In 2001 she was nominated for a Grammy for her 1998 release “My Roots are Showing,” an album of traditional Cape Breton music. MacMaster is certainly one of the most renowned Celtic artists on the musical scene.Over the past several years MacMaster has had the opportunity to perform with Carlos Santana, The Cheiftains, Paul Simon, Luciano Pavarotti, Alison Krauss and other legendary musicians. MacMaster doesn’t always play strictly traditional music – “In My Hands” is a mix of Celtic style, jazz overtones, Spanish-style guitar and other sounds. In 2003 she released “Blueprints,” an album recorded in Nashville with bluegrass greats Bela Fleck, Jerry Douglas and Sam Bush among others.”Well, it’s funny because I had not played with any of those musicians before,” MacMaster said. “To plan a recording that you are going to do in two weeks can be scary. In the final outcome there was no learning curve, no bending – people just played music, and it totally blended, totally fit together. It totally felt right.”But Cape Breton music is MacMaster’s first and foremost love, and her albums always come back to that.MacMaster’s concerts are known for more than just great fiddling. The artist has been playing fiddle since she was nine and a half, but her mother taught her to step dance when she was five, and MacMaster always dances in her concerts. “It’s not like fiddle,” MacMaster said. “I don’t practice dancing, I’m not a trained dancer in that regard. It’s certainly a hobby.The dancing may not be the main draw, but adds to the renowned energy and appeal of MacMaster’s shows.”I think the greatest virtue [of Cape Breton music] is the rhythm,” MacMaster said. “It comes from years of playing for step dancers. You’ll find a lot of people in Cape Breton who dance, just to be able to move to the music.”MacMaster also owes more than a little to a great backing band. Brad Davidge on guitar and vocals, John Chiasson on bass and vocals, Allan Dewar on piano and keyboards, Matt MacIsaac on bagpipes and whistles and Miche Pouliot on drums and percussion are all excellent musicians in their own rights and are a big part of what makes MacMaster’s tours so successful.So if Celtic music is your thing, this is not a show to miss. And even if it’s not, Natalie MacMaster might be the musician to turn you around.”The greatest compliment I’ve ever received after a show was a lady who said she didn’t like fiddle music, but loved my show,” MacMaster said. “So if we can convert non-fiddle-lovers, I’d recommend everybody come out to the show whether you like fiddle music or not.”Natalie MacMaster will perform Friday at 8 p.m. in the Leighton Concert Hall. Tickets cost $15 for students, $26 for seniors, $28 for faculty and staff and $35 for the general public.