Letters: Organic Music: Remembering B'Ween Kay Li

Barra Ó Séaghdha, Dublin 7, writes:

If, like many other JMI readers, I was deeply touched by the letter from Ms Choona Day about the tragically curtailed career of her composer-father B’ween Kay Li, there was a further personal dimension to her story which I would like to share with your readers. Thanks to her, I can now make sense of a childhood memory that had long puzzled me.

I remember twenty or so of us children, and various adult members of the Cork City branch of Na Teaghlaigh Gaelacha, going on a musical picnic to a rocky hillside somewhere in the Cúil Aodha area one sunny Sunday. After knocking back the red lemonade and ham sandwiches, the assembly launched into a vigorous rendition of ‘Aithris an Scadáin Leasaithe’. It was then that a shy-looking figure of foreign aspect stepped forward, seemingly out of nowhere. Holding a jar in each hand, he entered on a series of unusual rhythmic movements, accompanied by curious buzzing and whirring noises. We children were so fascinated that our singing wavered and faltered, creating an unusual somewhat high-pitched warbling ‘Celtic’ effect – which was to become commercially successful only decades later with groups like Enyúna.

Within moments, brandishing a bodhrán with clearly violent intent, our red-faced musical leader was driving away the interloper. I can vaguely recall the sound of shattering glass and a desperate figure hopping on his bike and clattering down the boreen, never to be seen again. I am therefore unable to provide further detail of what I now realise was an extraordinary attempt at Irish musical pluralism and synthesis.

I enclose three rare insects from my collection: the Lesser Spotted Sumatran Reel-accelerator, the Bille Ouilaine Riveraine (which must on no account be allowed to dry out) and the Continental Whirligetiplink. After refreshing and feeding them, would you forward them to Ms Day as some form of symbolic restitution, and an encouragement to her in reviving and extending her estimable father’s work.

Published on 1 November 2006

Barra Ó Séaghdha is a writer on cultural politics, literature and music.

comments powered by Disqus