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MUSIC

A Global Presence

Irish Chieftains have flourished over the years, making music the world over.

March 20, 1997|DON HECKMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When the members of the veteran Irish music group the Chieftains walk on stage Friday at Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, they will be well into their 35th year as an active ensemble.

"There are an awful lot of marriages that don't last that long," says Paddy Moloney, the group's founder and champion player of the uilleann (bag) pipes.

In fact, if any musical group can lay claim to the phrase "been there, done that," it's the Chieftains. In their 3 1/2 decades together, they have performed in almost every imaginable musical context.

"You name it, we've pretty much done it," says Moloney.

The band just won a Grammy for its latest album, "Santiago" (RCA). It is the fifth consecutive year in which they have garnered the music business' most coveted honor, and their 16th Grammy altogether. Their other recent release, "The Long Black Veil" (RCA), has sold over 500,000 copies, making it the group's first gold record in the U.S.

Among the guest stars on the two albums: Linda Ronstadt, Los Lobos, Sting, Mick Jagger, Van Morrison and Sinead O'Connor. It's a stellar collection but typical of the unusual collaborations the Chieftains have entered into on the group's 30-plus albums.

Other remarkable Chieftain get-togethers include such fascinating meetings as 1994's performance at the Todaiji Temple in Japan with Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, the Tokyo New Philharmonic and 150 chanting Buddhist monks.

In 1983, the group toured China and became the first Western group to perform with a Chinese folk orchestra. In 1990, they appeared in Berlin in Roger Waters' (former Pink Floyd) "The Wall" before an audience of 350,000.

Moloney shrugs aside references to the Chieftains' eclectic list of activities. "Whenever we've gotten together with someone, somewhere, it always seemed the right thing to do at the time."

But he also adds that he was enormously impressed last year when he heard Pakistani qawwali singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan perform at Universal Amphitheatre.

"He was incredible," says Moloney. "And I really believe I could have been sitting up there with him and his men, playing my pipes, and I wouldn't have put a note wrong. . . . I talked to him afterward, and I have some ideas about getting together."

The Chieftains' link to global music is at least one reason the band has remained so fresh and alive for 35 years. But equally important is their dedication to traditional Irish music.

"To me it is one of our great arts," says Moloney. "When I started the band, I wanted to make this great folk music better known throughout the world.

"The fact is," he says, "that we once used to worry about this music fading way. But now there are no fears of the sort we had in the '40s or '50s, that the traditional music was going to die out. It's here to stay. And I'm happy to believe that the Chieftains have had something to do with keeping it alive."

BE THERE

The Chieftains play Fri., 8 p.m., at Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza Auditorium, 2100 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd. Tickets are $44, $29 and $21. (805) 449-2787.

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