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In Orbit Beyond the Star System

Pop music Celtic songs are meant to be shared, says Mary Jane Lamond, and not just from singer to audience.


Mary Jane Lamond has one of those angelic voices that makes her sound like a star in the making.

Only in Lamond's world of traditional Celtic music, fame and fortune are not the grand prize. She believes songs are simply to be shared--primarily with friends and neighbors. Such community-based folk music is part of the fabric of everyday life in her hometown of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.

"I think people tend to equate music with performers, but that's not really what this kind of music is about," said Lamond, 28, by phone from a tour stop in San Francisco. Backed by a five-piece band, Lamond makes her Southern California concert debut Saturday in Midway City.

"It's more about exchanging songs between your peers. There's no star system. It's just such a different idea than . . . say, being a Spice Girl. So many people where I live grew up on this music. . . . They play the fiddle or sing Gaelic songs in homes, on porches and in the streets."

Lamond's rural village, Glendale, has only about 250 people and is about 15 miles from the nearest store. "People don't put a record on the stereo at most parties in our town--they make their own music," she said.

About eight years ago, the English-speaking Lamond fell under the spell of traditional Scots-Gaelic music while in nearby North River, Cape Breton, experiencing her first "milling frolic"--a gathering in which a heavy woolen cloth is beat against a table to keep time while people sing in Gaelic.

Inspired to sing Gaelic, Lamond attended Saint Francis Xavier University and earned a degree in Celtic studies. Before graduating in 1995, she released her first album in Canada, "Bho Thir Nan Craobh (From the Land of the Trees)," which features guest fiddler Ashley MacIsaac.

Lamond then toured with both MacIsaac and the Chieftains, and her 1997 album, "Suas e!," was picked up in the United States last year by the Wicklow Entertainment label. A joint venture between BMG Classics, Chieftains leader Paddy Moloney and the Chieftains' management team of Sam Feldman and Steve Macklam, Wicklow was formed in June to bring artists who specialize in world music to a wider audience.

Nominated for a Canadian Juno Award, "Suas e!"--which translates loosely to "Go for it!"--features reels and other songs with themes ranging from immigration and work to love and longing.

Although she sings exclusively in Gaelic, Lamond is no purist. Among the modern ingredients heard on "Suas e!" are electric guitar and bass, programmed keyboards and percussion.

"It's kind of like you're living in two worlds, and trying to bridge a gap between them," she said. "I do like to experiment [and] move the music forward. I feel like as long as I'm singing true to the tradition--if the songs still have a voice of their own--I can bring a more contemporary sound scape in behind them.

"I give the audience an idea of what the whole Cape Breton culture is about when I introduce some of the songs," Lamond said. "This is very old music that was born by answering a real need within a community.

"These traditionals speak to the most basic emotions of human beings. So many of these songs have to do with working and dancing, love and heartbreak . . . the music just has that feeling of something so very genuine."

* Mary Jane Lamond, fiddler Mark Indictor and piper George Hall perform Saturday at the Brothers of St. Patrick, 7820 Bolsa Ave., Midway City. 2 p.m. $7-$15, children 12 and under are free. (818) 727-9014.

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