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Scottish band brings its Celtic/Cuban mix to the PEI Jazz & Blues Festival

by Tom CarrollSalsa Celtica

Salsa Celtica, world music band from Scotland, will appear in Charlottetown at the Tim Horton’s Jazz & Blues Festival. The band will perform selections from a new, yet-to-be-named 2006 release, as well as from its first two CDs and the acclaimed 2003 release, El Agua De La Vida.

The band is comprised of Toby Shippey (trumpet), Lino Rocha (vocals), Steve Kettley (saxophones, flute, jews harp), Chris Stout (fiddle), Dougie “El Pulpo” Hudson (congas), Eric Alfonso (timbales), Fraser Fifield (bagpipes, whistle, saxophones), Eamonn Coyne (banjo, tenor guitar), Roland Perrin (keyboards), and David “Demus” Donnelly (bass guitar).

To paraphrase lyrics from another somewhat famous UK group, Salsa Celtica has traveled a long and winding road. Founded in 1995 by Toby Shippey, a trumpet player with a passion to play salsa in the land of Robbie Burns, Salsa Celtica grew like a hothouse flower in the frigid climes of Edinburgh. The band was an immediate hit with the locals and the country’s newly-arrived Hispanic community. Touring the bars and clubs from Skye to Mull, Iona to Barra, Lewis to Orkney, Ullapool and everywhere in between helped the group hone its sound —an amazing combination of traditional salsa instrumentation and the Celtic sounds of the bagpipe, fiddle, banjo, flute, and whistle. Jam sessions after concerts turned into Spanish pronunciation sessions as Hispanic fans helped give the Scots vocal chops to match their enthusiastic playing.

After pooling savings, Salsa Celtica soon headed off to Cuba in search of authentic timbales and to generally soak up the Afro-Cuban sounds of Havana and Santiago de Cuba. As conspicuous as a herd of Highland cattle on Havana's Calle Obispo, they soon found favor with local salsa groups, including Son14 and Sonora La Calle. Swapping whisky for rum, they were asked to join in at musical/religious bembe gatherings and were invited to worship the Afro-Cuban orichas. After acquiring new tastes and skills they returned to Scotland to release two new albums, The Great Scottish Latin Adventure and their current album El Agua De La Vida. Reaching No. 5 in the World Music Chart of Europe, El Agua De La Vida cemented Salsa Celtica’s place within the international world music community.

Two days after leaving Canada, the band will film two scenes in London for Jeremy Brock’s new film Driving Lessons, starring Julie Walters and Rupert Grint. In September, the band’s fourth album will be recorded in Scotland. Calum Malcolm, best known for his work with The Blue Nile, has been named as producer, and the album is set to feature guest performances from English folk diva Eliza Carthy and Catriona McKay of Fiddlers Bid.

Tom Carroll is a freelance writer and Salsa Celtica fan, based in California, who contacted The Buzz via the Internet. Thanks for your contribution, Tom.

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