Celtic music in Canada

Celtic music in Canada

Celtic music is primarily associated with the folk traditions of Ireland, Scotland and Wales, as well as the popular styles derived from folk culture. In addition, a number of other areas of the world are known for the use of Celtic musical styles and techniques, including Newfoundland, and much of the folk music of Canada's Maritimes, especially on Cape Breton Island.


There are very strong connections between Newfoundland folk music and Irish music, however elements of English folk music and French-Canadian and Acadian music can be heard within the style.

It should be noted that a very traditional strain of Irish music exists in Newfoundland, especially in the primarily Irish-Catholic communities along the southern shore.

The instrumentation in Newfoundland music includes the button accordion, guitar, violin, tin whistle and more recently the bodhrán. Many Newfoundland traditional bands also include bass guitar and drum kit. Other folk instruments such as the mandolin and bouzouki are common especially among Newfoundland bands with an Irish leaning.

Because Newfoundland is an island in the North Atlantic, many of the songs focus on the fishery and seafaring. Many songs chronicle the history of this unique people. Instrumental tune styles include jigs, reels, two steps, and polkas.

Newfoundland musicians and musical groups

*Fiddle players: Rufus Guinchard, Kelly Russell, Emile Benoit and Patrick Moran
*Button accordion players: Minnie White and Harry Hibbs
*Bodhran players: Fergus O'Byrne and Paddy Mackey
*Popular Newfoundland traditional music group: Irish Descendants, Great Big Sea, The Punters, Shanneyganock, Connemara, The Masterless Men, Kevin Collins, and Greeley's Reel.
*Irish music band in Newfoundland: Ryan's Fancy

Nova Scotia and Cape Breton Island

Cape Breton is internationally known for unusual styles of Cape Breton fiddling, which is derived from Scottish techniques. The island has produced traditional music-based popular performers like John Allan Cameron, The Rankin Family, Natalie MacMaster, Buddy MacMaster, The Barra MacNeils, Rita MacNeil, Ashley MacIsaac and others. Irish traditional music is also very popular on the island, particularly Irish folk songs.

Prince Edward Island

Prince Edward Island has long been associated with traditional Celtic music.


There are strong ties between traditional Québécois music and the music of Brittany, Ireland, Scotland and the Maritimes. The songs generally draw more from the French tradition, whereas the dance tunes are more closely related to Celtic traditions. Fiddle and accordion are the most common lead instruments, while piano and guitar often provide accompaniment. More recently, swing has significantly influenced accompaniment styles and techniques. La Bottine Souriante is one of the most well-recognized groups which exemplifies this tradition. Rosheen is a good example of Québécois and Irish roots perfectly blended together creating a unique celtic sound. The only band that has a female singer.

Popular music

A number of popular Canadian rock bands are also influenced by Celtic folk traditions. The most important and influential such band was Spirit of the West, whose musical marriage of traditional Irish and Scottish jigs and reels with hard rock and Britpop influences paved the way for later acts such as Great Big Sea, Captain Tractor, Mackeel, The Mahones, Ashley MacIsaac, Jimmy George, Mudmen, Uisce Beatha and The Clumsy Lovers.

Figgy Duff and The Rankin Family served much the same role in pop music, influencing later artists such as Leahy, Mary Jane Lamond, The Barra MacNeils and Natalie MacMaster.

See also

*Canadian Gaelic

External Reference:Celtic Music Base, http://www.celticmusicbase.com

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