Children of the Smoke: Painting Alban Ribbons

Possibly the most evasive task before the Council of Scottish Clans & Associations is that of painting the colorful unbroken ribbons of Scottish heritage that begin in Scotland, then flow across the water and eventually into to every nook and cranny across the globe.

The ribbons signify several things.  They tell us that we have a heritage – a pretty darn cool heritage.  Critically though, the ribbons also connect heritage to humans – to contemporary Scottish Americans.  The ribbons signify that we are fundamentally tethered to our past, be it good or ill or both.  Heritage is there to educate us and to explain better who we are today – so long as we choose to recognize and embrace it.  The greater one’s grasp on one’s own heritage, the greater the insight into one’s personal identity.  It’s only common sense but for centuries history (and historians) have conspired against heritage having much impact for Scots.  Unlike many other American ethnic cultures, Scottish Americans are still working on it.

The Council’s job is to bring those gorgeous Alban ribbons to life for everyone who wants to discover and explore them.  Make the ribbons visible.  Hearable.  Touchable.  Paint the ribbons with color and truth and make them speak relevant messages out loud to all Scottish Americans, especially the young ones.  Remember, the paintings are not complete until the American ends of the ribbons are well connected to humans.  The task is not finished until every Scottish American is proudly clutching at least one and likely many of those Alban ribbons, ready to pass them along to the young ‘uns.

Sitting on the porch on a quiet Sunday morning listening to the remarkable new gaelic diaspora album Children of the Smoke has brought on an a Ben Nevis sized grin.  Composer/arranger/producer/unstoppablegenius Jim Sutherland and his Struileag Shore to Shore team have indeed begun to paint our Alban ribbons for us.  If that weren’t good enough news, here is the really keen part:  The Struileag brush begins at the difficult end of the ribbon.

Children of the Smoke begins its work with today’s humans – informing 21st century lives with a personal Scottish past.  The album has the wonderful effect of speaking to youthful contemporary Scottish Americans and filling some of the empty spaces in their world with their own Scottish heritage.  Perhaps it is the impact of mixing ancient language, instruments and experience with cutting edge musical forms that creates that connection.  Whatever it is, young Americans are hungry today for a sense of true self as they make their way in an increasingly homogeneous world.  Honest heritage spoken in the right language can help.

In the end, the full cultural success of Children of the Smoke is not necessarily found in the individual tunes although each one of them is completely awesome.    The full message of this wonderful diaspora story is perfectly captured when the album is heard in its entirety.  Just sit down with a dram and listen to it – it was produced as a rich multimedia show after all.  The traditional sense of lives ripping and tearing from ancient homes tinged with danger, uncertainty and hope translates well in many of the traditionally tinged tunes while David “Corvid” McCallum’s rap style and bagpipes immediately bring that ancient past to bear on his own 21st Century urban life in North America.  Nice.  All in all it conjures thoughts about what we may have lost when the physical bond with an ancient homeland was broken.  Children of the Smoke very effectively makes those connections for many folks who may never even have contemplated it.  That’s a good thing.

Finally, for Scottish Americans, specially younger Scottish Americans, Children of the Smoke is a very important – and joyous – reminder that the Scottish diaspora is well and truly a global family.  Aye, the Scots hit America hard and helped shape this nation.  Yet that also happened in Argentina, Russia, Poland, Australia, China, India, Malawi – you name it.  Gets to be akin to Johnny Cash’s old tune “I’ve been everywhere, man”.  But there it is – we have been everywhere.  And one listen to Children of the Smoke reminds us of our wonderful global diaspora family-without-borders.

So be cool.  Turn your kids and grandkids and neighbors’ kids and boss’s kids on to Children of the Smoke.  See what they say.  Maybe, just maybe, they might ask a question.  Then you’re off to the races.

Thanks Struileag.  It’s an awesome beginning!

Check out the Struileag Shore to Shore website to learn ways you can buy a Children of the Smoke CD or download the album on iTunes:


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