Trad/roots: Dawning of a Moxie trad revolution
Trad revolutionaries Moxie are back with a fresh new album, The Dawn of Motion. The band talk to Robert McMillen about breaking cultural boundaries
MOTHER Tradition has given birth to many offspring, each of them different in many ways, some unrecognisable as part of the same family, but all still born of the same musical DNA.
Some have stayed near the maternal wellspring while others have gone their own ways to explore mysterious musical landscapes but the umbilical chord (spelling intentional...) always connects them to their melodious provenance.
Such a band is Moxie, a six-piece trad band – but not as we know it.
Coming together in the cauldron of trad creativity that is the Willie Clancy Summer School back in 2011, the original line-up of Darren Roche (accordion), Jos Kelly (accordion, keyboards), Cillian Doheny (banjo, guitar) and Ted Kelly (banjo, tenor guitars) gravitated towards each other as musical adventurers in search of their own unique style.
In the case of the Kelly brothers, their father was a big influence in that he let the boys express themselves as they saw fit and not to conform to what others expected of them, as Ted explained.
"My father always told us, 'You're going to that competition, and you'll play the best you can, but you also have to enjoy it and play it the way that you want to enjoy it'," explained Ted.
"I often went into the banjo competition and played Gerry O'Connor's music, which was frowned upon, so I got disqualified. I didn't mind that much, because I'd say to Dad that I wouldn't get through if I played those tunes but he was like, 'Yeah, but it's great. Play it, like you're enjoying playing it. It's still Irish music, you're playing an Irish instrument, it's just not traditional.' But like, these competitions are traditional.
"So I guess I was stepping outside and other rules. And those rules are there for a reason, to keep the tradition and the purest music alive, and that's just as important as going out and changing it for the modern era, you know?"
This was a philosophy shared by the rest of the band although, rather than being a thought-out planned intellectual exercise, the gel that kept Moxie together was the joy they had playing together.
"I think we all just had such a amazing buzz of each other technically, and even just melodically playing together, teaching each other how to play harmony and so on, that was great," says Ted.
"Every one of us have different influences but after a certain amount of time, there came a quite special moment when we realised we'd created something together, something that was ours and that also made a lot of people happy while listening it."
Moxie's first album, Planted, which came out in 2014, was hailed as revolutionary, thought provoking and modern and the band took their music across the globe, including a state visit to Vietnam, but they quartet weren't happy to rest on their laurels and have been developing ever since.
Josh Sampson (drums) joined the band in 2017, with the most recent member being Julia Spanu, a Tunisian-born French singer/songwriter with Vietnamese and Italian roots to brings songwriting to Moxie's armoury for the first time.
This very day, (September 3) Moxie's second album is released.
Entitled The Dawn of Motion, it refers to the new direction the band is going in.
"Well, it took us a while to figure out a suitable name for the album," explains Julia.
"We really wanted it to to embody as much character and identity as possible into it and I think the dawn was important to us because it symbolises the fresh morning of something, a fresh start, and even though even though Moxie has been going for 10 years now and has a really solid history, this new album seems like a new chapter as well, a new step, a new cycle.
"So The Dawn of Motion really is about breaking our own cultural boundaries and by that I mean the Irish trad background for the boys and my own background, which is very rich in cultures.
"So yeah, we're breaking all that with different rhythms, different languages, ancient languages and more modern languages and modern styles so the motion is just the start of a new adventure."
Moxie describe themselves as 'new Irish'. I wonder if this is a nod to the fact that Ireland today is the is the Ireland of Denise Chaila and Jafaris and the Rusangano Family, as well as of Dervish and The Chieftains and the Bothy Band?
"Yeah, I think everybody is accepted in this modern world, you know," says Ted.
"It's multiculturalism and the melding of musics together.
"People ask me, 'What type of music do you play?' And you're like, 'Oh, God, okay.
"'Well, do you want me to explain it in genres? Or do you want to just listen to it? And then we'll talk about why it's culturally important or something like that'.
"Because there's just so much breadth to music and different cultures nowadays especially, and I think the younger generations are starting to try and eradicate racism in our general day to day society.
"And for us, for us, like that's an important thing in our music as well, we're open to collaborating.
"We're part of a tradition, but we want our tradition to be someone else's tradition.
"And we want someone else's tradition to be our tradition as well."
The Dawn of Motion is indeed a swirling, almost cinematic sweep through the global electronic and acoustic landscape.
With Julia's North African roots, I wondered if Moxie were trying to find tarab, an Arabic word that has no direct translation into English (or Irish) but means "the sensation of ecstasy and sensual engagement an audience feels when engrossed in the performance".
"It's it's very interesting that you brought that up because I actually never thought about it even though it was always kind of there in the back of my mind, but yes, tarab could definitely be a part of Moxie," says Julia.
"Tarab is a transcendental stage in music where you, you get into a deep spiritual mood.
"Because we all have such a powerful connection with each other in this band where we're so close and when we're on stage, that connection expands and we kind of forget about everything and we're just enjoying ourselves so much that we could definitely get to that some point."
::The Dawn of Motion by Moxie is released today. moxiemuso.com.