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Interview with Alan Stivell

What are your main feelings about the concert you gave last night ?
I am delighted to come back here to play, but the conditions were not ideal as far as musical instruments are concerned. There was hot sunshine all afternoon, and then the temperature gradually started to fall. The harp is a very sensitive instrument, and doesnít take kindly to that kind of temperature variation. You canít really say to the audience ę Sorry, but Iíll be back in 15 minutes. Ľ So you have to keep adjusting the instrument as you play. Luckily, because it isnít classical music, there arenít the same high expectations. This concert included most of the numbers from your last album ę I Douar Ľ, and draws upon many different influences.

What do these various alliances signify ?
I wanted to focus attention on the fusion itself to a greater extent than previously, though I was always aware of it myself. Itís a way of asserting an identity, that of a Celtic-centred world, in a global way. But not forgetting the world around us. The album symbolises unification for the planet.

It could be argued that fusion is the same thing as confusion... Isnít there a risk of that ?
In the music I play, Gaelic Irish and Scottish influences have always been there. So it isnít anything new. You have to be careful with the word ę fusion Ľ. It doesnít mean ę mixture Ľ , as in mayonnaise, where if one of the ingredients is missing, it wonít take. Here, the ingredients are all mixed up, but not really fused together. My work is really based on polyrhythmics. Thatís whatís really interesting.

Sometimes there are obstacles to the alliance of diverse cultures. Getting Khaled to sing in Breton must have posed a bit of a problem, didnít it ?
No, for me it would have been much more difficult to get Khaled to sing in French. Languages donít really present barriers. And for the words, too, itís a question of arrangement. I showed him the French translation and we agreed to finish with ę douar Ľ which for me in Breton means earth, and for Khaled in Arab also means earth.

How do you and he differ when it comes to singing in Breton ?
I myself sing in intermediary Breton, in between a litterary Breton and that of my region. Khaled sings in universal Breton. So heís probably easier to understand than I am.

Where is your musical development taking you - youíre using the synthesizer more and more, for example?
I am interested in whatís happening musically now, and also in what the trends are for the future. Iíve got to know the electric guitar, and also the first rhythm boxes and synthesizers. Music is evolving all the time, and the future is a moving target. I am only part of thismovement, without any bias.

Breton music has long been considered as a music of "plouc". Today it is the in thing, and this is thanks mainly to you. How can one go from being passť to being totally and utterly accepted ?
For my part, Iíve never bothered with fashion. The music I compose has to first of all please me - itís got to be pleasurable. Iím not being strategic. It is entirely normal that the majority of people are not passionate about a strongly identity-bound kind of music. Because it is driven above all by the oral traditionAnd itís not that accessible. Just because you need to put down roots, doesnít mean having to put up with the same old traditions. Nobody ever suggested that the Bretons in the year 2000 should carry on liking the peasant music of the 19th century..

Will we be able to see all the guest artists in your album on stage ?
Iíd really like that. But for the moment, they regularly make individual appearances on my shows. The Celtic world is a growing phenomenon.

Where would you place yourself within this movement ?
Everything boils down to passion. The Celtic harp is my passion. Thereís a whole civilisation in those strings which carries me along. Having played music from all the different Celtic countries I have a global perception of this music. I have experienced a unified situation in the Celtic world. I live for a strong identity for Celtic music, and I feel weíre getting there.

We will happily grant you the title of guru for Breton, or Celtic music. From this standpoint, can you throw some light on the future of this music in the current context of globalisation ?
In my view it is less dangerous to be influenced by the whole planet than by such or such a country. I am very optimistic for the Breton rock that exists today. In the end, we could find ourselves with a music that is popular planet-wide, and where the whole world is moving forward in the same direction, towards the same universe, but nobody would want to lose themselves completely in this scenario. There is a true dialectic between these two cultural movements.

You must be particularly sensitive to this yearís theme ę The Bretons in the world Ľ?
Yes of course. I would like to say on this subject that while it is important to position oneself, the boundaries tend to imprison people in illusions about identity. But there can be several geographies for any one identity - it can be constructed from several sedimentary layers. Look at Great Britain : an island, the Channel which makes a kind of airtight seal, and yet traditional English music is part of a continental European whole, so in fact, there is always a double identity anyway.

Letís come back to the Festival de Cornouaille. How do you veiw this event ?
I think that Iím here for the third or fourth time. When I was younger I never missed any of the Cornouaille festivals. It was the occasion to meet up with hundreds of friends. So itís always nice to come back here.

What events have you got lined up ?
My next concert is in Corsica on the 5th August. Then Iím on tour worldwide. Brazil, Rťunion, Mauritius, Italy... In December thereís Olympia, and this is a symbolic place in my journey. Thatís where it all started in 1972. All the young Bretons listened to my concert on the radio just as we watched the World Cup. There was a shared sense of victory.

Jean Romer

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