Born in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. Education: Bachelor of arts degree in Celtic studies, Saint Francis Xavier University, Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada, 1995. Addresses: Record company--BMG Classics, 1540 Broadway, Times Square, New York, NY 10036, phone: (212) 979-6410, fax: (212) 979-6489. Management--Jones & Co. Canada, phone: (902) 429-9005. Booking--S.L. Feldman & Associates, (902) 429-9005 or (416) 598-0067. Website--Mary Jane Lamond Official Website: http://www.maryjanelamond.com.
The music of Mary Jane Lamond resists a neat fit into any specific genre. The Canadian-born artist sings not in English, but in the Gaelic language, uniting the rich, pastoral culture of the Scottish who settled in Nova Scotia hundreds of years ago with current pop trends. Thus, her unique approach to Celtic folk music is not easily identified as pop, world beat, or rock. Lamond's music instead sounds like a mixture of all these styles.
Despite not performing the types of songs commonly associated with the mainstream, Lamond--celebrated for her captivating soprano--has gained worldwide attention, received numerous Canadian Juno Award and East Coast Music Award nominations and garnered favorable reviews in the press. But Lamond insists that fame and fortune are not her main objectives. Songs, stories, and spirit are meant for sharing with others, according to the singer, to create a sense of community and uphold tradition. "I think people tend to equate music with performers, but that's not really what this kind of music is about," Lamond told Jon Roos in the Los Angeles Times. "It's more about exchanging songs between your peers. There's no star system. It's just such a different idea than ... say, being a Spice Girl. So many people where I live grew up on this music.... They play the fiddle or sing Gaelic songs in homes, on porches and in the streets."
Born in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, where her parents resided at the time, Lamond, the youngest of five children, moved often as a child and grew up in more urban areas. Her mother was originally from Halifax, Nova Scotia, while her father, an engineer, was a native of Albert Bridge, near Sydney, Nova Scotia, on Cape Breton Island. Lamond lived in several cities including Pointe Claire, Quebec; Sarnia, Ontario; Sydney, Ontario; and Brockville, Ontario, before settling with her family in the major city of Montreal, Quebec, at the age of 15. Though she never experienced rural living until her adult years, Lamond spent school vacations with her grandparents in Sydney, who both spoke Gaelic fluently, and became fascinated with Gaelic music early on. Later in her teens, she developed an interest in the language as well and learned a few phrases from her grandfather.
Lamond did not pursue the study of Gaelic in earnest until she moved back to Nova Scotia in 1989. Upon her return, she joined the Antigonish Gaelic Choir and learned several songs, then attended a milling frolic in the town of North River on Cape Breton that further awakened her interest. Here, she heard older, more traditional vocalists singing Gaelic songs; their performances featured heavy, wool cloth beaten against a table to keep time. "It was like no Gaelic singing I had ever heard," she recalled in a Billboard feature by Larry LeBlanc. "I'd heard a lot of very pretty Gaelic singing from Scotland, but what I saw [in North River] was so down-to-earth, so powerful. I felt I had to learn how to sing these songs."
Following her experience in North River, Lamond, who wanted to learn the language proficiently, decided to enroll in the Celtic studies program at Saint Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, which, in addition to an extensive Gaelic library, maintains access to some 350 field recordings collected by Dr. John Shaw of Scots-Gaelic songs. "I spent a lot of time listening to [Shaw's] collection," said Lamond. "It helped me immensely to understand the [Gaelic] repertoire as a whole in a way that would have taken me years if I was living in Cape Breton and going to events." She graduated with a bachelor of arts degree from the college in 1995.
Meanwhile, Lamond, who never intended to embark upon a musical career, received a chance opportunity. After taking her third-year college exams in 1994, she was invited by B&R Heritage Enterprises of Iona, Cape Breton, to record a traditional collection of Gaelic songs. The sparse album, Bho Thir Nan Craobh, which translates to mean "From the Land of the Trees," surprisingly drew a great amount of local attention, and Lamond garnered nominations for female artist of the year and roots/traditional artist at the East Coast Music Awards in 1995. Also asked to open the event, Lamond performed a Gaelic song a cappella.
Despite this taste of success with singing, Lamond planned to remain in the academic world by pursuing a doctorate degree in Celtic studies. Then, just before completing her undergraduate studies, she accepted an offer to tour with fiddler Ashley MacIsaac, who had been taken by Lamond's voice ever since he first saw her perform with a local band in Antigonish in 1991. He also appeared on Lamond's well-received traditional Gaelic album. "What I got from seeing her that night was this punk attitude, as she was singing in Gaelic," he recalled to LeBlanc. "I'd never seen anybody in a Celtic vein do anything other than straight-ahead Celtic music."
Accepting the offer, Lamond toured with MacIsaac and the Chieftans, then recorded with MacIsaac the 1996 hit song "Sleepy Maggie." From there, Lamond recorded a second album entitled Suas e!, which translated loosely means "Go For It." A combination of classic Celtic music and pop elements, the 1997 recording was picked up by the Wicklow Entertainment label, a joint venture between BMG Classics, Chieftans leader Paddy Moloney, and Chieftans managers Sam Feldman and Steve Macklam. The album went on to earn several Juno and East Coast Music Award nominations, as well as a MuchMusic Global Groove Award for the video for "Bog a'Lochain." "It's kind of like you're living in two worlds, and trying to bridge a gap between them," Lamond said to Roos about uniting the two different styles in her music. "I do like to experiment [and] move the music forward. I feel like as long as I'm singing true to the tradition--if the songs still have a voice of their own--I can bring a more contemporary soundscape in behind them."
For her next album, 2000's Làn Dùil, Lamond further explored the possibilities of arranging traditional songs in different ways. She recorded with a variety of instruments, including the fiddle, bagpipes, and the Indian tabla. On her fourth recording, Òrain Ghàidhlig, or "Gaelic Songs of Cape Breton," released in 2001, Lamond opted to focus on a selection of songs and poetry that are central to the Gaelic tradition. The album was recorded in a church in North River and featured fiddler Joe Peter MacLean and some of Cape Breton's best traditional singers.
Whether performing contemporary or traditional music, however, Lamond's underlying purpose always prevails. "This is a huge oral literary tradition that is being lost at an alarming rate, and I am involved with community things that help conserve it for younger people," she stated for her official website. "But I'm also an interpreter, a singer and musician and in my music the challenge is to create something new and exciting that doesn't destroy the heart of it."
by Laura Hightower
Mary Jane Lamond's Career
Released the traditional Scottish Gaelic album Bho Thir Nan Craobh, 1995; toured with fiddler Ashley MacIsaac and the Chieftans, 1996; released Suas e! (Go For It), a Gaelic/contemporary pop album, 1997; released Làn Dùil, 2000; released Òrain Ghàidhlig (Gaelic Songs of Cape Breton), 2001.
- Selected discography
- Suas e! (Go For It) , Wicklow, 1997.
- Làn Dùil , Wicklow, 2000.
- Òrain Ghàidhlig (Gaelic Songs of Cape Breton) , turtlemusik, 2001.
- Billboard, November 16, 1996; April 5, 1997; November 28, 1998.
- Los Angeles Times, November 6, 1998.
- Maclean's (Toronto), April 7, 1997; September 13, 1999.
- Saturday Night (Toronto), April 1997.
- Washington Post, November 20, 1998.
- Mary Jane Lamond Official Website, http://www.maryjanelamond.com (May 26, 2001).
- NPR Online, http://www.npr.org (March 7, 2001).