Meet the artist bringing Gaelic music into the 21st century
Gaelic has been linked to Scottish culture for centuries.
The origins of the language are thought to date back around 2,000 years and its traditions remain inherent in many Gaelic communities today.
Gaelic music is also woven into the fabric of Scotland.
But one man could be about to give this art form a whole new makeover.
“What I really want to do is prove that Gaelic cultures can be both contemporary and traditional,” says Marcas Mac an Tuairneir, a Gaelic poet and singer-songwriter who has just released his debut album, Spectram (which translates to spectrum in English).
“I would like to see myself as a pioneer of the new genre of GaelPop.”
Originally from Yorkshire and descended from Irish Gaelic grandparents, Marcas deepened his Gaelic roots while studying at the University of Aberdeen.
His mother having fond memories of studying Scottish literature at the University of Dundee, she pushed Marcas to also travel to Scotland when leaving school.
Years before, she guided Marcas down the creative path he now finds himself on by displaying his childhood poems around the family home.
“My mum really encouraged me with poetry and she’s kept pieces that I’ve written since I was a kid, which is so nice,” Marcas says.
“I grew up with a lot of Scottish and Irish music at home. The first time I heard of Gaelic was via Runrig during the school run!
“Then when I arrived in Aberdeen I felt like we were the next generation of Gaelic speakers and we were the ones who were going to take it forward into modern society.
“There was a strong Gaelic community in the town, lots going on and it was really welcoming.”
After completing his education, Marcas quickly established a reputation as an acclaimed Gaelic poet and writer.
But deep inside him, there was another creative quest he felt he had to pursue: music.
“Music was really a hobby growing up that my parents supported, but I wasn’t encouraged to make it my main focus,” says Marcas.
“I remember singing and dancing to so many things as a kid thinking I was a pop singer.
“But it wasn’t until I started to get a professional footing with my poetry that I started thinking about it again.
“It’s always been a dream of mine to do my own album and I thought it would be my last chance – so I went for it.”
It was while Marcas was working on a writing commission that he discovered a gap in popular Gaelic music that he thought he could fill.
“There were Gaelic-speaking bands and musicians such as 101 Band and Na Soluis Dhuibh playing with the sounds of pop music in the early 80s,” says Marcas.
“But towards the end of the decade, they just stopped doing it.
“It made me think there was a touchpoint for my own project – to get this element of pop music into Gaelic that never really took off.”
With his new album Spectram, Marcas is pioneering a new wave of popular Gaelic music that bears the hallmark of GaelPop.
It fuses contemporary pop songwriting and production with the Gaelic language across all 14 Spectram tracks, harnessing a wide range of personal and social narratives in the lyrics, from relationships to social media.
Bruidhinn (which translates to speaking in English) is one of the key tracks on the album.
Marcas wrote it in response to the abuse he often sees Gaelic speakers receive online and the song aims to challenge tropes that Gaelic has no place in contemporary society through its simple appeal to action: speak.
Breaking down borders
As a gay and genderqueer man, Marcas also breaks boundaries by bringing an LGBTQI+ lens to popular Gaelic music.
“I still feel like there’s a lot of silence around LGBTQI+ issues – especially in Gaelic communities,” says Marcas.
“But I felt I had the potential to add my own voice to that through my poetry and my music.”
Beyond that, Marcas hopes his work can continue to inspire new generations of Gaelic and LGBTQI+ creatives.
“If this music can reach young Gaelic creators, then it does its job,” says Marcas.
“I want to challenge the dominance of the English language on radio in particular – that’s why I’ve made music that is absolutely chart-friendly.
“There’s a new generation of Gaelic designers coming on and it’s really inspiring to see.”
Spectram by Marcas Mac an Tuairneir can be heard on all major streaming platforms and was recently featured on BBC Radio 6 Music.
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[Meet the artist bringing Gaelic music into the 21st Century]