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Celtic & Scottish Studies Blog

Celtic & Scottish Studies Blog

Traditional arts, languages and culture in Scotland

Rebellious Truth 2021: Karine Polwart

A digital TradFest

We were delighted to present our first annual Rebellious Truth lecture in association with Edinburgh TradFest on 10th May 2021. After postponing last year’s festival, which always brings together a wide variety of live folk music performances, the 2021 festival was entirely digital. The podcast series is live for a year on your preferred podcast platform or here.

A special event in celebration of the School of Scottish Studies Archives’ 70th year, Rebellious Truth 2021: Karine Polwart was livestreamed from the Laigh Hall at St Cecilia’s by a brilliant crew of cameraman/director, sound mixer and visual mixer and hosted by Dr Lori Watson, Celtic & Scottish Studies. A recording will be given to the School of Scottish Studies Archives in due course. For more information on the 70th celebrations visit the blog.

Through presentation and live performance, Rebellious Truth explores the importance of traditional arts and the role of traditional artists of all backgrounds and practices in addressing societal concerns: environment, sustainability, identity, social cohesion, health, understandings of economy, employment, education, and diversity.

Our first speaker was Karine Polwart folk singer, songwriter and theatre-maker who has used her performance profile to address humanitarian themes through music and carefully articulated spoken and written word. Karine was an ideal speaker for the Rebellious Truth lecture and we were delighted to welcome her ideas to this academic and public platform.

The evening also featured the première of ‘The Order of Time by School of Scottish Studies Traditional Artist in Residence Mike Vass, joined by Mairearad Green.

Change of heart

Karine was originally going to speak about feminism and Scottish traditional song:

“Folk song is a wee window into the experiences of those who lived before us, the challenges they faced, and the fights they fought in their own times that yield us many of the rights and privileges we enjoy now. But I’m just as fascinated by what these songs and stories tell us about the moment we’re in now. My inaugural Rebellious Truth lecture will dig into the history of misogyny and sexual violence, and the stories of women who rebelled against societal norms and expectations, as told in our traditional songs and archives. I’ll reflect on how those stories are told, why those songs were sung, and why they’re still sung now.” (Karine Polwart)

But shortly before the event, Karine changed her topic to ecological observations relating to songs and creative projects. Her earnest explanation on the night was well received: “If you have come into the digital space expecting a lecture aboutacts of resistance and rebellioun by women and some meditation around the issue of domestic abuse and sexual violence, I’m not going to go there tonight. Not because I haven’t got lots to say about it: I’ve got so much to say about it. I just haven’t managed to find the tone and the heart for it. So I’m going to take a wee sideways step this evening…”

Giving voice to the natural world

What followed was an insightful and personal sharing of moments of realisation, observation and reflection that connected traditional song and creative work with the importance of understanding, experiencing and naming the natural world around us and our destructive tendencies of commodification and consumption. Karine’s lecture moved deftly around the multilayered meanings of three songs with an intimate performance of each: Now Westlin Winds (her own interpretation inspired by Dick Gaughan’s below), The Echo Mocks the Corncrake and The Lost Words Blessing.

Now Westlin Winds by Dick Gaughan:

The Echo Mocks the Corncrake by Songs of Separation:

The Lost Words Blessing by Lost Words Spell Songs:






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