My background is Irish, so I'm out of luck
January 30, 2012 8:55 PM   Subscribe

A different "identify this song" question -- this one is about lyrics. Complication: they're in Scottish Gaelic.

This song is named "Rithill Aill", according to the compilation album I have, and is sung by Karen Matheson. I have been looking for a translation of the lyrics for five years, unsuccessfully. Google searches turn up only other people posting desperate pleas for a translation in other various fora.

So -- apparently this is a traditional song, and some sources say it's about a wedding. Does anyone a) recognize it as a traditional Scottish song, b) perhaps know what the lyrics are, and c) know an English translation?

Even if someone could point me to the Scottish lyrics I could attempt a klunky "Scottish-to-English-dictionary" approach (I've found some online dictionaries).

Thank you.
posted by EmpressCallipygos to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I poked about on Smithsonian Folkways, but no dice. You could always ask on the Celtic Culture forum on Capercaillie's website. Couple people there seem to regularly communicate with Karen Matheson.
posted by likeso at 9:36 PM on January 30, 2012

(Rithill Aill was track two on The Dreaming Sea. Odd thing is, the band itself left the lyrics off here. Huh.)
posted by likeso at 9:50 PM on January 30, 2012

Well. The song was also included on The Rough Guide to Scottish Folk, and Donald Shaw (husband of Karen Matheson and one of the founders of Capercaillie) was credited with the composition. Notes said song was a modern puirt-a-beul. So, possibly no real lyrics at all - or "very bawdy" lyrics.

(sorry if none of this is news to you!)
posted by likeso at 10:35 PM on January 30, 2012

You might want to poke around for her address and maybe pose this question on her guestbook.
posted by Yorrick at 10:47 PM on January 30, 2012

That sounds like lilting to me, i.e. the Gaelic equivalent of 'doobie-doobie-doo'. I've heard pub singers in the Highlands do that for ten straight minutes to a fiddle and a beat. It's mesmerising.
posted by Happy Dave at 1:38 AM on January 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

There's something a bit peculiar going on. On Spotify, the song linked in your Youtube video is called Calbharaigh (Calvary), but the lyrics match the song on Spotify called 'Rithill Aill'. It's the only song on the album lyrics found here that doesn't have any listed. So I suspect, as above, it's a lyric-less (or near lyric-less) lilting song.
posted by Happy Dave at 2:02 AM on January 31, 2012

Writing from the Western Isles as seen in that vid. It's what we call Mouth Music or puirt a beul, simply rhythmic sounds used in song. Sometimes there are lyrics but usually just a line or two repeated over and over. It's more about the tune really. I'll try and get you some info on the song ASAP.
posted by veryape at 3:50 AM on January 31, 2012

Best answer: Update: Passed this onto a friend, fluent gaelic speaker and poet who says song is mouth mostly all vocables, there also seem to be the odd discernible word (she made out 'balach' and 'banais' - young boy and wedding). She doesn't know the song from traditional gaelic song lexicon at all and kindly suggests that if there are lyrics, Ms Matheson needs to work on her diction!
posted by veryape at 7:54 AM on January 31, 2012

See also this.
posted by veryape at 7:57 AM on January 31, 2012

Response by poster: Veryape -- so it sounds like what this is, basically, is Scottish Gaelic scat singing?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:01 AM on January 31, 2012

Yeah but probably less improvised!
posted by veryape at 9:39 AM on January 31, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks -- marking this resolved.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:19 AM on February 8, 2012

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