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Bisiad… “what you have in your fingers”!

If you haven’t yet heard of Kevin Le Pennec, he’s part of the new generation of the modern trad – and we love what he is doing. Don’t miss him performing on Les Jeudis de la Harpe, this Thursday at 19:30 on YouTube.


Les Jeudis de la Harpe : Kevin Le Pennec

If you like that, you’ll like this: Kevin has also just released his first album with duo partner Morgane Grégory. Both Kevin and Morgane are winners of the Camac Trophy at the Interceltic Festival in Lorient (Morgane in 2017; it was Kevin’s turn in 2019), and they formed a duo while they were both studying in Brest, Brittany.

BisiadBisiad is an eponymous disc; the duo is named after the Breton word “biz”, or finger. With the suffix “iad”, it means something like “What you have in your fingers”. In Bisiad’s case, it’s a lot!

“We wanted to make a dynamic album”, Kevin explains. “Full of dances, sunny, joyful, with the energy and grooves that are such a big part of modern trad. Traditional music has always evolved with the times, if you think about folk rock in the 70s for example. We’ve brought in a lot of pop influences, I would say, but we love playing all types of traditional music, and exploring the Breton, Irish and Scottish sources. Culturally, these tunes are completely different from each other, but that’s also such a fun part of traditional music. We relish its diversity, you can appropriate it and be expressive in so many different ways.”

“Invitation”, the first track on the album, is based on the Breton Tour, from the same family of dances as the An dro. It’s part of the Haute Bretagne repertoire and sung in French – there is a very specific tradition of francophone popular song in this part of the country. “Traditionally, this tune was sung to invite family, friends and neighbours to a wedding ceremony”, says Kevin. “We thought it would get our album off to a good start, as an invitation to come and listen to it!”

Kevin Le Pennec, Morgane GrégoryFollowing this joyful invitation, the album quickly whisks us to the Shetland Isles – and more dances, this time, reels. “The fiddle player Anna-Wendy Stevenson taught us these”, Kevin goes on. “They were a lot of fun to arrange for two harps. And so was track 3, Bis #1! This was Morgane’s idea, because it was the first piece we arranged together. I composed a bass line, and Morgane improvised a melody over the top which concludes with the piece’s tune. It’s based on a Laridé in 8, another Breton dance.”

Bisiad’s fourth track takes a more sober turn. “Pa oan me plac’hig yaouank” (“When I was a young girl”) is a traditional tune from Cornouaille, in southwestern Brittany. Recounting an unhappy marriage, it warns young women to think carefully before entering into wedlock! The harp arrangement is correspondingly piquant, and also complements what Kevin describes as the percussive quality of the Breton language.

“Pull the Knife and Stick It Again” then follows, a Scottish tune Kevin and Morgane discovered via the Talisk trio – and next, The Kerry, a reel that also features Arthur Manuel on guitar and old time banjo. “The Kerry is one of the poppiest tracks on the album”, says Kevin. “It’s only got four chords…we thought, why not!”

The album takes a more reflective tone again with “Mésange et Rossignols”, one of Kevin’s own compositions. “This is an anti-misogyny song”, he says, “and I suppose a song against cognitive bias in general. I was really scandalised when I started working as a professional musician, and noticed how often my female colleagues are subject to everyday sexism. There isn’t enough attention paid to their music and that’s a real pity.

Also, there are many established musical “gurus” who love to explain and judge how things should be done, I’ve experienced this too. I think that music blossoms in a spirit of diversity and open-mindedness, so that’s what I’m singing about here.”

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“RhythmNBis”, the penultimate track on the album, is another Breton dance. You can enjoy it on SoundCloud: it’s a return to a percussive and dynamic feeling. It is a Tricot, a blend of two dances. An An dro in 4/4 time is followed by a Hanter dro in 3/4, so the structure of the dance changes.

BisiadAfter so much dancing Bisiad concludes with “Month of January”, an Irish song, also with Arthur Manuel on banjo. It is a sad song: a young girl cries, her baby in her arms, at the coldest time of the year. She has been abandoned by her family, her husband having “exchanged his love for gold”. She is left – you guessed it – holding the baby. “We wanted to make a dynamic album, but an emotionally deep one too”, says Kevin. “Traditional music is full of light and also shade. It’s always about human lives.”

Bisiad is now available from the Camac webshop. We warmly recommend it!

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