If music has the power to transport you, there is some music that takes you to a totally different world. That’s exactly what Kate Dowman’s new music can do. Drawing from her upbringing, she has created an album with a mystical feel — and, of course, a huge vocal talent. “The Isle of Man is steeped in history and folklore, stories, traditional dance and music,” Dowman tells What We Seee. “This is where I grew up. The songs on my new Manx Gaelic album, Whispering Tides, were the first songs I ever remember learning.”
And while the music itself is enchanting, the story behind it is fascinating. Taking folk songs that date back hundred of years creating a recording that brings them into the 21st century, without losing any authenticity, is no easy feat. Dowman wanted to capture the wandering, traditional nature of the genre. “By definition, folksongs are passed down from generation to generation, from people singing them to one another and learnt that way rather than being written down and ‘owned’ by a composer,” Dowman explains. “They are sort of the wandering minstrels of the music world I suppose, often with no known composer, they have just been passed down from parents to children or through being sung at specific times of the year… or by specific groups of people; for example the women singing out to sea asking that their men be brought home safely on their fishing boats in the song The Sea Invocation (Geay Jeh’n Aer in Manx Gaelic), the first song on my album.” You get a sense of the history of the songs in the music, that ancient communication and legacy of sound that is missing from so much of modern work.
A Much More Honest Voice
Her passion for the genre, but specifically for the songs themselves, is so apparent when she talks about her work — and translates into the music itself. “Growing up on the Isle of Man, I have always loved the traditions and the culture, and the music most of all,” she says. “I love that folk songs are often so ancient that no one really knows how they started. There is also a great freedom in that for me as a performer. There isn’t a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way, the songs have survived by being sung, and by that nature they change and grow along the way… I have always felt that I would love to be able to record them in my own arrangements and bring them to a new audience in that oral tradition – by singing them.”
One of the ways that Dowman is able to pull off such an ethereal genre is that she is, firstly, a trained and accomplished musical talent. But, interestingly, despite her impressive legacy as a classical singer, she feels that this genre is a much more authentic vocal experience. “I trained classically and sing a lot of oratorio and opera, but the Manx Gaelic Folk Songs have been in my head and my heart since I was a child. And I wanted my first album to be a collection of these, and in recording them I find a much more honest voice. I am not projecting over a whole orchestra to the back of a concert hall, I am not under the baton or a conductor telling me exactly how they would like me to interpret the music. I am singing songs that sound like the hills on the beautiful Isle of Man with the wind in my hair.” And that sensation, that feeling, flows through the whole album.
A Musical Escape
And though the album is so deeply entrenched in the Isle of Man, it’s meant to be enjoyed by all — even used as antidote to city living. “Life is so fast paced in London and I wanted to create a bit of a musical escape, so that people could stick in their headphones and be transported to a nicer place than a packed tube on the way to work,” she says. “I didn’t want to record them in the very traditional folky way; I wanted to breathe new life into them. My producer on the album works a lot with film scores and the likes of Hans Zimmer so we have given these little Manx songs some big brave new arrangements and I’d love to see them sit as a soundtrack, something like a Lord of the Rings meets Gladiator.”
If she wants to provide a break from hectic living, it’s probably because she knows a thing or two about it herself. Her life is a constant mix of the glamorous and day-to-day living. “An average day doesn’t exist for me,” she says. “I’m practicing my music or walking my dogs, or having meetings or trying to keep my social media updated, or painting a wall (we’ve just been renovating our house – a never-ending story!), or learning new music, or flying off to sing at a corporate event in Dubai — it’s not all diamonds and concert dresses (but occasionally…!)” She’s always moving, committed to growing and expanding her work and passion at every stage of the process.
One of the reasons she’s able to juggle so much is that, despite the pressures of a successful music career, she finds peace in the music itself. “I’m full of fears!” she says. “Funnily enough not when I’m singing though, that’s where I find my most pure focus and greatest joy. It’s a very lovely feeling to be able to bring music to people and bring a little escape from daily life and make them smile or move them to tears. It doesn’t feel like a job. It’s not, it’s just my path. Of course the age old ‘am I good enough’ is always there, but it’s not up to me to decide that, it’s for the people that listen to me and ask me to sing.” That’s exactly what they’re asking her to do. And, with a talent like that, they’ll keep asking.
Her album, Whispering Tides, is on iTunes, Spotify, Tidal, Deezer and Amazon and you can find more about Kate and her music on her website.