Afrobeat grooves, flamenco fusion, Indian dancers, Chilean guitar maestros: celebrating Scottish culture in Edinburgh on 1 January 2017 might have some unexpected new flavours.
This year, for the first time, Scot:Lands, the post-Hogmanay cultural treasure hunt which has become a staple of New Year in Edinburgh, will have a venue dedicated to “New Scots”: dancers, musicians, theatre and filmmakers who have their roots elsewhere but have made Scotland their home.
One of nine “Lands” held in secret locations across the centre of the city, New Scots:Land promises a colourful programme, including a solo set from Rise Kagona of the Bhundu Boys, charismatic Senegalese singer Samba Sene, guitarists Carlos Arrendondo and Galo Ceron Carrasco, and flamenco music and dance from Cheekyrrikis.
“It’s a very small sample of the people out there, living and working in Scotland, creating great work,” says New Scots:Land coordinator Morag Neil. “We called it New Scots:Land after a lot of thought because they do identify as Scots, they are strands in the Scottish tartan and the country is so much richer because of it.”
Eight different companies will perform across three spaces, including one dedicated to a film programme. There is also new theatre made especially for New Scots:Land by writer and director Annie George. Her three ten-minute plays have a combined title of New Year’s Revolutions. One Pot, about food and cultural appropriation, is performed by Alloysious Massaquoi of Young Fathers, The Future is Now is staged by Annie herself, and All Mixed Up by her two teenage daughters, Eve and Amber Allan.
“Each piece is about some kind of rebellion, turning things on their head,” George says. “The piece I’m devising with my daughters came about because my eldest, who is 29, recently got verbally assaulted getting on a bus. All my three children are mixed race, Indian and Scottish, and we found that a bit of a shock. There are a lot of children in Scotland now from mixed heritage and we thought it might be interesting to delve into that.”
Neil says that, while there are issues to be explored, the emphasis is still on fun. “It’s not about hitting people over the head with any sort of message. It’s about saying: check out what we’ve got here, listen to what people have to say, different sounds, different rhythms, hear the connections.
“The Brexit and Trump campaigns raised xenophonic themes, blame the outsider, blame the other, but there is much more that unites us than divides us. If we can do a very small thing, we can at least provide a platform for people to be heard and seen and celebrated.”
Throughout the past year, film archivist Shona Thomson has been travelling the length and breadth of Scotland showing films from Scotland’s celluloid archives in the places in which they were made, from South Uist to Peebles.
Her presentation at Scot:Lands includes John Grierson’s groundbreaking 1920s documentary, Drifters, about the herring industry, which will be shown with a new ambient soundtrack performed live by beatboxer Jason Singh. And Lost Treasure, a film about the depopulation of the Highlands, shot in 1956 but never finished, hits the big screen 60 years on with a soundtrack performed live by singer-songwriter Drew Wright and Hamish Brown from the band Swimmer One.
Other treats from the past include a film about Tain Carnival in 1937, made by the local cinema manager, and Silver Buttons, a documentary about a hill farmer in Midlothian, made in the 1980s by student film-makers from Napier Univerisity.
Thomson says: “Films give amazing views of Scotland you don’t normally see. Audiences are really interested in seeing places they recognise on the screen, even if they have changed. Some of these films can be watched online, but this is about the communal cinema experience, they are back on the big screen which is what they were originally made for.”
One of the furthest travelled Lands on this year’s programme offers a taste of the St Magnus International Festival in Orkney. “We celebrated our 40th birthday in 2016, and 2017 has been designated the 900th anniversary of St Magnus, so it seemed like an obvious moment to showcase what we do,” says festival director and composer Alasdair Nicolson. “A lot of people will know the festival by reputation but have never been there.”
He describes Orcadia:Land as a “meditation-concert-installation” inspired by the Hymn to St Magnus, a piece of medieval plainsong. It will feature dance, visual art and a mix of choral, ensemble and traditional music, to reflect the diverse flavours of the festival, from traditional group Gnoss to Nicolson’s ensemble, the Assembly Project, and Orkney’s finest community voices, the Mayfield Singers.
“It was interesting for me to try to distill what the festival is about,” says Nicolson. “It is a mix of community involvement, emerging artists and new work, alongside international input, all working at a very high level. But it’s hard to distill the landscape of the Northern Isles at Midsummer in Edinburgh in the middle of winter!”
Edinburgh spoken-word collective Neu! Reekie! are no strangers to Scot:Lands, but their programme this year promises a fusion of past and present, featuring poets, filmmakers and musicians.
“It’s 20 years since the death of Sorley MacLean and we wanted to do something which responds to his work using younger artists and poets,” says organiser Kevin Williamson. “He was an amazing poet and so influential as a Gaelic poet and Gaelic language activist, even people who haven’t really read his work have been influenced by him.” Performers in the four-hour rolling programme include Gaelic rap musician G-Croft, Scott Hutchison from Frightened Rabbit, Carla Easton from Teen Canteen, and poets Meg Bateman and Peter Mackay. Williamson says: “We asked the artists to have a think about Sorley; people are responding to the concept of Sorley:Land, his spirit and presence, rather than a direct representation of his life.”
The programme will also include readings of the work of the eight poets featured in Sandy Moffat’s iconic painting, Poet’s Pub. “Eight contemporary poets have each been allocated a makar from the painting,” says Williamson. “We felt that some of the older poets had been a bit neglected. We also wanted to put Sorley within the context of the 1950s and 1960s in Edinburgh.”
...AND THE OTHER LANDS
Edinburgh’s Hogmanay organisers took a few years to hit upon the right kind of event for the city on 1 January, the day on which party-goers recover and reflect. Scot:Lands, which is now in its fourth year, is a magical mystery tour through the city centre, venues are kept a secret (they include many not normally open to the public) and participants visit in a random order, staying as long as they like at each one.
With the programming of each “Land” handed over to a different artist or organisation, it is becoming a sought-after platform to showcase the work of Scotland’s arts community to the Edinburgh’s Hogmanay audience.
This year’s Scot:Lands include venues programmed by Wigtown Book Festival (Wig:Land) promising writers, storytellers, and music from the Bookshop Band; Feis Rois (High:Land) with Gaelic language, fiddle music and complimentary Highland hospitality; and Nether:Land, a mix of music and spoken word, poetry and film-making.
Mountain Thyme:Land is a celebration of Robert Tannahill, “Scotland’s secret bard”, organised by Paisley’s Spree Festival, featuring Eddi Reader and the Tannahill Weavers. And Let’s Dance:Land promises a “warehouse party” with DJs, disco, hip hop and a dash of Marlene Dietrich, programmed by Morag Deyes of Dance Base and featuring her groundbreaking older dance troupe, Prime.
Scot:Lands takes place in central Edinburgh tomorrow, from 1-5pm. See www.edinburghshogmanay.com