Liam Ó Maonlaí is one of Ireland's best-loved musicians and singers, both in rock and traditional music. Born and bred in Dublin and despite traveling the globe, remains rooted in the greater Dublin area.
A singer (with a vocal range the envy of many a classically trained vocalist), songwriter, multi-instrumentalist (the list continues to grow), artist, painter, dancer - more talent than most folk can even dream of having. Bono once described Liam as 'The best white boy soul singer in the world', and he has been also been described as one of Ireland's best Sean Nós (traditional Irish) singers.
In 1985 Liam and schoolmate Fiachna Ó Braonáin formed Hothouse Flowers who have produced over half a dozen albums not including compilations and live recordings (so far) and continue to perform at gigs in Ireland and abroad. Intertwined in recent years Liam released solo albums Rian and To be Touched, the former of which was turned into a dance show with Michael Keegan-Dolan (more below). In 2014 a new CD with Rian dance show band mates called Ré hit the shelves.
Spanning over a quarter century, Liam's career has seen him achieve number one hits in over twenty countries, from playing with Aboriginal musicians in the Australian outback to recording with some of the world's best-known musicians including Glen Hansard, Marketa Irglova, Carlos Nunes, Donal Lunny, U2 and Van Morrison, to name just a few.
Learning, experimenting, honing, reaching, touching - with Liam, the feidearthachtaí are endless.
I sit in a sun filled room. I look out on trees. Mani, to my right, his hands drenched in sunlight, is writing. We are a collective brought together to make something called Rian. Rian means trace or imprint. It is a word often used in my native language. I used it as a title for my first solo record and now it is the name of a suite of music and dance. It opened at the Dublin theatre festival in 2011 and played there in the Gaeity Theatre.
Sean O Riada was the inspiration. Sean O Riada woke up and saw his roots and he saw the tree and he saw the tree bear fruit. His work still resonates today. He aligned himself with the powerful flow of the indigenous music of his native Ireland allowing the traditions of other cultures inspire and influence his musical choices. The music, when properly felt, will guide whatever work needs doing.
I owe my sanity and happiness to the memory of this man and the generations of people he represented with his genius. The singers, pipers, drummers, flute players and seers of this land. He tapped into a living tradition and brought it to the urban centre. In doing so, he reminded the people of what was written in their own DNA.
His music was in our house since I was six years old in the form of a cassette - a live recording with bodhráns, three violins, harpsichord, uillean pipes, flute, bones and vocals. Something happened that night in the Gaeity Theatre in Dublin. Something was awakened between the musicians and the assembled people. Their music was being presented to them and was by passing the collective intellect and reaching straight to the soul. I still am filled and continue to be inspired by this recording.
Rian was made very much with O'Riada's influence on the table. Michael Keegan Dolan's people come from Co. Longford and that is where he lives. It is on this land we came together and imagined and explored O'Riada's life, his work and his vision. To this we brought our own experience and imagination. Later came dancers from India, Finland, England, Greece, Nigeria, Ghana, and Ukraine.
From here came days and weeks of music and dance. It became impossible to tell whether the music or the dance came first. The dancers became the band. Then came fiddle, voice, concertina, pipes, harp and double bass. We harvested moves that were born over the days and weeks and applied them to the music of our ancestors. Rian took shape. Michael gave himself to the creation of something that would act as a chalice offering to the people a taste of their own sacrament. The chalice was translucent green with the bodies and soul of thirteen blowing upon a fire connecting us to a beginning - our own pulse as a people. Borders did not exist in the realm of culture and dance. This was witnessed in Hong Kong, New York, London, Lyon, Navan, Wellington, Ennis, Sydney, Dublin, Longford, Wiesbaden, Sligo, Montbeliard, Cork, Paris, Singapore, and Letterkenny.
-- Liam Ó Maonlaí - October, 2014