"Breton music is very popular right now. People come to dance; the music is still very much alive. Every Saturday night, there are more than 1.000 people who go dancing - all over Brittany. It's like a disco, but it's cheaper; you have got a nice atmosphere, and it's very very popular. It's popular in Brittany anyway, not that much in France."
Eric Liorzou knows what he talks about, being now already for 25 years the head of one of the best Breton folk bands, Bleizi Ruz. Bleizi Ruz started in the 70s as a pure ceilidh or better Fest Noz band, playing only for dancing in Brittany; they gradually moved towards concerts and singing. In those 25 years, as in other bands, people were coming in and out during the years, but the band always stayed true to Breton music: "It's been always accordion and guitar and bombarde which was very important because the bombarde sound is the typical sound of Brittany."
Today, Bleizi Ruz features a chromatic or midi accordion (Loic Leborgne), guitar (electric and acoustic; Eric himself), percussions from all over the world (David Hopkins, the Irishman), and also the typical instruments from Brittany: The bombarde (which is a kind of an oboe, but a lot smaller and lot noisier) and Breton bagpipes. There are currently two pipers/bombarde players - Bernard Quillien and the new member Gael Nicol (Ar Re Yaouank), who also plays the Gaita (Spanish bagpipes). "That means we have also loud instruments, so the music is pretty powerful", explains Bleizi Ruz founder Eric. "We usually sing in Breton language, a little bit also in French, but mostly in Breton language - traditional songs or contemporary ones."
The band keep up their dancing roots; when they play in Brittany, it still is usually for dances. "Every Saturday night, Friday night, Thursday night, Sunday afternoon - yes, it's very popular. Dancing is where Breton music is the most popular. It is quite amazing if you haven't seen it yet - just like people going to discos, people in Britanny go to Fest Noz, to try some old dances."
Although Breton music is very much alive in Brittany, not a lot is actually played on the radios - neither at the regional nor the national stations. And while Breton music is popular in Brittany, it is not very much in France - "because it is seen as a regional thing; so they don't like it very much."
Eric is a bit frustrated about the relationship between France and Brittany. "France does not like original (cultural) regions to be very strong. Brittany is the part of France with a lot of music, a lot of musicians, people playing - they don't like that very much. I don't know why, but France has always been thinking to be one homogeneous country for everybody; forgetting about the regions and regional cultures, just like the Basque Country, like us. So everybody in Brittany is fighting against that, to give France an awareness of Breton culture, just to let us speak our language and live our own culture. I think it is very important to keep an interest in the Breton language."
While France does not like the idea of giving its regions more power, the European Union with its idea of a Europe of the regions starts to create a bit more of a regional awareness also in France. "They do more in Brussels than in Paris - it's very strange because Europe sees regions in a different way than France. With the EU it's getting slowly better, very slowly."
To keep up the European theme - let's talk about cross-cultural connections of Brittany. Brittany is always said to be cultural sister country of Ireland, with the same Celtic roots. We ask the Irishman in Bleizi Ruz, Hopi, what connects Irish and Breton music. "There is actually very very little in common - there is one dance, the Cercle Circassien, which is danced in Brittany, and which is a jig in Ireland - it has the same rhythm. Quite often, for the melodies of this dance you take Irish traditional jigs, and people in Brittany would dance to it their dance, the Cercle Circassien. Apart from that, there is really little in common, even structurally - the modes, the solos." Eric adds that a lot of people just say ‚Oh yes, it is Celtic'; and also say that the languages are the same, but they are not. "It's the same difference."
A problem for a touring Breton band is that on the European continent Breton music is by far not as popular and well-known as Irish and Scottish music. Bleizi Ruz tour all over Europe to spread the message of Breton music and culture, from England and Wales (never Ireland yet, but they would like to) over Germany, Austria and Hungary to Italy and Spain. The reactions to their Breton music are mostly the same: "Many people are surprised about it I guess because it is not the kind of music they know. Actually I am surprised seeing people in Germany dancing to our music - they go on holidays to Brittany and get to know the dances." For Eric, this is a good sign, and he thinks that Breton music starts to get better known these days in Europe.
So no reason for Bleizi Ruz to stop touring for the next 25 years...
Latest published CD: "Celtic Trip" (1996); Shamrock Records; reviewed in this issue
Further infos/contact at Bleizi Ruz Homepage
Photo Credit: The Mollis
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