Brighton Fringe 2016

An Dhá: Urban Folk Music

An Dhá (Jaya Hanley, Fiddle, Sarah James, Cello)

Genre: Music

Venue: Chapel Royal Brighton


Low Down

Two skilled young musicians knock it out of the concert hall, bringing jazz and contemporary flavours to traditional folk and Scottish tunes.


An Dhá: Urban Folk Music

‘An Dha’ is Gaelic for ‘The Two’, and what a pair this musical duo make. Formed at the Trinity Laban College of Music and Dance, this violin and cello double act make for a deceptively simple powerhouse.

Coming in, the performance area is simply set with the two instruments, and the musicians Jaya and Sarah are there to greet us and chat, with all the ease and good humour of good friends sat around a pub table. There is none of the strict formality of a traditional classical performance, no distance between audience or performer, making the space feel easy and accessible regardless of age or musical experience. In an audience aged eight to eighty, all were welcome.

Every song is either an original composition from the pair or a delicious reimagining of a traditional tune, and each comes with their own inspiration and backstory from the musicians’ own personal experience. As Jaya and Sarah introduce each song and the history behind it – from the tune inspired by a friend entitled ‘Clogging Up the Hoover’, to an improv jazz set called ‘Procrastination’, to a jig born out of a wayward journey across late-night London – you get a real sense of the people behind the instruments, their lives and passions interwoven and inextricable from their music.

And then the music itself starts, and what these two create together is nothing short of alchemy. They play with bite, with craft, and with soul, the music coming from some vital wellspring within them. These are the songs of their lives – of places, people and moments that have impacted them, and the pair are moved by it, dancing and stamping along to the point where they are wiping the sweat from their brows at the end of each set. Here are two young performers with a wealth of talent, blending traditional Scottish and folk influences with jazz and contemporary flavours to impressive effect. With a flick of a bow we are transported to the wilds of the Scottish highlands or across cityscapes, moved to laughter, tears or great Ceilidh whoops. Particularly poignant was the final song, ‘Keep Going’, inspired by a life changing journey to the Isle of Skye, played with such joy and sadness that by the end I was wiping tears from my eyes.

I saw this performance at the beautiful Chapel Royal in Brighton, but I am confident this pair would be as happy in a concert hall as stomping on the grass of a festival field, and I urge you to see this spectacular pair wherever you can. Go if you appreciate music and be swept away by a rich and masterful performance. Go if you are a musician and learn about the creative process of two skilled contemporaries. Go if you are a human being and reconnect with your ability to feel, deeply and joyfully.