PERHAPS IT was just the heat, but, as Iarla Ó Lionáird lifted his voice into the rafters of Havana’s venerable Basilica Menor de San Francisco de Asis, we felt a shiver run down our spines. To hear Ó Lionáird’s sean nós fill the vast, dim space above our heads, here in the heart of Habana vieja (Old Havana) where music is so vital, was to feel a momentary swell of tír grá. And the standing ovation it received from an attentive Cuban audience confirmed that Ó Lionáird’s nuanced laments touched an emotional chord even for those not raised on its sound.
In contrast to the depth and sincerity of the opening concert, the performance by members of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann at the National Theatre of Cuba later in the week struck some Irish observers as belonging to an earlier, more self-conscious expression of the Irish tradition. With flowing gowns and impish charm, and a role call of Irish standards including An Poc Ar Buile , this was not a concert for the cognoscenti.