Ceoltóirí Soul is a local group that has truly stepped up its involvement in the expatriate scene since its formation in 2013. Identifying a need for a dependable group of players to cater to already well-established Irish traditional music landscape in Seoul, the group’s nascent performances initially took place along the Han River in the summer and fall of 2013 before moving indoors as the cold approached. Now a regular fixture at the Wolfhound in Itaewon on any given Sunday afternoon as well as participating in some of the other sessions happening around Seoul, the group is as much a fixture of Irish culture in Seoul as a pint of Guinness at the Wolfhound or a Saturday training session with the Seoul Gaels.
Surprisingly, as Ceoltóirí Soul regular Dimitri points out, the group is experiencing a dearth of Irish talent at the moment, with the majority of players being a mix of Korean, American, Canadian and South African players. This combination is of course testament to the attraction of Irish music, something that Dimitri fell in love with through his enjoyment of the Irish whistle and traditional flute. “I play Irish music every day,” he states, “though my background is in classical flute and music composition.” His initial introduction to Irish traditional music sounds akin to throwing yourself in at the deep end, as he bought a tin whistle, learnt a few tunes from Youtube, and then went along to a session. “Most people are nervous to join the session – I know I was terrified – but it really is the best way to learn”
The group has a much wider overlap in players these days, giving truth to how successful the group and the sessions have become. In search of as much authenticity as possible, the group is focused on producing a type of music as an accompaniment for dancers, with the Wolfhound sessions in particular thriving off a faster pace (although Dimitri himself prefers playing airs on the flute and tin whistle). The structure of the performances are vitally important for the musicians, with the performers at pains to ensure the sessions avoid any performance oriented attitude towards the music. “That kills the community-oriented spirit of the music – something we are desperately trying to avoid, even as so many other groups seem to be moving towards a more gig-styled delivery.”
Looking ahead to St. Patrick’s Day, Dimitri refers back to the Wolfhound sessions and the origins of the group in particular as a sample of what to expect. “We are addicted to fast tunes, so polkas and reels are our staples. We try to not have too many staple tunes although the group does tend to start off with a set of reels: Silver Spear and the Ships are Sailing.” Asked if they would like any changes from last year’s event, all the group would hope for would be to have more people dancing.
Of course there is far more to Ceoltóirí Soul than just St. Patrick’s Day, with Dimitri taking part in sessions almost every week. It isn’t only the love of playing music that attracts him either, with the opportunity to make new friends also high on his list of priorities. “Making friends by playing music together is a very special process.” A session community, he emphasises, “is a very sincere and close community” with a phenomenal collection (both musically accomplished and as people) of players who contribute in numerous ways to the community. “There is even an artist who comes to sketch and participate artistically with her charcoal and ink.” With such dedication to the cause, it seems inevitable that Ceoltóirí Soul will be at the forefront adding to the living tradition of Irish music in Seoul for years to come.
Ceoltóirí Soul will be appearing at the St. Patrick’s Day Festival on Saturday, March 19 at the D-Cube in Sindorim.
With thanks to Dimitri Roussopoulos for all his help with the article.