I realised that I really like writing through doing this, and that there’s plenty more to write, but for now here are a few aspects I’d like to share with you.
Something I’ve learned, beyond a doubt is how essential it is for any musician, artist or human being to cultivate a vision for yourself. Have an inner vision and find ways to develop it. It’s for you alone and gives you confidence and uniqueness. Working on craft matters too. But for me, vision comes first and is fundamental. It’s what inspires the consistent work. It animates practise, creativity, relationships, and brings wellness in ways that are hard to see except when it is absent.
I grew up in the rural coastal Donegal community of Clooney, one of the most beautiful places in the world. Our horizons growing up were both small and vast. From the top of our hill you look out over the Atlantic, with Iniskeel, Arainn mhór and Roaninish islands, the incredible Gaoth Beara river estuary, Cashelgoland and Narin strand; the magical Bluestacks, the south Donegal mountains sometimes called the Sliabh Aduaidh range, and a huge blanket bog that stretches from our house to Donegal town.
In terms of the wider world and a vision of that, our doorway was TV. But we lived in a bubble really. It was honestly an amazing upbringing. Our parents gave us a lot of trust and freedom to wander and explore. There was a hazel wood beside our house and we were the only people that were ever in in it, apart from our neighbour farmer when he was looking for cattle.
At the bottom of our lane is an old and vibrant oak bush growing out of the centre of a boulder.
It’s a well-known local landmark especially with elderly people who said it was a parting stone for emigrants when they were leaving their families. There were fairy bushes, deer, seals, wild geese and winter swans, enchanted and haunted places, and really funny local characters.
Our school had forty kids and two teachers. I tell stories to my friends about growing up, and, as the decades go by, I realise there’s a great book in it.
This upbringing and environment is probably my biggest musical influence. Many other forms and shapes of music and experience have also influenced me but something in this is fundamental. When I’m daydreaming or even just dreaming, it’s this landscape: hazel woods, the hill, the mountains, the sea, the bog, the beach and the lake: this is my dreaming.
Going Home, from my first album Convergence:
The next greatest influence on me is the people and musicians I’ve had the joy of developing relationships and spending time with. But that’s for another time.
As a teen, the bubble opened, and the wider world started to show me what else was there. I liked hip hop and loved metal and electronic music. Then I left the bubble. Moving to Dublin, I quickly realised how much I love music. No Internet in those days, so magazines, record shops, word-of-mouth and hanging out with people were the main ways of finding out about new music and interesting things.
And so, around this time the djembe came along.
My percussion group RITHIM:
My beloved djembe, an ancient instrument that’s young in Ireland. Learning to play the djembe has taught me how to play music in a way that I could never otherwise have experienced. Djembe music, constructed in parts and played for hours, is really ingenious.
Hand-drumming gave me a spiritual body experience that I loved. I wanted to learn how to have that experience all the time. It took me to places and to people I couldn’t have imagined meeting. I trained mainly in and around West African drumming for twenty-five years, learning what I could.
My vision throughout was and still is to harness the drum’s energy, power and beauty as an artist, to make my own music and collaborate with others. Being Irish and having many worlds of inspiration, I was always going to do my own thing.
A piece entitled Macaomh Mór inspired from the Irish folktale Young Conall of Howth:
I practice meditation. In this, everything in our awareness – thoughts, emotions, physical sensation – is observed from a place of stillness. This place of stillness and peace is always available. In this moment your vision emerges and develops. It is here where the freshness and originality is.
It can inform on a micro level like with a musical idea, an arrangement, a video or a difficult conversation. It can be on a macro level with longer range aspects: albums, career moves, relationships. The crazy human world typically doesn’t support a process involving stillness so it can be easy to forget about it. But hey, don’t.
One thing I can say for sure is that it always works for me and it’s life-changing.
In a non-stop changing world it shows me that one thing doesn’t change. My essence, your essence, is always the same.
The vision that emerges is completely unique to you. I say you can trust it, it’s yours, and enjoy it.
Treelan: The Long Walk:
Éamonn Cagney is currently working on his second solo album, teaches percussion in The Irish World Academy of Music and Dance at University of Limerick, and is about to release a collaboration album with Congolese guitar maestro Niwel Tsumbu.