Irish Arts Center Announces International Collaboration Between Singers Liam Ó Maonlaí and Cassandra Wilson

By: Sep. 14, 2017

The thrilling artistic partnership of Hothouse Flowers frontman Liam Ó Maonlaí and Grammy-winning jazz vocalist Cassandra Wilson, forged at the Irish Arts Center's 2016 Ireland Rising concert and deepened in the Center's acclaimed Masters in Collaboration residency program last November, will tour to Dublin's Olympia Theatre (November 3), Largo at the Coronet in Los Angeles (November 8) and The Old Town School in Chicago (November 10)-followed by an exclusive return engagement to Irish Arts Center in New York City (November 12). A stellar ensemble of top Irish, folk, and jazz musicians from both sides of the Atlantic will join Ó Maonlaí and Wilson in these special performances.

Masters in Collaboration: Liam Ó Maonlaí Meets Cassandra Wilson manifests the fundamental creative aims of Irish Arts Center-building contemporary dialogues and unusual unions from Irish and American traditions, offering Irish artists access to American artists and audiences, and forging a dynamic Irish America for the 21st century that will nourish both countries. The Center's pairing of Wilson and Ó Maonlaí (each revered veterans within their respective musical spheres) fuses American jazz with Irish folk music-and, more importantly, provides a home for the expression of shared narratives that bring people together.

The music of both Ó Maonlaí and Wilson may be singular, but prior to their collaboration, the artists already had their share of overlapping musical influences. Both artists uphold the traditions of their respective backgrounds, aware of their rich legacies and those legacies' histories of cultural marginalization. Yet with their pasts steeped in musical tradition, they share the desire to apply those roots to their own artistic tendencies towards playfulness, experimentation, and even genre transcendence.

Ó Maonlaí, who often sings in Irish, learned the language from his father as he was beginning to speak, and attended the Irish-speaking school Coláiste Eoin. Briefly, he turned to punk rock to form The Complex-with Kevin Shields and Colm Ó Cíosóig, who would later go on to found My Bloody Valentine. He then quickly reclaimed tradition in his band Hothouse Flowers, known for their infusions of other genres, like gospel and soul, into traditional Irish music. "At my school, traditional music was what lots of the kids were into," Ó Maonlaí told Irish News. "It was just music and a real scene and wasn't to do with a GAA club or a Comhaltas club. It was just in the bones." Beyond that, his solo work has seen him translating and covering the poetic work of musicians like Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen.

Wilson, meanwhile, grew up surrounded by jazz, listening constantly to MiLes Davis, thanks to her father-the late Jackson, Mississippi multi-instrumentalist Herman Fowlkes, Jr. Her life and artistry are in no small way shaped by those origins; she told Randall Pinkston in an interview for Al Jazeera, "Metaphorically, physically, [Mississippi is] the very bottom...There's a certain creativity, I think, you develop as a result of all of the pressure that there is in being and living in Mississippi."

Like Ó Maonlaí, she was also drawn to other musical tendencies at a young age: her earliest writing as a teenager veered towards folk-then in college she performed with bands harnessing multiple genres, from R&B to pop to funk. In the '80s, she turned fervently to jazz, abandoning variety to seek heightened discipline within the rich genre, plunging into the intricacies of jazz improvisation with her co-founding of the M-Base collective. Then, in the '90s, she reactivated her genre-crossing abilities, mining the influences of the myriad musical styles in which she had long ago become fluent. She covered the likes of CharLes Brown, Joni Mitchell, and Neil Young, and found in herself a desire to continue exploring: with her encyclopedic knowledge and foundation in jazz, she has sought, across her career, to fuse forms and traditions without undermining them, maintaining a devotion to the genre grounded in 20th century black American identity. She told Al Jazeera, "I think that's a very part of who I am and what I do, is bringing disparate elements together and realizing common ground. I think it's important to do that musically. I think it's important for us to do that in the world. I want to be remembered for doing that."

An Evening with Cassandra Wilson, Liam Ó Maonlaí & Friends

Friday, November 3
Olympia Theatre
72 Dame St, Temple Bar
Dublin 2, D02 K135, Ireland

Wednesday, November 8
Largo at the Coronet
366 N. La Cienega Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90048

Friday, November 10
Old Town School of Folk Music
4544 N. Lincoln Avenue
Chicago, IL 60625
$45,, 773.728.6000

Sunday, November 12
Irish Arts Center
553 West 51st Street
New York, NY 10019
$75,, 866.811.4111

About Liam Ó' Maonlaí

Liam Ó Maonlaí is one of Ireland's best-loved musicians and singers, both in rock and traditional music. In a career spanning more than twenty years, he has earned number-one hits across the globe, and has recorded with some of the world's best musicians, including Carlos Nunes, Donal Lunny, U2 and Van Morrison, to name a few. A master pianist, Ó Maonlaí also performs on guitar, harp, tin whistle and bodhrán. He has been described by Bono as "the best white boy soul singer in the world," and is also one of Ireland's most renowned sean-nós singers.

About Cassandra Wilson

Cassandra Wilson is an American jazz musician, vocalist, songwriter, and producer from Jackson, Mississippi, described by critic Gary Giddins as "a singer blessed with an unmistakable timbre and attack who has expanded the playing field" by incorporating blues, country and folk music into her work. In 2015, Wilson joined forces with the prestigious label Legacy, a subsidiary of Sony Music. Her latest project, Coming Forth By Day, was released on the 100th anniversary of Billie Holiday's birth (April 7, 2015). She was a recipient of the Irish Arts Center Spirit of Ireland Award in 2015.

About Old Town School of Folk Music

Chicago's Old Town School of Folk Music is the largest community school of the arts in the U.S. and a non-profit organization committed to celebrating American music and global cultures. The school teaches and celebrates music and cultural expressions rooted in the traditions of diverse American and global communities. Founded in 1957, the Old Town School of Folk Music provides a wide range of music, dance, theater, and visual arts courses to people of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds. Whatever one's interest, the Old Town School provides broad access to more than 700 accredited class offerings, private lessons, and over 400 concerts per year. More information is available at

About Irish Arts Center

Irish Arts Center, founded in 1972 and based in Hell's Kitchen, New York City, is a national and international home for artists and audiences of all backgrounds who share a passion for the evolving arts and culture of contemporary Ireland and Irish America. We present, develop, promote, tour, and distribute work from established and emerging artists and cultural practitioners, providing audiences with emotionally and intellectually transporting experiences-the results of innovation, collaboration, and the authentic celebration of our common humanity.

Steeped in grassroots traditions, with a commitment to inclusion that dates back to our founding, we provide education programs and access to the arts for people of all ages and ethnic, racial and socioeconomic backgrounds, and an international home for the Irish community to come together and engage with a dynamic global diaspora.

In Spring 2018, we will break ground on a landmark new permanent home, including a state of the art contemporary, flexible performance and arts space for the presentation and development of work across a range of disciplines; a second, intimate performance space-the renovated historic Irish Arts Center theatre-optimized for the most intimate live music and conversation, recordings, master classes and special events; classrooms and studio spaces for community education programs in Irish music, dance, language, history, and the humanities; technology to stream and distribute the Irish Arts Center experience on the digital platform; a spacious and vibrant avenue-facing café lobby that will be a hospitable hub for conversation and interaction between artists and audiences; and a beautiful new courtyard entrance on 51st Street where the historic Irish Arts Center building and the new facility meet.


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