A Conversation with Up-and-Coming Local Folk Singer Kari Arnett

Growing up in rural south central Wisconsin, Kari Arnett was experimenting with writing, playing, and singing music from a young age. It wasn't until her early 20s that Arnett taught herself guitar and began performing as a traveling musician. Her lush, imaginative, storyteller approach to narrative songwriting pulls lyrics from love and loss to create a compelling and hopeful listening experience.

Meet Irish "Celtgrass" Quartet Jigjam


JigJam is a multi-award winning quartet from the heart of the midlands in Ireland. Blending the best of traditional Irish music with bluegrass and Americana in a new genre which has been branded as ‘CeltGrass’, their onstage energy along with their virtuous musical ability has captivated audiences throughout the world.


We spoke with JigJam ahead of their show at The Cedar Cultural Center on April 12 about the band's first gig, the influence of American music, and the recording of 2017's Live in Tullamore. Read the full interview below and get tickets for the show here.


You grew up immersed in Irish music, which Irish artists were inspiring to you when you began playing?


When we grew up we were listening to a lot of funky Irish bands. I remember Beoga would have been a big hit back when we were teenagers, as well as Flook. But then again we always had a huge admiration for the old stuff. We always liked Planxty and guys like that. From the banjo side of things, I have a huge admiration for Gerry O’Connor and Damien O’Kane. Guitar players, you have the likes of Arty McGlynn and even Paul Brady. There would be so many influences.


Popular Irish folk band Beoga are among Jigjam's early influences


How did Jigjam meet and begin playing music together?


We were all friends before Jigjam started. We would’ve went to the same music teachers and summer schools together. I was actually asked to do a 21st birthday party and I didn’t really want to do it on my own, so I rounded up a few troops and started a band. We were actually a five-piece band at the start. We were just kind of doing some parties and local gigs in pubs at the very start. It’s only after maybe two years that we really said to ourselves, “Hold on, we’ll try to make something of this.” And we tried to find our own sound and such. So then we were a three-piece. James is a full time primary school teacher; he was married and he had kids so he couldn’t commit. My sister was in college at the time, studying, so she couldn’t commit. So the three of us worked out. And since, we added Gavin Strappe to the band two years ago. So we’ve been a four-piece for two years now.


How does American folk and pop music influence your sound?


We listen to a lot of Americana style music. It goes hand in hand with bluegrass music as well. We listen to a lot of bands like Old Crow Medicine Show and then some guys on the more bluegrass side of things, like The Infamous Stringdusters and Greensky Bluegrass. And then the more pop kind of stuff; we listen to a lot of American country music over here in the States–people like Chris Stapleton and Rascal Flatts. The band Midland that have been blowing up in the past few years, I really like their style as well.


What can audiences expect from your live shows?


Hopefully we get a lot of enjoyment out of them. Hearing our new songs and original tunes and a lot of jamming as well. Lately we’ve been experimenting with some effects and stuff like that.


We hope it’s entertaining. We try to keep the crowd in light humor at all times. But musically, it’s definitely toe-tapping. The set is very lively. A couple of slow songs thrown in here and there, a couple of ballads, but mainly upbeat kind of stuff.


Jigjam performing to a crowd of 30,000 at Milwaukee's Irish Fest


Did becoming an internationally touring act change your perception of what you could accomplish as a band?


Definitely. For example, we were at the Americana awards last year and we got to meet The Lumineers, we got to meet Van Morrison, Old Crow Medicine Show. We hung out with these guys and were completely starstruck. We were completely taken aback by the experience. It’s when you meet these people and you see them in person that it kind of gives you hope and perspective on the whole thing. Maybe we could do the same as them. If we put our head down and start writing music, who knows what could happen. There’s no limit on where we want to go as a band. We want to keep growing, we want to keep getting our music out there, but we have no such goal set in stone that we have to do this and then that’s it. We just want to keep going and keep going. Who knows what’s gonna happen?


You recorded a live album in your hometown, 2017's Live in Tullamore. What was the experience of playing that show and making the record?


That was amazing. We were playing for a lot of peers, a lot of friends and family, which was obviously a bit nervewracking. I find you could play a gig in America at a festival, for example in Milwaukee, Irishfest, we played to 30,000 people on a Saturday night before Gaelic Storm. But yet I was probably more nervous playing for the 200 people that were in Tullamore when we recorded that CD. It’s people that know you and you just feel that you’re under pressure even though you’re probably not. It was a great experience though. We really enjoyed it. I like listening back to what we actually did, because a lot of stuff that we do on stage is off the cuff. It was exciting.


Jigjam's 2017 release, Live In Tullamore


You’ve released two studio albums, are you working on any other recorded material right now?


We have a lot more original songs this year around and we hope to write a lot more in the next year. Maybe at the end of the year we’ll see where we are.


You’ve got an extensive touring schedule ahead, what are you looking forward to?


We have a few theaters in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa. We’re looking forward to playing sit down venues that are listening crowds as well. I think that’s exciting for us with the type of band that we are. We have a few new Irish fests this year too, Colorado Irish Festival. We’re going to Telluride Bluegrass Festival this year, can’t wait for that.


What’s been inspiring you lately?


We’re huge bluegrass fans, big country fans. We’ve been listening to a band called Mipso. We’ve also been listening to a fella called Billy Strings that’s pretty amazing. Greensky Bluegrass, the Stringdusters, stuff like that. Some singer-songwriter stuff as well. Then we always have our old favorites like The Punch Brothers, Old Crow Medicine Show, Nickel Creek. Anything and everything, really.

Visa delays force The Cedar to cancel Fall Midnimo residency with Aar Maanta

Wednesday, October 4, 2017 MINNEAPOLIS, MN:  A consortium of Minnesota-based performing arts presenters and universities led by The Cedar Cultural Center in Minneapolis announced today the cancellation of a month-long residency featuring a Somali musician and his band due to visa delays. London-based Somali artist Aar Maanta and his band The Urban Nomads were to be hosted by The Cedar and Augsburg University in Minneapolis; Minnesota State University, Mankato Department of Music Performance Series in Mankato; and Paramount Center for the Arts and St. Cloud State University in St. Cloud as part of Midnimo (the Somali word for “unity”), a program launched in 2014 that presents the world’s leading Somali artists in residencies and events that increase understanding of Somali culture through music.


As of October 4, Aar Maanta, the band’s leader and the only Somali and Muslim in the band, has yet to receive his visa, even though the group was scheduled to begin their residency in Mankato this week. While the Consulate granted visas to the other four band members, Aar Maanta was the only member placed under “Additional Administrative Processing.”


“I was shocked to be singled out and discriminated against by the Consulate. It is heartbreaking to know that systematic discriminatory rules like the ‘Muslim ban' put into practice in this day and age are affecting not only me but people in far more vulnerable situations,” said Aar Maanta. “It’s extremely disappointing for my band and me to lose weeks of work that we have been meticulously planning for months.”  

The Cedar has hosted Aar Maanta twice before with great success. His first residency in 2012 was groundbreaking for the Minneapolis artistic and Somali communities, many of whom were connecting with live Somali music for the first time in decades, or in their lives. Aar Maanta led a songwriting and poetry workshop for youth and gave a public performance at The Cedar that drew over 250 Somali and non-Somali audience members. The residency’s success laid the groundwork for the Midnimo program, which has flourished since its launch in 2014. Aar Maanta’s second residency in 2015 lasted two weeks and included workshops with youth, classroom visits, and pop-up concerts throughout the community. The sold-out finale performance drew a diverse audience of over 700 people, where people of all ages and cultures danced side by side.


Cedar Program Manager Fadumo Ibrahim oversees the visa process for all Midnimo artists. While The Cedar has previously faced visa challenges bringing Somali artists to Minnesota, Ibrahim noted that securing visas has become increasingly difficult over the past year since the travel bans have been put into effect. Aar Maanta’s visa delay was especially surprising given his work with The Cedar in the past.


“This case is a concrete example of how travel restrictions and the travel ban limit artistic voices and freedom,” says Ibrahim. “While it’s obviously important for the artists, it’s equally important for the community who had been anticipating this residency. Aar Maanta’s visit to Minnesota would have brought hope and positivity to the Somali and larger communities here at a time when we all really need it.”


In 2016, the Midnimo program expanded to Mankato and St. Cloud, areas where the Somali population has grown quickly, prompting an increasing need to build cultural understanding. The 2017 residency would have been the first time Aar Maanta visited Greater Minnesota. For many, the residency was highly anticipated as an opportunity to build unity while giving Somali and non-Somali audiences a chance to engage with each other through performances and educational opportunities alongside one of the most famous artists in the Somali diaspora.


Dr. Jameel Haque, a Faculty Member at Minnesota State University, Mankato had planned to host the group in his History of Judaism, Christianity and Islam class. He and the students spent two weeks researching, discussing, and preparing for Aar Maanta’s visit. Dr. Haque said, “The lost opportunity to attend the events scheduled for this week, community events which provide a rare and desperately needed space for cross-cultural interaction in rural Minnesota, is a loss that will have deep consequences for the future of my students and my community. At the heart of it, the students and community members do not even understand why he isn't coming...nor do I.”

INTERVIEW: Ten Strings and a Goat Skin

“A seamless, polished, barrel-drum-tight, rhythmically innovative and wildly entertaining traditional music powerhouse” (The Guardian)  

Called ”infectious" and "the best of contemporary Celtic music,” Ten Strings And A Goat Skin are a bilingual fusion trio playing traditional Irish, Acadian, and French tunes mixed with modern, world rhythms. Their fiery, contagious and unique sound both respects and redefines the roots of traditional music. In advance of their show at The Cedar on Wednesday, September 27th with Srazhalys, we spoke with guitarist Jesse Periard about the band's influences, inspirations, and bilingual appeal. Check out the interview below, and get tickets to the show here.


Q: Your musical style samples mainly from traditional Irish, Acadian, and French music, with your own original creations and dynamic percussion mixed in. How did you first get into this type of traditional music? A: Rowen and Caleb were raised with folk music from a very young age. They were shown traditional Irish music and fell in love, that's mainly the music we started playing with. Nothing modern, just straight Irish traditional music. We then started discovering other types of traditional music, some that were associated with our roots, like Quebecois, Scottish, and Acadian, and some that weren't, like Scandinavian, and Americana. But we realized we loved all the different types of traditional music we were hearing and it influenced our playing tremendously.  

Q: You’re a Canadian group, hailing from Prince Edward Island and Quebec. How would you describe the traditional music scene in Prince Edward Island and Canada at large? A: The Canadian traditional music scene is booming!! There are so many amazing trad bands coming out of our country these days and it's just so inspiring. A lot of groups are really embracing the mix of elements from modern and traditional music. I think this is a genre of music that's making its way to younger generations again and is considered "cool" music in some respects. And Prince Edward Island is helping to bring this music forward in big ways, with incredible bands like Vishtèn, and The East Pointers, I think it's safe to say traditional music is in good hands.  

Q: What does it mean to you to be a bilingual band? A: Being a bilingual group has opened a lot of doors for us throughout the years. Having the opportunity to present our shows in both French and English means we can perform in many parts of Canada, as well as countries in Europe. Over the last couple of years now, we've been able to tour 2 to 3 times a year in France, Switzerland, and Belgium. We're very grateful for having learned two different languages growing up, especially now that it plays a huge role in our careers.  

Q: You have been described in the past as being “rhythmically innovative.” What do you think Ten Strings and a Goat Skin does differently? A: Honestly, we don't know. We just play what we like and what we create, and a lot of people seem to like it. And we're happy with that.  

Q: What’s inspiring you lately?

A: This has been an amazing year for us so far, we've met so many fantastic people, listened to some great music, and seen some pretty amazing sites, and we've been able to take inspiration from all these things and much more. We don't allow ourselves to limit our creativity just to keep things "traditional", we try to embrace everything that comes our way and see what we can make out of it.