Fiddler Andrew Finn Magill shares his musical influences and evolution on a two-album project

THE WELL-TRAVELED TUNE: “I feel like this contemporary interpretation is important because traditions are living, breathing organisms,” says Andrew Finn Magill. The fiddler/violinist represents his Irish influences and how his playing has evolved through exposure to world music on two new related albums. Photo by Anna Colliton

Growing up on the Warren Wilson College campus is enviable enough. For violinist/fiddler Andrew Finn Magill, the pastoral setting not only provided great hiking and fun neighbors, but it also introduced him to world-renowned musicians who shaped his career. Magill’s father, Jim Magill, is the director of The Swannanoa Gathering, founded in 1991 by Warren Wilson President Emeritus Doug Orr. The five-week program, held on the college’s campus each summer, combines music workshops, jam sessions, concerts and a summer-camp-for-adults setting. For Andrew Magill, who began studying Irish fiddle at age 11, the gathering’s Celtic Week offered a wealth of inspiration and mentors.

“A lot of the styles that I play, I first heard at the gathering. … More than anything, it showed me that I didn’t have to do just one genre,” says Magill. Though Irish music was his first passion, “The gathering in general made me so much more aware of all the musical diversity out there and the fact that, if I wanted, I could play it all. It kind of influenced my musical tourism, going to Africa and Brazil.”

Those early influences, and Magill’s trajectory as a violinist are represented on a two-album concept project. Roots, a collection of traditional, Irish tunes (aka trad), was released last month. Branches, featuring Magill’s original compositions, comes out this fall. He holds an album release show (both records will be available) at Isis Restaurant & Music Hall on Friday, July 8.

Branches is deliberately trad-influenced, Magill says. The point of the Isis show (and the record) is to demonstrate where his musical origins have led. “There’s a big trend of new Irish music where people are experimenting with different time signatures and different instrumentation. … A lot of my musical peers — people I’ve toured with and people I’ve been influenced by — are at the vanguard of this,” he says. “I feel like this contemporary interpretation is important because traditions are living, breathing organisms. They can’t be too set in their ways because they’ll die out.”

Magill continues, “I think it’s important to validate both” — the point of origination and the evolution — “and that’s what Roots and Branches is about.

Along with teaching fiddle and violin to private students and at sessions such as Rocky Mountain Fiddle Camp, Common Ground on the Hill and Goderich Celtic Roots (he also returns to the Swannanoa Gathering as an instructor), Magill has toured with the Paul McKenna Band from Glasgow, Scotland and the French dance revue “Celtic Dances,” under the musical direction of Liz Knowles and Kieran O’Hare. Through a 2009 Fulbright-MtvU Fellowship, Magill co-wrote and co-produced the album Mau a Malawi: Stories of AIDS with African guitarist Peter Mawanga.

“There’s not a Malawi fiddle that I know of. I was just trying to find where I fit in,” Magill says of his work with Mawanga. “Peter loves the violin and really made a point to have me fit in somewhere. He would teach me rhythms and various musical ideas — he’d dictate them to me and have me play them on the fiddle.”

Magill adds, “[Mawanga] is influential in many ways, as well, to the Roots and Branches projects because he plays all his own original music, but his music is inspired by traditional Malawian [songs].”

In making Roots, “I went so far as to dig up older tunes,” Magill says. “It’s the classic Irish tunes that I grew up playing, that got me really excited about the music to begin with.” Guests on that album include local (by way of Ireland) guitarist John Doyle, Cillian Vallely of Lúnasa, Sean Earnest of The Yanks, and local musicians Duncan Wickel and Vincent Fogarty — all friends, teachers and collaborators of Magill. The Isis show will feature some of the guests from the record as well as other musicians Magill admires, like Chris Rosser.

“[On] the Branches disc … I’m not [covering] other people’s music because I want to show how I was influenced by Irish music in my own way,” Magill says.

The current manifestation of world influence on the fiddler’s sound come from Brazil. An initial trip (“I’ve always liked [Portuguese] and had thought about trying to become fluent in it … so I put my apartment in New York on Craigslist for the winter and went down to Brazil”) led to a romantic connection and an eventual move to Rio de Janeiro. There, Magill leads the musical project O Finno, inspired by the Brazilian Choro tradition.

“Brazilian music is a challenge,” he says. “You definitely have to learn some new musical instincts.” But living there has made the difference in his self-education.

Magill remembers, before his musical and linguistic travels began, going to Pack Library to check out albums by African artists like Habib Koité and Youssou N’doir. “But it wasn’t until I was there in Ghana that it made sense,” he says. “It makes more sense seeing people playing it from a few feet away rather than with your headphones on.”

WHAT: Andrew Finn McGill launches Roots and Branches
WHERE: Isis Restaurant & Music Hall, isisasheville.com
WHEN: Friday, July 8, at 7 p.m. $15

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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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