Concertina player Niall Vallely, fiddle player Liz Knowles and guitarist and vocalist Niwel Tsumbu will play 2 shows in Cork early next month. Photo: Robert Flanagan

Three is the magic number

From Kentucky to the Congo and all the way to Cork, a genre bending trio of very different musicians will look to find some common ground on Leeside next month.

Presented by Music Network, the collaborative project features Kentucky fiddle player Liz Knowles, Congolese guitarist and vocalist Niwel Tsumbu, and Cork concertina player Niall Vallely.

They will play 2 shows in Cork next month, the first on 5 May at the Triskel, and then the Baltimore Fiddle Fair on 6 May. Combining their extensive and varied musical influences, the trio are eager to push past creative boundaries in a unique cross-cultural, cross-genre collaboration. Audience members can expect striking melodies, beautiful harmonies, deep rhythmic grooves, and all-round ‘joie de vivre’ in a concert that could be a balm for the soul.

Liz Knowles has established herself as a world-renowned, dynamic performer and recording artist as a fiddle player with Riverdance, The String Sisters, The Martin Hayes Quartet, and her trio Open the Door for Three.

Her fascination with music has always been rooted in how one can “arrive, land, and leave” a note. Her early foundations were in classical music, but she began to further explore this fascination through the lens of other genres, performing with a wide array of artists including Marcus Roberts, Bang-on-a-Can Orchestra, Bobby McFerrin, Paula Cole, Steve Reich, Eliot Goldenthal, Rachel Barton, Don Henley, and Tim O’Brien.

Virtuosic Congolese-born guitarist Niwel Tsumbu has recorded with artists such as Nigel Kennedy and Steve Cooney and has performed with the likes of Sinead O’Connor, Buena Vista Social Club, and Baaba Maal. In 2021, Niwel’s global reach was cemented with his guitarwork on the Grammy award-winning album ‘They’re Calling Me Home’ by Rhiannon Giddens and Francesco Turrisi.

His style is unique and exhilarating, drawing on influences like jazz, classical, rock, folk, and rumba. The keystones of his music are his sophisticated sense of rhythm, breath-taking guitar playing, and thrilling improvisations. Singing in his native Lingala as well as French and English, he is always compelling in performance.

Cork-based composer and concertina player Niall Vallely recently received a PhD in composition from UCC and has been involved in high profile arrangement projects with Lúnasa, Iarla Ó Lionáird, Donal Lunny, Boston Pops Orchestra, and the RTÉ Concert Orchestra. Born in Armagh in 1970, he began learning the concertina at the age of 7, taught by his parents Brian and Eithne Vallely, founders of the Armagh Pipers' Club. He has been a resident of Cork since 1988 and since the early 1990s, he has been composing traditional-style tunes and, in more recent years, has expanded the scope of his compositions to embrace larger scale forms and instrumentation involving musicians from the worlds of traditional and classical music.

In November 2018, Niall premiered a major new commission for Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council entitled ‘78 Revolutions’.