A Caper in Cuba!

At age 22, Cape Breton’s Rosie MacKenzie is already a veteran performer and recording artist, and is recognized as one of the finest fiddlers in Canada. As the youngest member of The Cottars, MacKenzie was featured on three critically acclaimed albums and has shared the stage with Celtic music titans such as Altan, Natalie MacMaster, and The Chieftains. This week she will be performing in Havana as part of CeltFest Cuba.

What is your own heritage?
My father’s family comes from Scotland descent. My mother’s family comes from Syria. I thank Pops for the music, and mom for my tan.

What inspired you to start fiddling?
I wasn’t any good at sports. There was an old fiddle in the basement with two strings and I plucked out ‘You are my sunshine.’ I am proud to say I have since learned how to play jigs and polkas, and have scored a few goals as empty netters.

Are they the same reasons that you still do it today?
Music is my biggest creative outlet. It brings me joy. I have been really lucky to share my music and meet incredible people all over the world.

What do your family & friends think of your fiddling experiences?
My family has been a big part of my musical past. My brother and I played in a band together when we were younger and instead of packing our lunch boxes, my mom would pack us clean socks for the road. My folks were always supportive of whatever made us happy, and we were good to send home postcards. Music has always been a positive focus in my life, and people don’t usually let you go hungry when you can play them a tune. So when I leave to travel alone, I think my parents feel a little calmer.

Are young people still drawn to fiddling?
I have just spent my first winter living in Cape Breton since I was a high school student. I taught music lessons to very aspiring young musicians, and there still seems to be a younger generation of people drawn to our traditional roots. Some of them are even athletes, so I feel the culture is still very promising.

How are you involved with the fiddling community these days?
When I find myself settled in the same place for any period of time, I really love teaching. Some of my fiddle teachers have become my life professors, and if I can share a strathspey or story along the way, it is fulfilling. I will also attend most kitchen parties.

What events will you be involved with this year?
I am really excited to be a part of CeltFest Cuba this year. It is my first visit to Cuba, and I very much looking forward to our musical collaborations.

How did you get involved with CeltFest Cuba?
I have heard wonderful things about the festival and was more than happy to say yes to a week of sunshine and strathspeys. It’s a wonderful combination don’t you think?

Why is it an important event for the Celtic Community?
Tradition music still needs to stay fresh and I think the best way to nurture and protect our music is to celebrate and collaborate.

In your estimation, is enough being done to promote Celtic culture today?
There has been amazing people who have helped to promote our culture and still embrace its natural evolution. Events such as Celtic Colours have brought life to our island and people, securing what is important to us. International collaboration of music and dance ignites creativity which is the most important ingredient in keeping our culture alive.

What could we be doing better?
More people could wear kilts.

What’s next on your own creative agenda?
I hope to spend more time in places where I can grow. I hope to travel and study in Ireland again this year and continue to write and play music that makes me feel like dancing.