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Classical singer and composer Jessica Victoria on joining Scots musicians to explore Celtic mythology and King Arthur

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After becoming fascinated with Arthurian legend and Celtic mythology, singer and harpist Jessica Victoria knew the ideal place to record her new album was Scotland.

Born in New Mexico, the musician, who has been blind since birth, has always been intrigued by her family’s far-reaching roots to Galicia in Spain, which has long been linked with the Celts.

Working alongside some well-known Scottish musicians, she set out to create an album that draws on the lore and tales of time gone by, and that tells its own story throughout.

The result was Songs of the Summer Realm, a record that Jessica hopes will be something that people can sit down and take in as a whole – especially now that we’re in lockdown.

“It’s fascinating, Celtic mythology, I think it really speaks to me as an artist,” she says.

“It’s not really a romantic fascination as much as a kindred feeling for a people who, like me, have deep roots and whose history is rich with poetry and lore.

“Even though I might not have been born to it and it’s not in my blood in a direct way, I feel very connected to the idea of a magic music story, and maybe that’s a simple way of putting it.”

The album was born out of Jessica’s love for stories in music.

In a world of short streaming and thirty second video clips, she felt there was a place for a long playing album, that the listener is invited to delve deep into.

She hopes it can take people away for a while from life, and help them to find meaning in the music.

On choosing the location of Scotland, Jessica says: “I’ve always loved adventure and the ideas of chivalry and legends of King Arthur, but I was really intrigued to find that there were some connections with different places I didn’t know about.

“We always think of Arthur with French connections, but there’s such a great history in Britain and especially in Scotland.

“I’d been wanting to come to Scotland for a very long time, I was fascinated by the history and thought this project would be a great way to collaborate with some Scottish musicians and to bring some of the elements of setting to inspire the recording.”

Jessica Victoria

Jessica says she couldn’t quite put into spoken or written words the feeling of setting up base in the Highlands of Scotland.

“There was a certain something in the atmosphere and the culture. I wanted to put it into music somehow,” she says.

“According to some accounts, King Arthur spent his formative growing up years in Scotland. I wanted to record the album amid these same hills and glens in which such a significant part of Arthur’s story unfolds.”

The album was recorded at the Watercolour Music studio in Ardgour, near Fort William.

Working alongside Jessica on the project were a number of well-known Scottish musicians including Lorne MacDougall of the Red Hot Chilli Pipers, Mary Ann Kennedy, Euan Stevenson, Wendy Weatherby, and Euan Burton.

Jessica in studio

She recalls: “It was amazing. I had a wonderful time and I’m confident that we’ll have many more fruitful collaborations in the future.

“The experience was wonderful. The studio was great but the people there really made it for me.

“Being able to work with such a gifted group of musicians has always been one of the things that’s drawn me to songwriting and to working in music, the kind of collaborations you can form and grow through.

“You end up with a completely wonderful thing that’s come from all those hours of work and laughter – and sometimes frustration – but ultimately it’s great music.”

A couple of the songs are sung in Gaelic, a language that Jessica has become fascinated by.

“I’m trying to learn it, I love the language and think it’s amazing and beautiful,” she adds.

“I had the privilege of working with Mary Ann, who helped me with the Gaelic pronunciation, translation and arrangement.

“That was wonderful, being able to work with her. It fuelled my love for languages a lot more.”

Jessica’s music career has seen her play all across the world, even once for Pope John Paul II.

Her love of music, forged with poetry, philosophy and language, set her on what she describes as “a twisty-turny road” that brings her to this point.

And along the way, being born blind has only presented her with obstacles when it comes to other people’s attitudes.

“For me, it’s just a normal part of life. I grew up running and throwing balls and climbing trees and all of that stuff,” says Jessica, who plays and composes using Braille music.

“I was really fortunate to have a family who really just realised it was another part of who I am, like having black hair or being from New Mexico, or not liking mushrooms!

“Later on, I realised that this was not how a lot of people think of it, and so I’ve had to learn how to deal with different attitudes about it through the years.”

Here is a rough sketch of the beginning of the first verse for the spring song that I shared yesterday. It is inspired by my love of gardening. What are some of your favorite springtime activities?

Posted by Jessica Victoria on Thursday, 2 April 2020

Jessica, like most of the world, is currently in lockdown, which she’s trying to make the most of.

Unfortunately it means she can’t make it back to Scotland any time soon, but she hopes people can have the album as a bit of respite in their downtime.

“It’s interesting that this album should be released during this time,” she says.

“It’s different from a lot of albums that are being released right now, you really have to sit down and listen to the whole thing in order to get the whole story.

“What better time for people to sit down and take some time to breathe and think and reflect? This is an album that can bring meaning, not just on a thirty second listen, but over time and over many listens hopefully.”

Once lockdown restrictions have eased, Jessica hopes to return across the Atlantic to play some shows to promote the album.

And those first shows back in a world slowly returning to some sort of normality will prove extra special.

“It would’ve been a celebration anyway for the release, but now we’re going to be celebrating coming back to normal life and being outside in the open and being able to communicate and spend time with each other,” Jessica says.

“I want the tour to be part of that joy, part of people coming together again.”