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Traditional music is one of the most important components of life on Cape Breton Island. The musical culture of Cape Breton Island is internationally famous for its lively spirit and passion. The Celtic heritage of the original Scottish settlers is still actively celebrated today with great pride at ceilidhs. Ceilidh is Gaelic for "kitchen party" but today it simply means an informal get-together.(3) Ceilidhs were for entertainment during the long winter months but today they are most popular during the summer. Every night in the villages along the western coast of Cape Breton Island, pubs vibrate with the sounds of fiddles, pipes and pianos. Walls shake with the lively jigs and reels. It's not like a concert with an audience. At a ceilidh, everyone entertains. Most everyone plays an instrument or two, and people of all ages get up to dance. The steps come as naturally to them as walking it seems. The Cape Bretonners are a boisterous crowd and even visitors don't get away with just watching. They include everyone.

A ceilidh benefit concert at the Sunset Art Gallery
in Cheticamp, Cape Breton Island.

Celtic Colours

Each October, people from around Cape Breton and the world flock to the island to experience the music of the highlands at the annual festival Celtic Colours. Over 300 Celtic musicians, storytellers, singers and dancers travel from as far away as Scotland and Ireland to showcase their talent and participate in the festivities. The festival includes nightly performances, and visitors also have the opportunity to attend workshops.(2) Concerts are held at over 30 venues across the island. They range in size from small community centers to large concert halls.

See pictures from previous years at Celtic Colours.


The traditional music of Cape Breton Island has been celebrated for decades in Nova Scotia, but gradually, the rest of the world is coming to love it too. Many artists have left the island to pursue fame and fortune in larger cities around the world. Some artists like Natalie MacMaster and her uncle Buddy MacMaster have made multiple albums and are household names in the world of fiddling.

"After generations of splendid isolation, Cape Breton music with (Natalie) MacMaster is going out to meet the world. And the world likes it." - The Financial Post, Canada (4)

Buddy MacMaster tunes

Tune 1 Tune 2 Tune 3 Tune 4 Tune 5 Tune 6


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© Amy Clendenin 2002
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Site last updated: November 2002