Dani Larkin, a singer-songwriter and folk musician, was born in a small village along the Armagh-Monaghan border in the Republic of Ireland — not far from Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK.
The area was a hotbed of sectarian conflict and tension from 1968 to 1998 during what was called the troubles.
Larkin was too young to have experienced the height of the deadly violence that broke out there along religious and political lines.
“Being a person that grew up on the border and whose life, essentially, was filled with family gatherings each week, where we shared songs and stories and plays and dance of any kind,” she said, adding, “That grew into my sense of self, but I didn't know that that wasn't a common experience for everyone.”
Later, Larkin came to understand how divided her homeland was — there were two government jurisdictions and two currencies to juggle. This made her aware of what it’s like to live somewhere in the middle. It’s a theme that drives her recent recording, “Between Worlds,” about borderlands and conflict. She’s performing the album in New York this week.
To understand the divisions at home, Larkin turned to folklore — age-old stories with a shared history. That informs her songs a lot.
“My work is very much rooted to place — in the sense of the island of Ireland as a place belongs to everyone that lives. Say that the stories that we've shared over hundreds and thousands of years are accessible to [all].”
One of those stories is told in the song, “The Red (Maca's Return).”
Maca is the goddess of war and transformation.
“So, for me, that song conjures each time it is sung, it conjures magic, it conjures wonder, it conjures myth.”
Larkin now calls Belfast, in Northern Ireland, her home. But that doesn't mean she's shied away from living in other areas prone to conflict. She's lived in Israel and Colombia.
“In a way, it becomes a comfortable kind of discomfort or a familiar kind of discomfort,” she said.
The key for herself, Larkin said, is to seek beauty.
“Growing up in a place where you feel conflict and feel conflicted and feel the hurt and pain and suffering, but also alongside the joy and love and kindness and a willingness to create change. That is something that for me and for other people that I've spoken to at home, we constantly seek out.”
Sign up for The Top of the World, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.