Tag Archives: Scottish Gaelic

In Scotland’s independence referendum, Lady Alba is voting ‘Naw!’

Zara Gladman prepares to become Lady Alba (Photo: Cori Princell)

Zara Gladman prepares to become Lady Alba (Photo: Cori Princell)

Here’s a guest post from Scotland-based reporter Cori Princell.

In this Jekyll and Hyde story, Dr. Zara Gladman is the ordinary, respectable character.

Zara is in her late 20s and a scientist. She got her PhD a couple of years ago in ecology and now works doing outreach for the annual Glasgow Science Festival.

She’s planning to vote yes in the upcoming Scottish independence referendum because of issues like care for the elderly and free education. She thinks Scotland will do better if it separates from the United Kingdom.

But Dr. Zara Gladman has another side. When she applies her make-up and secures her platinum blonde wig, she becomes Lady Alba. And Lady Alba is voting “naw.”

On stage, her backup dancers wear paper face masks of Scottish and British politicians. “I want your weapons. I want student fees. I want a country run by Tory MPs,” sings Lady Alba in the online video that went viral in Scotland.

The video is a spoof on the hit “Bad Romance” by Lady Gaga. Like Gaga, Lady Alba has crazy make-up and soda cans rolled into her hair, although hers are cans of Irn Bru, an orange soda that’s iconic in Scotland. Her name, Alba, comes from the Gaelic word for Scotland. But don’t mistake all that for Scottish nationalism: Lady Alba wants Scotland to remain part of Britain.

“I want your love, even if it’s wrong, I like being told what I should do,” she sings. “It would be mental to try something new. Let’s sit around and wait for things to improve.”

Zara says the joke is on “no” voters. “I’m just trying to poke fun,” she says. “I just think some of the arguments against independence are so ludicrous.”

The orange and blue stripe on her cheek is inspired by David Bowie, who came out as opposed to Scottish independence when Zara was coming up with her Lady Alba costume. She looks at a photo of Bowie's Aladdin Sane persona on her phone as a guide. (Photo: Cori Princell)

The orange and blue stripe on her cheek is inspired by David Bowie, who came out as opposed to Scottish independence when Zara was coming up with her Lady Alba costume. She looks at a photo of Bowie’s Aladdin Sane persona on her phone as a guide. (Photo: Cori Princell)

When Zara realized how popular Lady Alba was becoming online, she created a Facebook page for her. Lady Alba now does media interviews and performs at comedy shows—always in character as an outrageous “naw” voter.

The Scottish comedian Keir McAllister says it’s a great example of Scottish humor. “We always laugh at ourselves when we kind of downscale things,” he says. “It’s just a really clever piece of satire.”

McAllister recently invited Zara to perform as Lady Alba at The Stand Comedy Club in Glasgow. The sold-out show was all about the referendum, and it was clear there were both “yes” and “no” voters in the audience. But as Lady Alba came out on stage wrapped in a Scottish flag, they were all laughing.

I did have to ask Zara whether this split identity is having any effect on her. She laughed and said there’s no danger she’ll transform permanently into Lady Alba. “I don’t have any kind of weird conflict in my head like, oh maybe she’s right!” she says, “I just put on a character and that’s it.”

Zara sees an important role for comedy as people in Scotland face the difficult questions ahead. Comedy can dispel apathy, she says, and “it can get people engaged.”

This past weekend, she released her second Lady Alba video. This one is a take on Yellow Submarine by the Beatles, and it focuses on another issue in the Scottish independence debate: nuclear weapons.

The hits have been going up.


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Swearing in Irish, storytelling in Scots, and rapping in Khmer

There may be many reasons why attempts at reviving the Irish language have not fared as well as those for Welsh, or even Scottish Gaelic.  You might think that Ireland, as a new-ish nation, would have embraced its ancient language — a language suppressed by the British colonialists. And certainly, Ireland ‘s first few governments tried that in the 1920s and 30s. Irish was mandatory in schools, and mastery of it was required to enter the civil service. Despite that,  it never really took off. Perhaps the British had done too good a job in near-wiping it out. (And did less well in Wales, where people persisted in speaking Welsh, even before its current government-sponsored revival). Or perhaps, people aren’t comfortable learning a language as a political act, as part of a nationalist agenda.

We hear from two speakers of the language: first, my Dad, who remembers hardly any Irish these days but studied it at school for many years. Today, many decades later, he wishes he’d paid more attention.  Then, a conversation with Manchán Magan, who made a documentary series for Irish TV about his attempt to travel around Ireland speaking only Irish. (That’s him in the picture, praying that he’ll meet someone who speaks Irish.) He was verbally abused in Dublin — a reaction Magan thinks has to do with the past, and feelings of guilt and shame. In Killarney, he asked people, in Irish, to help him rob a bank. In Galway, he sang filthy songs in public and was applauded by uncomprehending old ladies.  He also tried — and failed — to buy food and clothes, and to hire a mechanic. Middle-aged Irish people like him, Magan says, never really were interested in keeping up their Irish skills. But the young are different: for them, learning Irish doesn’t have an agenda attached to it. So there may be hope yet for this language.
Then, it’s Alexander McCall Smith. His latest offering in the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series is a children’s book in the Scots language. McSmith and other participants in a BBC round-table program (also featured  in the podcast) discuss books in translation. English is now so dominant and so widely understood, that many books written in English simply aren’t translated into the likes of Dutch, Danish or Swedish, let alone Scots. So, publication of this book in its translation a full year before it is published in the original English is a quite a statement from McCall Smith.

Finally, we profile hip-hop artist Boomer Da Sharpshooter. Boomer, who is ethnic Cambodian, was born in a refugee camp in Thailand and raised in California. He grew up speaking English but now raps in Cambodia’s main language, Khmer. It’s not out of choice: in his late teens he was gang-banger, and was sent to prison on weapons offenses. On his release, the US deported him to Cambodia. That was seven years ago. Today, he’s a reformed character, and his  Khmer raps are considerably softer in tone and content than his English ones used to be.

Listen in iTunes or here.

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