Anja Bakker, also called The Flauting Harper, has just finished compiling her album, ‘Of Ballads and Bunting’, a selection of ancient music of Ireland based on the Cairde na Cuirte publications, the Bunting Collection and the Woolsley edition of 1973.
Anja describes herself as a “harper, troubadour, pilgrim, walker, thinker, writer, mother and talker… My job in this life is to walk and play, sing, perform and talk about the harp, music and performance.”
The Canadian-Dutch musician, who has made Clonakilty her home, plays her harp and sings ballads regularly for the residents of Mount Carmel Community Hospital and Bushmount Nursing Home. “I love listening to them and they to me,” she says simply, “and it’s not just for the residents, but also the staff. In America, Harp for Healing, a programme that brings harpists in to healthcare settings to play for patients and their carers, has proved very successful.”
Anja has done a fair amount of healing herself over the past number of years.
Horrified upon reading the beginning of the Murphy Report into the abuse of children by those who were supposed to be caring for them, in 2010 the strong-minded Dutch woman committed herself to standing in solidarity with all whom have been and are still being abused. In May of that year, Anja set off to walk 2500km, carrying a 26-string harp (called Séan) from St James’ Well in Ardfield, Clonakilty, to Dublin and after that to Santiago de-Compostella in North Western Spain.
“I was living in Ireland because I believed it to be a safe, cohesive community a great place to be growing up. Reading the report really shook me. I believe, in fact, that we believe ‘abuse’ in not acceptable anymore in this society,” she says passionately.
“I walked and heard so many stories of suffering along the way. But it restored my faith in humanity. The Camino is where you find your courage to face your demons. It set me free. I used to be so angry but on that walk I learned that it’s possible to forgive and move on. I had a strained relationship for a long time with my mother but the Camino resolved that.”
Three months and three weeks after setting off, Anja arrived at her destination. “I felt stronger than any army when I arrived in Santiago de-Compostella but I cried like a baby in the cathedral,” she says.
Anja explains that her reason for walking with her harp was to symbolise her relationship with Ireland. “I first came to Ireland in 1973 when I was just four-years-old. We spent six weeks touring around in one of the barrel top caravans. I remember standing in the rain, playing with the snails. Ireland made such a big impression on all of us and we came back for many holidays after that.”
Anja’s mother moved to Ireland in 1987. “Things were difficult at home when I was a teenager and I think I associated music with those times, so when my mother left, I just gave up music and didn’t play again for years.” Anja was playing the recorder from the age of four and she took up the harp when she was nine.
After leaving home, Anja travelled for a while, working in administration jobs and restaurants; she studied Anthropology for a couple of years in Amsterdam, and at the end of 1996, her daughter Sarah was born. “My mother came and brought us back to West Cork with her in ’97,” says Anja.
When Sarah started school, Anja decided to go back to music. “It’s what I’ve always wanted to do, it fulfills me.”
Anja completed her degree in Music Performance, specialising in Ancient Music, at the Cork School of Music in 2008. “I also wanted Sarah to know that learning never stops,” she says.
Although the big dream is to walk from West Cork to Jerusalem, next on the agenda for Anja is the Festival Interceltique de Lorient in France on August 11 and 12. The travelling harpist has signed up to the competition for the Best Celtic Harper. “I’m looking forward to representing Ireland and Clonakilty at it,” she says.
Although she admits to feeling a bit lost when her daughter Sarah left for South Korea, Anja says that Ireland still felt like home afterwards.
“I would never have had the same opportunities or be the musician I am today if I had stayed in the Netherlands. Ireland has made me into the person who I really am and taught me how to express myself. It makes me really proud to live here. Whenever I have a bad day, I walk down on to Main Street in Clonakilty and there is always someone who says hello, stops for a chat or just smiles at me. I feel very accepted here.”
To order a copy of Anja’s cd, email firstname.lastname@example.org or find her an facebook.