FROM traditional waulking songs to tales of lost love and forced exile, women have long been at the heart of many Gaelic songs.

For Maeve Mackinnon, with new album Stri (struggle or strive), compiling a collection of songs all from the female perspective was not, however, a conscious decision.

Despite recent events which have seen women’s voices become stronger as many across the globe interacted with the #metoo online campaign, the genesis of Stri was, says Mackinnon, organic.

“Historically there’s evidence of early feminism within Gaelic that goes back to the Ossianic cycles, but I think that’s more of a coincidence in this case,” Mackinnon tells The National.

“Waulking songs have always been a big passion of mine and they were songs that were traditionally sung by women, and it just so happened that there were quite a lot of waulking songs that I chose for the album.

“As the whole thing was coming together I realised they were songs from a woman’s perspective.”

Did that realisation change how she envisioned the finished work?

“I think when you start an album you have an idea in your head as to what the finished work might be but it’s always different in the end, so I suppose we just kept adapting as we made it.

“I do, though, think it’s interesting when women do start to feel a bit more empowered and come out and say that’s happened to them as well. I think that’s really important for society.”

The finished album was two years in the making, with Mackinnon putting the project on hold for a time as she dealt with the death of her father. However, even during that hiatus she says the songs continued to evolve.

The result is a stunning collection of Gaelic and English songs that give full expression to Mackinnon’s vocal range and her musical ambition. As Mackinnon herself says: “The stories, melodies and rhythms convey so much. Whether you speak Gaelic or not, I think people can hear the power of feeling in these songs.”

For too many female artists in traditional music, however, struggle is something that appears to come with the territory.

There was a debate last year begun by Rachel Newton regarding the visibility of women in Scottish folk music. There were suggestions that female artists were often booked as a token measure, with one festival organiser allegedly telling a female band that he “already had an all-girl band booked” so had no need of another.

Is this machismo on the Scottish folk scene something that Mackinnon recognises?

“I think it’s an interesting point because what I have certainly noticed is that there’s a distinct lack of female representation at traditional music festivals and I think that definitely needs to change. There is a serious lack of diversity at most festivals and I think there are now more and more women who are willing to question that.

“I’m really glad that we are now having this conversation,” adds Mackinnon. “And I think Rachel was really brave in bringing it up.”

Brought up in Glasgow, Mackinnon’s path into Gaelic singing differs from many. As she explains, she didn’t have any Gaelic until she was about to leave school.

“I started learning Gaelic as I was really interested in Gaelic song, basically because I got really into Capercaillie and Runrig. I was also influenced by going to Jura several times as a child where my friend’s grandfather was the last native Gaelic speaker on the island. There was something about Gaelic that really resonated with me. My father’s side had Gaelic in the family but it had long since died out and I just decided I really wanted to learn it and to sing in Gaelic.

“First of all I started learning it parrot fashion and then I got into the RSAMD [Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama] and it just went from there. It’s been an interesting journey.”

For a young woman from Glasgow going to the RSAMD and being surrounded by like-minded individuals must have been something of an epiphany.

“It was a brilliant experience,” Mackinnon says. “There were only 10 in my year and we were like a big family. And it was really lovely to be among people who were interested in the same thing. If you grew up in Glasgow at that time most people were listening to pop or mainstream rock but I was never particularly interested in that. So it was great to be all of a sudden with people who were all immersed in folk music.”

Mackinnon’s career has been marked not only by her solo work but by collaborations, and currently she is involved with The Step Crew, a dance show that tours North America.

“It’s run by Cara Butler, who’s the sister of Jean Butler from Riverdance, and it’s a brilliant show to be part of, so I’ll be in the States with those guys in the summer – but up until then I’ll be doing solo shows to promote the new album. I then have a few potential projects in the pipeline but it’ll mainly be solo work and The Step Crew this year.”

As for the future, Mackinnon is excited for the prospects of traditional music in Scotland.

“I think in a lot of ways Scotland is the place to be for traditional music. Thirty years ago it was probably Ireland that was at the heart of things but now I think in Scotland we’re really starting to find our self-esteem, as a nation but also as a culture. We’re really starting to believe in ourselves.”

For Mackinnon, and for the folk music scene in Scotland, the struggle may well be at an end.

Maeve Mackinnon plays Rutherglen Town Hall on March 23, Milnathort Town Hall on March 24 and the Aros Centre on Skye on April 3