On the third Welsh Language Music Day, Getintothis’ Cath Bore speaks to artists about why the annual celebration is so important.
Welsh Language Music Day / Dydd Miwsig Cymru was launched in 2016 and celebrates all genres of Welsh Language music, and takes place today 9 February.
There’s free gigs and events across Wales during the day and evening, aimed at seasoned gig goers, families, young people, students and businesses, organised by promoters including SWN, BBC Horizons, Forté Project and Clwb Ifor Bach. With social media activity during the day using hashtags #DyddMiwsigCymru #WelshLanguageMusicDay and gigs held in far flung places as New York and Budapest, those outside Wales can participate as well. .
‘Whatever you’re into, Dydd Miwsig Cymru is a day to help you discover music you’ll love. You may already be listening to Welsh language music, or maybe you haven’t listened to it for years. There’s incredible music of almost every genre, all being made in the Welsh language – there’s even some great playlists to share with your friends and family who may not be listening to Welsh language music. Try something and you might just find your favourite new sound,’ said Radio 1 DJ and the Day‘s ambassador Huw Stephens recently.
‘We need to make more people aware that there is an extremely vibrant and varied Welsh music scene,’ alt-folk trio Plu – siblings Marged, Elan and Gwiylm Rhys – tell us whilst en route to record a session for BBC Radio 3, to be broadcast today. Plu also collaborate with Colorama’s Carwyn Ellis to form Bendith, current holders of the Welsh Language Album of the Year.
‘For every genre of music you have in English, we also have in Welsh. We believe that Dydd Miwsig Cymru gets the message out a little bit more and widens the audience for Welsh music. It’s definitely opened new doors for us,’ Plu add.
Los Blancos are signed to new label Libertino Records, who specialise in promoting Welsh bands and Welsh language music to audiences around Wales and the UK. Los Blancos release a double A-side single Datgysylltu/Chwarter I Dri today. Their slacker lo-fi garage rock has picked up Radio 1 airplay, and last month the new single was featured in Getintothis’ Deep Cuts column.
‘I think many people have this stereotypical image of Welsh culture being confined to Male Voice Choirs or singing in the Eisteddfod but it’s really not, you can listen to electronic, indie, reggae, hip-hop, pop, rock and grunge in Welsh,’ says bass player Dewi Jones.
Welsh Language Music Day is important to Los Blancos because, ‘As musicians it’s invaluable as it’s a chance to promote our music and play alongside some artists who we really admire, but on a personal level it will be nice to help show that Welsh culture is a living thing that is exciting, vibrant, and relevant.’
‘I know it’s a cliché, but great art transcends cultural and linguistic boundaries and I absolutely reject the notion that Welsh language music is for Welsh speakers only,’ says Welsh Music Prize 2017 winner Gareth Bonello, the folk musician and singer-songwriter who performs under the name The Gentle Good, and records in both Welsh and English.
‘I get an enormous amount of pleasure from singing in Welsh and have had a wonderful response from audiences all over the world when I’ve shared my songs with them.’
The Gentle Good releases an EP today, Y Gwyfyn / The Moth (‘a song about turning into a moth, which I think is something that appeals to everyone’), which also features a song about the Tory government, and duet with Georgia Ruth – a brand new version of Y Pysgotwr / The Fisherman, an ode to the lonely.
Noting the variety of subject matter on this one EP alone, we put to Gareth that there’s often an assumption – talking to people outside Wales itself – that music in the Welsh language is quite insular and concerned with limited themes not of their world. Why does he think that might be?
‘I don’t agree with those assumptions at all, but I recognise where they come from and not surprised you’ve come across them too. Such views echo age-old prejudices that label Welsh speakers as rude or dishonest and the language as backward and old-fashioned.’
‘This type of negative view is invariably grounded in prejudice and a lack of understanding about how languages work and what they are for. If people could accept that art made in the Welsh language is a sincere expression of Welsh culture, then perhaps we’d get past this nonsense. Nobody labels Sigur Ros as ‘insular’ and ‘limited’ for writing in Icelandic.’
Answering the same question, Dewi says, ‘(Los Blancos) as a band I think we’ve always considered our greatest influences to be from outside of Wales (Pavement, Sonic Youth, Nirvana, Mac Demarco) and that we wrote lyrics in Welsh because it’s the language we grew up speaking day to day and is what was natural for us. We’re not sure we can answer why this assumption exists, but we are interested in disproving it.’
The Gentle Good’s third album Y Bardd Anfarwol (The Immortal Bard) in 2011 was written and recorded with a traditional Chinese ensemble in the Southern Chinese city of Chengdu. Gareth has spent time on songwriting residences over the past handful of years, and co-written with artists in America, India and Europe. He views writing with someone from a different culture a mutually rewarding experience.
‘(Y Bardd Anfarwol is) entirely in Welsh, and combines Western folk with traditional Chinese music to tell the story of the famous Chinese poet Li Bai. This year, I’m working on a collaborative project with artists from the Khasi Hills in North-East India. It’s always very exciting to meet artists from new cultures and to hear new languages and music. I’m always grateful that music has also given me the opportunity to share the Welsh language and culture all over the globe.
‘Travel is such a gift to a musician, because you encounter new artists, scales, rhythms, instruments and traditions everywhere you go.’
Dewi adds, ‘Both music and language can serve as windows into a culture, and every language has its own unique way of portraying ideas and Welsh is no different. Bands like Datblygu, Gwenno, Super Furry Animals and maybe more recently Ysgol Sul have all conveyed some of the most deeply profound philosophical and political ideas that I personally have experienced through music, and would not have been possible had it not been for the Welsh Language.’