Welsh language music day celebrates 'cool Cymru'

Dydd Miwsig Cymru caps a regional renaissance that shows no signs of abating in age of streaming

A landmark moment for the band Adwaith, a “funky punk” trio who sing in Welsh, came not in their homeland but in Manchester.

“The audience was singing along to our songs in Welsh,” said the vocalist Hollie Singer. “It was amazing. They can’t have all been Welsh speakers. That was pretty special. It shows how Welsh language music is spreading.”

On Friday, rock, pop, hip-hop and just about every other type of musical genre, all sung or rapped in Welsh, was being played not only in music venues across Wales but in offices, banks, schools, shopping centres and supermarkets as part of Welsh language music day – Dydd Miwsig Cymru.

Elan Evans, Welsh Music Promotor at Clwb Ifor Bach poses in the iconic music venue in Cardiff, UK.
Elan Evans, Welsh music promoter at Clwb Ifor Bach. Photograph: Gareth Phillips/The Guardian

The event is about boosting bright bands such as Adwaith – the name means “reaction” – and helping the Welsh government move towards its target of getting a million people speaking Welsh by 2050. But it is also about further spreading the word to the rest of the UK and the world.

Adwaith, who hail from Carmarthen in south-west Wales, for example, are playing in another iconic English music city, Liverpool. And a cafe and venue in Budapest, Három Holló, is undergoing a Welsh rebranding for the day and welcoming its customers with music from Welsh bands.

“Welsh language music is definitely reaching an audience outside Wales,” said Singer. “The want and need for Welsh language music is growing. When we play outside Wales we get such a good reaction now. The scene is expanding day by day.”

Singer and her bandmates fell in love with the Welsh language music scene in Carmarthen and as they grew up loved watching bands perform at the Parrot music bar. “It just seemed natural for us to write and perform in Welsh. We didn’t think about it too much.”

As part of Welsh language music day, a series of videos have been released with artists translating their lyrics. Singer explains the meaning and genesis of their song, Lipstick Coch – red lipstick. It was written by the bassist Gwenllian Anthony and tells the story of a male date turning up wearing bright red lipstick.

Aethon ni ‘Tu ôl i’r #Miwsig’ ar un o draciau @adwaithband, enillwyr y @welshmusicprize, a’u bangar o diwn ‘Lipstick Coch’.

Mae’r stori ma’n werth ei chlywed… 💄😝 #DyddMiwsigCymru pic.twitter.com/OPdpXxyUMm

— Dydd Miwsig Cymru - Welsh Language Music Day (@DyddMiwsigCymru) February 5, 2020

Adwaith is also one of the bands releasing a special record to mark the day. Theirs is a take on the folk song Ar Lan y Môr (Beside The Sea) revved up with a surf-rock riff. “It started off as a joke to be honest,” said Singer. “Then we were like hang on, this will work perfectly in our set.

The band are working on a song about Welsh independence for their next album. “I’d say we’re political,” she said. “We write about things that matter to us and annoy us.”

It is not that Welsh pop or rock music is new. Adwaith cite beloved bands who have sung in Welsh such as the Super Furry Animals and Datblygu as influences. Singer’s uncle, Aled Richards, was in Catatonia. But there is a growing new wave of “cool Cymru” music.

Elan Evans, a booker and promoter for Welsh language bands at the Cardiff venue Clwb Ifor Bach, said streaming, social media and a rise in the number of festivals was helping.

“It’s easier for artists to reach their audiences now,” she said. “The scene has evolved and grown outside Wales. People want to listen to different things and the language doesn’t matter. Language shouldn’t be a barrier.”

Among the Welsh language bands who are thriving are the duo Alffa, who in 2018 became the first band to pass 1m plays with a Welsh language song on the streaming service Spotify. Another artist, Carwyn Ellis, has been feted for his album Joia!, which is sung in Welsh and was recorded mainly in Rio de Janeiro.

Eluned Morgan, the Welsh government’s minister for the Welsh language, said Friday’s event helped make the language more visible everywhere. “We want to make sure that Welsh is spoken socially, that it is not confined to schools,” she said.

Ashli Todd owner and manager of Spillers Records, Cardiff.
Ashli Todd owner and manager of Spillers Records, Cardiff. Photograph: Gareth Phillips/The Guardian

Ashli Todd, the owner of the Cardiff record shop Spillers, said the Welsh language scene had been going from strength to strength in the 23 years she had worked in the store.

Todd has the dilemma of whether to put Welsh language music into its own section or on the main racks. “We tend to put them in both sections if a band has broken into the national as well as local consciousness.”

She points newcomers in the direction of the Super Furry Animals album Mwng as a starting point into the Welsh language music scene.

“It used to be a niche thing. Now it’s definitely more talked about, more covered in the press. Welsh albums are reviewed without them being a footnote. There’s more self-confidence.” Todd believes that the more bands there are out there singing in Welsh, the more others are bound to follow. “It becomes self-perpetuating in a beautiful, positive way.”

The top 10 most streamed Welsh language songs of all time, based on Spotify streams, compiled by Yws Gwynedd

1. Gwenwyn – Alffa

2. Patio Song – Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci

3. Pla – Alffa

4. Sbia Ar Y Seren - Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci

5. Fel I Fod – Adwaith

6. Fratolish Hiang Perpeshki – Gwenno

7. Bae Bae Bae – Gruff Rhys (Muzi Remix)

8. Sebona Fi – Yws Gwynedd

9. International Velvet – Catatonia

10. Llonydd – Ifan Dafydd feat. Alys Williams

🥁 Drumroll…
Here’s the top 10 most streamed Welsh language songs EVEEEER on @SpotifyUK Compiled by @ywsgwynedd.
In 10th place is…. 👇 #Miwsig pic.twitter.com/hRNn9lQYIB

— Dydd Miwsig Cymru - Welsh Language Music Day (@DyddMiwsigCymru) February 5, 2020


Steven Morris

The GuardianTramp

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