Hey people! 🙂
Today, I’d like to share a really beautiful Welsh tune with you that I have first heard on Radio Cymru some two years ago and it resonated with me right away. The tune is from Cynefin, a project by Owen Shiers from the Clettwr Valley, which focuses on preserving the traditional songs and heritage of Ceredigion in the west of Wales, many of which had never been recorded before or have become nearly lost over time. One could have thought that nowadays, when even musicians from non-Anglophone countries whose official languages are doing very well and are not as threatened by English as Welsh is; oftentimes sing their music in English and make it sound very universal and global, it’s enough of an obscure niche when you focus on folk music of Wales in general, let alone just a small piece of Wales. But I really like it and am happy about it that there are people like Owen Shiers who are strongly connected to and proud of not only just their country, but also their local area and its heritage.
If you look up “cynefin” inn a dictionary or a translator or something like that, it is most commonly translated as “habitat”. But in fact, this is one of those deep, untranslatable (at least to English) words, with a meaning that is oddly specific, yet also quite broad at the same time. Much like hiraeth about which I’ve already written on here several times, and which, by the way, also happens to occupy the central place in this song I’m sharing with you all today. Cynefin has originated as a farming term for paths and trails frequently used by animals, but over time it’s meaning has become broader and a bit more abstract and deeper, as it is used to mean a place that one is very familiar with and rooted in, and feels a sense of belonging to it. I believe it is also used to describe the relationship one has with such a place.
The tune I am sharing with you today is a so-called llatai (love messenger) song. Usually, in this type of songs, or poems, the lyrical subject directly addresses the love messenger, who is usually some animal or creature, often a bird, and sends it to their beloved with a message, because they’re far apart from each other. One example of such tune could be “Ei Di’r Deryn Du?” (Will You Go, Blackbird?) which I shared not long ago. However, this particular llatai song is quite different, because there is no human lover. Instead, the young boy who is the lyrical subject here is feeling a longing (hiraeth) for his home country – Wales – while he is away in England. His longing is emphasised by the singing of a blackbird, which reminds him all the more of the home he left behind. I really like the idea of writing/singing a love song about your home country kind of as if it was a person.
According to Cynefin’s Bandcamp page, this song was collected from Mrs. J Emlyn Jones near Llandysul and recorded in the Cymdeithas Alawon Gwerin Cymru (Welsh Folk Song Society) magazine. However because some words were changed by the collector, the words in Cynefin’s song were written by Llew Tegid. The translation below also comes from Cynefin’s Bandcamp.
Oh, yellow beaked black bird,
Enchant the heart with your early song.
Sweet notes of a merry heart
Wakes the choir of little birds.
Come and listen to the complaint of a boy
Who is in heartache night and day:
A cruel longing pursues him,
Longing breaks his sad heart.
Leaving the elegant vales of Wales,
Leaving the enchantment of the land of song,
O so difficult is separating
A pure Welshman from fair Wales.
Your notes evoke the hearts longing
As you tarry in the Englishman’s land,
In memories of Coed-fron
Where once your voice was so dear.