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.
Today I’d really like to share with you all this incredibly beautiful song by Plu. It is a traditional one, and it’s very beautiful as such in itself and very much resonates with my brain, but it’s even more so and feels even deeper in Plu’s arrangement. I translated the title of this song as longing because that’s what the word hiraeth is usually translated as, but really as I’ve written several times before, this word doesn’t have a proper equivalent in English. I find hiraeth very interesting and I’ve tried explaining and defining what it means, for example in this post with another song about hiraeth. You can also find more about it in this post by Ceri Davies from which also comes the English translation below.
Today, I thought we’d listen to a beautiful song by Y Trŵbz, with Jacob Elwy – one of the founders of the group and one of my faza peeps – as the vocalist and guitarist. This song is one of my most favourites by Y Trŵbz. Like Drudwy it is also in honour of Bryn Williams, Jacob and Morgan’s late father. He seems to have been very strongly musically inclined despite not being a professional musician from what I’ve read, and he wrote penillion – a traditional form of Welsh poetry which is sung usually accompanied by the harp. – The boys found them after his death and decided to make some folk-rocky arrangements to a few of them.
I feel a bit frustrated that I still don’t understand the entire lyrics of this song and there are a lot of gaps in what I understand of it. But even from what I do understand currently, this song sounds incredibly sad. I’ve read in Y Selar ( a Welsh music magazine) that Jacob said Bryn struggled with alcoholism, which one can also kind of suspect from the lyrics, so judging from that and the bits of lyrics I understand he must have had a lot of difficult feelings to deal with. I’ve also read on Morgan’s website that this is, if I understood correctly, a longing song for their father, so perhaps since the song is about longing, they can also express their longing for him through the words that he himself wrote.
I translated hiraeth as longing for the post title, because that’s how people usually translate hiraeth into English and what seems to be the most accurate translation of this word, at first glance it almost seems like a literal translation because hir means long in Welsh. But hiraeth is actually a word that isn’t easily translatable into English, as there’s just no English word that would have exactly the same meaning. If you’ve been around here for a while, you may or may not remember that I’ve written a little about hiraeth several times on here, because I really love this word, I love how it has so many aspects and kind of shades to it and is very descriptive, and yet at the same time is far more specific than any other longing-related words in any other language that I know. I think another part of why I like this word so much is that I myself experience hiraeth a lot, or at least I believe I do, though mine is possibly a bit different than Welsh people’s since I’m not Welsh, and for a lot of Welsh people hiraeth has to do with their homeland, I’ve also never personally never experienced my country not being fully independent or my native language being endangered or having to emigrate or anything like that. But in any case many kinds of hiraeth-like feelings are something I know very well.
I’ve read a lot of descriptions and explanations of what hiraeth is, and it’s primarily a longing for a place, be it your home, or your motherland, but a place which doesn’t really exist as such, because you long more either for the imagining of it that you have in your brain, or for what it was like in the past but no longer is the same. It can also be a less specific longing for a place to belong, or for some sort of place that you could feel at home in even if you’ve no idea where that might be. Hiraeth can also generallyy be a feeling of longing and yearning for anything that doesn’t really exist, like something from your past that you idealise in your mind. Or it can be some kind of unspecified longing where you don’t really know what you’re longing for at all, but you are and quite intensely so. It can be a weird feeling of longing when you see something really beautiful. Or, finally, I’ve also read that hiraeth can be a soul’s longing for God as well, which makes total sense, because I’ve heard a lot that when you experience that kind of unspecified longing for not sure what really, it’s your soul longing to be with God, especially for people who don’t believe in God and perhaps aren’t consciously aware of this longing, not that all people who believe always are, and people often tend to either suppress this feeling somehow or quench it with other, more earthly things. Or, like in this song, it can be a grief-filled longing for someone who is no longer physically here.
It’s very happy times in Bibielland right now, because Gwilym Bowen Rhys – one of my faza people – has released a new album, the second one in his series of Detholiad o Hen Faledi (Selection of Old Ballads)! Something like this is always a huge event in Bibielland, not only simply because it’s a new album so most people who are into someone’s music would be naturally thrilled in such situation, but also because with my other faza people, I haven’t been quite as lucky in terms of their new albums. My first faza peep has been Enya, and she is very well-known for working for years on any new release, sometimes it takes so long that people start wondering whether she’ll actually release anything new. And so at the time when she was my dominant faza, I didn’t get to enjoy any new release from her, it was only after my faza on her has faded into the background that she released Dark Sky Island. Then there was Declan, who at the time of my dominant faza on him was studying and had a long break from his musical activity. And then there was Cornelis, who has left this world even before I came on it, so even though what he has left has always seemed to me like one huge, endlessly fertile well of creativity because he has recorded and written so extremely much, and then there are all the live recordings and lots of other things, and I kept stumbling upon something new to me all the time and even still do sometimes, there was obviously no hope for anything that would be actually, objectively new. So until Gwilym, the experience of my dominant faza peep releasing something new was unknown to me, and that’s why I feel absolutely spoilt by Gwilym. 😀 Especially when he released Detholiad O Hen Faledi I in July of 2018, and then Arenig in May 2019, so there wasn’t even a whole year between the two albums. I was as thrilled as if a young child would have been if she learned that she could have two big birthday parties in one year. 😀 We did have to wait for this new album nearly three years, I’m sure at least in some part due to Covid, but that makes it even more exciting.
I don’t know how these things work or whether perhaps I’ve missed something, but from what I’ve heard he has actually released it on March 1 (so Dydd Gwyll Dewi, or st. David’s Day in English, in case you don’t know st. David is a patron saint of Wales), except it seemed like it was still only available to preorder, until march 8 when I got an email that it’s available now. One of the best presents I could think of for myself for International Women’s Day, haha! I suppose if I really wanted I could have listened to it earlier directly from Bandcamp’s website, but I have to have the right conditions when listening to albums of my faza peeps for the first time so that I can absorb it thoroughly. Even on the day when I got it, I was waiting until the evening so that I could give it the first thorough listen in complete peace and once I did, needless to say, I enjoyed it very much, though a few more thorough listens are still due. I was already familiar with two of the songs featured on this album, as I’ve heard him singing them live on several occasions, but was looking forward to hearing the album versions nonetheless.
Moreover, last night, something made me tune into BBC Radio Cymru, which I hadn’t listened to in quite a while, and what was my surprise to hear Gwilym Bowen Rhys live! 🙂 I didn’t even know that it was going to happen, as I didn’t even go on Twitter yesterday, which is the only social mediumm I use, if lurking passes as using, and where I follow both Gwilym and BBC Radio Cymru. I don’t know how much of it I could have missed as I joined in at 8:30 UK time, but even if I missed something, I could still enjoy half an hour of Gwilym performing mostly songs from his debut album O Groth Y Ddaear (From THe Earth’s Womb) together with his frequent collaborators – Patrick Rimes on fiddle and Gwen Màiri Yorke on harp. – I was a bit surprised that he was singing only songs from his debut album, but it turned out that the reason for this concert was the 40th anniversary of a Welsh traditional record label called Fflach, with whom he released that particular album. After having been spoilt so much, it was only natural that I’ve ended up having a small faza peak, even though Gwilym is no longer my dominant faza peep. In fact, I’m actually surprised that I’m only having a small peak, I guess after so much exciting stuff my brain should be skyrocketing. But any peak, even the smallest is always welcome.
ANyways, enough of me, let’s get to this new album and the song from it that I want to share with you all. As I’ve already said and as its name implies, Detholiad o Hen Faledi II is the second album in the Detholiad o Hen Faledi series, compiling old, often nearly forgotten Welsh ballads, in minimalistic arrangements, in most cases either accompanied only by guitar or sung a capella. Like its predecessor, it was produced by Aled Wyn Hughes (known for example from the band Cowbois Rhos Botwnnog) at Stiwdio Sain and released by Erwydd Records, a branch of Sbrigyn Ymborth.
So far I feel like my favourite tune from this album is the closing one, called Deio Bach, or Little Deio in English, which is also one of the two tunes that I’ve heard him perform before. I also decided to pick this one for this post because the album is not yet available on any streaming services or anything like that, so unfortunately I can’t share the album version of any of the songs with you, but this particular song can be found on YouTube in several live versions. The first time I heard it was on BBC Radio Cymru in a programme hosted by Lisa Gwilym, where she talked with Gwil about his upcoming performance at one of the Folk on Foot Festivals online, where he was also going to sing this song. I had the great pleasure of listening to that Festival as well.
I am not at all easily moved to tears, as in by something that is beautiful, even though sometimes I’d like it to be the case because I think it could be quite cathartic when I do find something emotionally moving. Yet, when hearing Gwilym perform this song at Folk on Foot, I found myself very dangerously close to tears when listening in particular to the last verse, even though my understanding of the lyrics was a bit patchy. I still find this song and the mother’s sorrow and hiraeth in it incredibly moving.
From what I’ve heard and understood, Gwilym first heard this song performed by Cowbois Rhos Botwnnog to a different melody (that is a beautiful interpretation as well and I might share it with y’all some other time, who knows) and then some time later found a version sung by an acclaimed late soprano singer called madam Megan Telini, and he sings it to the same melody as she did. The song was written by John Jones of Llangollen, from the perspective of a mother whose son – Deio (my best guess is that it must be yet another variation on Dafydd/David) – has emigrated to America.
The translation you can find below, as always in case of Gwilym’s songs that I share on my blog, comes from Gwilym’s website.
I raised a little and dear boy on my bosom with great pains. Deio, you are that boy, I wonder where you are now. often you are on my mind, dear boy, are you healthy? If it isn’t too much to ask, send a letter little Deio. tough is my piece of bread, yes, tough and scarce, whilst my child, I do hope is with his bread of white wheat. My dear boy, whilst you are by your table without sickness or weakness, if it isn’t too much to ask, remember about your mother’s poor fare. If you can’t come over, If you can’t assist me in any way, I dare to ask you one thing, maybe you will give me that - I’m not asking for a grave stone, this is too much, despite the longing farewell, just shed a tear in my memory, only a tear little Deio.
Today I’d like to share with you a traditional song I’ve recently heard, from an artist who is very new to me. I heard her for the first time on Blas Folk Radio Cymru.
Harmony Yemanya is the artistic name of Hilary Davies, who is a flautist, singer, songwriter and composer based in Gwynedd and London. This particular song that I want to show you though, is, just like I said, her rendition of a traditional tune. I was wondering where her artistic name came from and it seems like there is some, I guess Nigerian, goddess named Yemaya and one of the way to spell her name is also Yemanya so perhaps it’s in relation to that.
The song is about one’s longing to a (now historic) county in northwestern Wales, which is called Meirionethshire in English.
I managed to find a translation of this song into English, on the website of a Welsh band called Ffynnon
and here it is:
There is a mountain in the sea which hides Meirioneth
I had sight of it once only before it broke my heart
This is a very special song for me. I discovered it thanks to Spotify some 2 years ago and it spoke to me very strongly immediately. It’s because I feel a strong connection to Proserpina/Persephone from Roman/Greek mythology. I feel a connection to her because her story, of her being forced to live in Hades for half a year, and half a year with her mother, reminded me in a lot of ways about my own situation when I was at the boarding school and away from my family most of the time. I heard this story during a Polish lesson and I immediately felt a bond with Persephone and her mother. Especially that I’ve always been interested in myths, legends and fairytales. This connection has lasted and a couple years later, when I was still at school, I suddenly got a spurt of creativity at night – as it often happened back then because I felt the most free to let my thoughts and feelings out through writing at night – and I wrote a short story about Proserpina on my Braille-Sense, and called it just that, “Proserpina”, I think Proserpina sounds better than Persephone. I wrote this story because I thought that it’s a shame that the myth seems to focus so much on what Ceres/Demeter felt, I mean it is very good and I feel for her very deeply, but we can actually only imagine what Proserpina must have felt while her mother was trying to find her and losing her mind from grief and despair. And it was one of the few short stories that I didn’t delete just after writing, as I usually do, but I’ve also never read it to anyone. I was maybe 14 or something at the time but looking back at it I think it was really fairly decent, compared with my other writings that I remember from that time, which make you wonder whether you should laugh or cry, so cringey they are. 😀
So, while I’d never listened to Martha Wainwright’s music before, Spotify can sometimes have that weird intuition and suggest you something that is reall spot on for you and you wonder how it happened if you don’t really listen to similar stuff a lot. Well, Martha Wainwright is definitely folksy but I have only a very vague idea about Canadian folk scene. I am not a big fan of her, I mean I don’t dislike her or anything, I guess I just feel neutral, but this song has always been very special for me since I know it, I love both the topic of it and the lyrics, as well as how it sounds. So here it is, I hope you like it too, and maybe it will speak to someone else as well, whether in a similar or a completely different way as me. I think the story of Ceres and Proserpina is also very relatable for families affected by child loss. Regarding Martha Wainwright herself, she comes from a very musical family, her mother is another folk singer Kate MCGarrigle from Kate & Anna MCGarrigle duo, and there are a lot of other musicians and artists in her family as well.
The song I have for you today is from Swedish singer Janice Kamya Kavander, known simply as Janice. She’s becoming very popular in Sweden, and there is something powerful in her voice. I am generally not like a big fan of very soul-like sounding voices, except for Amy Winehouse and maybe a couple other people, but I do like Janice and her expressiveness. And I must say this particular song really moved me when I heard it.
It is about, or to, Janice’s dad, who died five years ago. For me, when I first heard her, she sounded rather mature, as her voice is so strong and expressive, but turns out she’s only 24, so she was 19 when her dad died. That’s very early and no wonder it affected her even more than it would affect someone later on in life. And this song is so full of expression, I think it’s hard to not feel even just a little bit moved. There are lots of versions on Youtube, but I like it particularly in the acoustic version, which is only on Spotify, so, again, I have to only give you the link to Spotify.
This is a beautiful song in my opinion. I’ve translated the title as “I Miss You”, but in fact it is “I Lack You”, though I wasn’t sure if such phrase actually exists and is natural in English, it doesn’t look like it is. There even is a line in the song that “I don’t miss having you here any longer, but I lack you”, so I guess we should differentiate missing from lacking. So do Swedes, so do we Poles, and maybe the Anglophones do as well but I just don’t know. 😀 As for Frida Andersson, she is the moreinteresting for me that she is from Finland, and she is a Swedish native-speaker. For those of you who don’t know, yes, there is a Swedish-speaking minority in Finland, of people who speak Swedish as their first language, and Swedish is also another official language of Finland after Finnish, and also is teached in school as a second language, compulsory, I guess, and don’t worry if you didn’t know it and think you’re ignorant, because I – a Swedophile and Finnophile – didn’t know it until just like 2-3 years ago, I learned about it years after my fascination with the Swedish language started. That’s ignorance! 😀 And even my Dad – who is a very good geographer and taught me capitals of all the European countries and which currencies they have and other stuff – he was very surprised when I told him that. Finns are way too secretive. 😀 I say it’s interesting because Finnish accent in Swedish sounds very interesting. It’s actually cute and funny to me, doesn’t sound so serious, elegant and regal as Swedish in Stockholm for example. I like it, I like different words they have for things, like for example in standard Swedish the phrase a little bit is “lite”, but Finns often say “pikulite”. Or they have a word “pirrig”, which means jittery (or something like this 😀 ) and from what my teacher told me it’s used by Swedish-speaking Finns, though I’ve seen it used bo non Finns too.
Anyway, putting my Finnophilic musings aside, I was going to, and tried, to make translation of these lyrics, as they’re not very difficult to understand, but I find it rather tricky to translate stuff from Swedish to English or vice versa, so I left it, still though, the song is beautiful.