Sunday, May 03, 2020

"The language's future is in our hands"

In Huw Stephens' documentary Anorac, ageing folkie Meic Stephens declares "There is no Welsh rock scene in reality" - a claim that is effectively rubbished by the comments of all of the other interviewees and by the film as a whole. Further evidence comes in the form of this Vice article by Rhys Thomas, for which he spoke to Ani Glass, Welsh Music Prize winners Adwaith and Stephens himself, amongst others.

Thomas (or at least his sub-editor at Vice) may have strayed into the realms of hyperbole in titling the piece "The Unstoppable Rise of Welsh-Language Music", but there's no denying that the current situation is healthy and encouraging.

Where once bands like Super Furry Animals felt the need to switch to English to be able to make a living (Cian Ciaran refers to hitting "a glass ceiling"), now there seems to be greater interest in making and consuming Welsh-language music. Thomas suggests that this is at least partly the result of compulsory Welsh lessons in the nation's schools, while Breichiau Hir's Steffan Dafydd looks beyond the border, arguing that "there's a more global reach possible now than before".

There's also an increasing self-confidence, both within the Welsh-language music scene and the nation as a whole. Alluding to the "Cool Cymru" label affixed to Welsh cultural products by the London-based media in the Britpop era, Libertino Records' Gruff Owen says "I don't think we're waiting for anyone to consider us cool anymore. We're just doing it for ourselves."

A bright future lies ahead, then? I really hope so - but at the same time I'm fearful that that adjective "unstoppable" might be tempting fate. While the forces of globalisation have made it easier to discover and enjoy Welsh-language music wherever you are on the planet, they also often bring about precisely the sort of long-term cultural homogenisation to which Rhys Mwyn refers when he talks about "McDonald's everywhere", whereby differences are not celebrated but erased.

And in more concrete terms, the fact that coronavirus will have (and indeed is already having) a devastating impact on live music is particularly problematic for a scene whose artists are reliant on grassroots venues. Carmarthen, where Libertino are based, lost its main venue the Parrot at the end of 2018, and other spaces will undoubtedly be shuttered as a result of the pandemic. All the more reason to get behind the Save Our Venues campaign.

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