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Cŵl Cymru: Celebrate St. David’s Day with Seven Welsh Songs

Seven Welsh Language Songs You’ve Probably Never Listened to and Why You Should

Sali Mali with outstreched arms in a Welsh cartoon

Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus pawb! Happy St. David’s Day folks. In celebration of my homeland’s special day, the lovely people in charge of music at 25YL are allowing me to share some of my favourite Welsh language tracks to emerge from the great land that is Wales (Cymru) over the last 25 years. What follows are a dialectic mix of stoner metal, indie boppers, jazz fusion and poppy psychedelia. We are avoiding the Tom Jones cliches (although his performance on Jules Holland’s Hootenanny was immense) and the highs and lows of Stereophonics and the Manics. We are not dipping our toes into the warming waters of Catatonia. Nevertheless, there is, hopefully, something for everyone who loves music. I hope you enjoy our journey into the land of my Fathers.

Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, “Patio Song”

Formed in 1991 Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci were part of the original breed of Cŵl Cymru bands accelerated into existence in the 90s. They were described in a recent article as the “antithesis of beery Brit-pop”  and I totally agree.

Fronted by Euros Childs—a prolific musician, singer-songwriter—they created songs to hum to, sing to and annoy your parents with.

One of my favourite songs in the entire world of songs, “Patio Song,” is the fourth track from Gorky’s excellent album Barafundle. Etched into my mind from a time when teenage me spent Saturdays (after ballet) queuing up to buy singles, this song is a smile maker.

It’s jolly, it’s serene. It has all the twinkliness and sparkle of a chrome-covered bonnet. It’s joyous.

This song actually makes you feel like you’re “boating on Sunday.” It’s transportive, tongue in cheek and full of sound. The melodies and cadential changes will bring a cheery smile to any dull day.

Then the Welsh kicks in… and the guitar kicks in, and the song becomes angsty.

Dal fy llaw
Mae’n bwrw glaw
Ond mae’r gaeaf mor hir
Mae’n cymryd gormod or tir

Rough translation:

Hold my hand
It’s raining
But the winter is so long
It takes over too much of the land.

This is Wales is a nutshell. We grab the sun (and life) with both hands because we know the rain is always just around the corner. But you know what? Rain isn’t always so bad. Overall a perfect teenage love song.

Who is this for? Anyone who enjoys good quality, a little left of centre 90s indie.

Serol Serol, “Pareidolia”

The dulcet tones of Serol Serol are a great antidote to the cage of Corona lockdown, which much of the world is still experiencing. Formed in 2016, Serol Serol (Stella Stella), fronted by cousins Mali Sion and Leusa Rhys, describe themselves as Space Pop. “Pareidolia” (seeing faces in objects: think Man in the Moon etc.) is a typically low-fi tune. Synthy sounds and paired back rhythms give the track a laid-back feel, which still encourages you to indulge in a gentle kitchen bop.

Who is this for? If you enjoy Metronomy or Phantogram, give these a whirl.

Breichiau Hir, “Bastards Y Nos”

They describe themselves as sitting somewhere between emo and punk. And I’d concur. I had the pleasure of watching Breichiau Hir a couple of times back when we could do things like go to gigs and they exude excellent onstage energy.

“Bastards Y Nos” is typical of their high energy, dynamic guitar-driven noise.

Who is this for? You folk who like Fall Out Boy, Funeral for a Friend and a good jump around

Bandicoot, “O Nefoedd! (O Heavens!)”

One of the weird things about the Welsh language is that we’re unfortunately constricted that many of our swear words are consigned to derivations of “Pam fi Duw?” (Why me God?). Now you could probably blame the cultural hegemony imposed upon Wales by the English throughout recent history for our lack of adequate swear words, but this is neither the time nor the place for this discussion. So instead, I draw your attention back to the glory that is Bandicoot. This four-piece alt band from my hometown of Swansea are currently doing very clever things for Welsh Music.

“O Nefoedd!” Is a typically bilingual Bandicoot offering. First, I must clarify—they’re not swearing.  Starting with almost a Smiths-like lyrical drone, the song progresses through indie interludes, nods to the ’60s, and comes together with a distinct homage to their Super Furry forefathers.

Who is this for? If you like Super Furry Animals, Art House bands

Super Furry Animals, “Sali Mali”

Another group of forerunners of Cŵl Cymru, Super Furry Animals are a stalwart of the Welsh music scene. Kooky, chaotic and visually brilliant, they’ve graced our stages and airways for almost 30 years.

In 2000 they released Mwng, a fully Welsh language album, with its first single “Ysbeidiau Heulog” reaching no. 11 in the UK charts. As this was at a time when singles were still a thing, and the Welsh language was not, this is highly impressive.

Now, I associate “Sali Mali” with a very long-running Welsh language children’s TV programme based on the books by Mary Vaughan Jones. It is great. If you have time or young children, please check it out. Or maybe don’t let them watch it. It’s slightly terrifying. To give you an idea of the importance placed on Sali Mali: the theme tune for the animated series is sung by Cerys Matthews and narrated by Rhys Ifans. And has a namesake song by the Super Furries.

This little beauty is primarily a love song. Stripped back, with signature Gruff Rhys vocals it is a melodic beast of a song.

“Dwi isio bod efo it” translates as “I want to be with you.” This is Gruff Rhys at his lyrical best. A love song from Jaci Soch (a pig) to Sali Mali (a doll) lamenting the end of the world. Now you can take this at face value and assume it is based solely on the cartoon and books much loved by generations of Welsh children, or it may, as my daughter seems to think, be endearing names given to two lovers. Whatever may be the case it is a most excellent song.

If you’ve never listened to the Super Furry Animals please do! If you get the chance to see them live, please jump at it.

Who is this for? Anyone who likes interesting music

Khamira, “Y Gwydd”

An Indian/Welsh folk/jazz hybrid (I really did say something for everyone), Khamira are an awesome example of what can happen when you fuse elements of different music traditions successfully, with the involvement of insanely good musicians.

Y Gwydd” is a looping, sensual track of sound and rhythm, which makes you feel as if you are part of the music. A song for a Friday night of contemplation and complexity and to play to your friends just for their reaction.

Who is this for? If you like progressive jazz, folk fusion music or just want to experience something new and pleasingly different.

Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, “Y Proffwyd Dwyll” (ft. Jessica Ball, Penelope Tsilika)

Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard win the best band name competition today. They describe themselves on Bandcamp as “Druid Doom Riff.” I feel this is a more than fair description. Type O Negative for a new generation with some serious astral projection thrown in. Heavy, stoner metal with ethereal vocals—“Y Proffwydd Dwyll” is good metal. Rhythmically Kyuss-like in places. And as I said, this band has the best name.

Who is this for? Doom lovers and anyone who likes a good, but gentle, mosh.

So, that brings us to the end of my whirlwind tour of a small section of the Welsh language music that permeates my playlists. I hope you have enjoyed it. Now, go grab yourself some Welsh cakes, pick some daffodils, brew a nice cup of tea or grab a cwrw (beer) if you prefer and have an excellent St. David’s Day.

Written by Delyth Williams

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