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And finally... Gwenno

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© Michal Iwanowski

Why was it important to you to make a political album now?

I had been living in London and I felt there was a period, before the financial crash [of 2008] when people didn’t really discuss politics. When I moved back to Wales, I definitely had more conversations about politics.

And historically, the Welsh language is a politicized form of communication so it felt quite natural and comfortable for me [to sing in Welsh] in a way that I wasn’t quite as able to connect with in English.

Your mother was part of a radical Cardiff choir, Côr Cochion Caerdydd. How did your upbringing influence you?

I’m a child of the 1980s, and there was a lot happening then. Musically and culturally it was amazing, because at that time the choir were singing a lot of Chilean songs, songs from across South America, songs from South Africa.

I think when you’ve had a less conventional upbringing you always try to run away from it, because it’s just a bit embarrassing. Then you start to see it in a positive light and realize how great and enriching it was. It becomes inspiring and a pillar to hold on to when you’re thinking about why you’re doing things.

Why is it so important to you to keep minority languages alive?

Welsh is one of the oldest living languages in Europe. I grew up in Riverside, which is a multi-cultural area of Cardiff. There are 93 languages spoken in Cardiff and Welsh is one of those. In different languages you get a different perspective. Languages are tied up in the social history of people.

Do you think English is losing its hold over global pop music?

Maybe. I find it fascinating, because languages are tied up in economics a lot of the time. Anglo-American pop culture was so dominant after the Second World War, but things are really changing. The music industry has less control over what people hear and buy. People are just searching for themselves, particularly with the internet, and finding different things. I think that’s creating a lot of space for different music to be heard.

What impact do you think Britain leaving the European Union will have on minority languages?

I think Welsh and Cornish have more status within the EU than they do within Britain. Wales and Cornwall are so low down on the pecking order within Westminster, it’s quite scary. But I think that there’s hope. The UK needs to rearrange itself a bit and become less centralized.

I find Scotland to be a real inspiration, particularly at a grassroots level, where most of the people that you speak to are very self-aware and in touch with what’s happening. They put a lot of pressure on their government.

What has been the proudest moment of your career?

The thing that has energized me the most and has been such an amazing surprise was this album. I wanted to make something that was interesting to me, so that I could stand back and think: well, even if no-one else likes it, I know that I was uncompromising in what I was saying and how I was saying it.

I find the openness of other people to have a listen to something that most don’t understand so encouraging.

What is your next challenge?

Recording a second album. I think albums are a document of their time and place. I just feel like the world keeps changing every day in a ridiculous way that it hasn’t done before. It’s an interesting time to live in, definitely, but it’s so chaotic! It’s exhausting, but I think music can be a communication tool that is uplifting and positive.

Amy Hall is a freelance journalist based in England.

Y Dydd Olaf is out now. gwenno.info

Gwenno

New Internationalist issue 497 magazine cover This article is from the November 2016 issue of New Internationalist.
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