The BBC have produced a program compiling bits of various sessions of Welsh language rock music that were broadcast as part of John Peel’s regular radio show. There’s even been a recent re-mix of Datblygu’s hit “Maes E” and one of my favourite bands of the time, Melys have a new LP due out next year; exciting times.
This was of interest to me as I used to listen to these sessions when I was a younger man and also because I can now speak Welsh. So, listening to these recordings was strange as I was listening to something I used to hear in an unknown language to one I now speak; a big wow basically.
I’ve never quite understood this English language bias in the British media. There is an awful lot of English language music out there and sure, you can be perfectly happy only listening to English language music. However you would always be missing out of the even bigger amount of non-English language music that is out there. It’s music, there is no need to be able to grasp every tiny nuance of the lyric to appreciate the song and you rarely do that on a first listen anyway. Yet despite the efforts of people like John Peel, British radio continued to almost exclusively play English language music.
The reason the Peel program was so important to people who liked interesting music was that in the pre-internet era there were so few places to hear things that were not deemed popular. Records were expensive, an LP cost around £10, 20 years ago, almost exactly the same price as a CD now. today however you have the advantage of being able to listen to the entire album before purchasing a hard copy and people now only really buy hard copies to support artists they really love, whereas twenty years go you would occasionally take a punt of something because you liked the album cover which no-one would do these days.
There is almost no need for a John Peel show nowadays. We have the internet and the whole gamut of music available to us twenty fours hours a day at the touch of a button. Yet do people take advantage of this blessing by listening to the strange and obscure to us in the hope of uncovering a truly magical piece of music? Commercial radio is as awful as it ever was and I suspect it’s the same people who listen to interesting music now as then, despite the improved availability.
Welsh language music, specifically y Sin Roc Cymraeg / Welsh language Rock Scene, as opposed to the equally dull “daytime” Welsh language music that is as bad as “daytime” music anywhere else. Welsh language rock has always struggled to be heard outside of the Welsh speaking community. John Peel was one of the few who understood the value in exposing the scene to a wider public, because it was interesting music. Yet it is still largely ignored outside of evenings on Radio Cymru. It is simply not one of the major options on a service like Spotify, there is nothing to guide you to it unless you are actively looking for it. Such services always guide you to popular contemporary music. Alffa achieved one million listens on Spotify recently, which suggests things may be changing, but is still a rare exception.
It’s not just Welsh language music, there is world of wonderful music out there outside the English language. I just think it’s a shame that it isn’t easy to stumble across and that in today’s divided world there needs to be more exposure to the different the non-conventional, that other cultures exist than white male Europeans. Some music such as Soul has broken through, but so much has not. I’ve also heard of a friend post about discovering the wonderful Mongolian band, ‘The HU’ recently. There is just so much wonderful music out there: Perfect pop music or k-pop from Korea. Folk music from Central Europe, wonderful Volksmusik form Germany, French Pop, Vocal trios from Georgia or Icelandic Electro or Russian string trios. You simply don’t need to understand the language to appreciate the music. All of the linked examples demonstrate that all languages are great for music. They are all female fronted, but as a heterosexual male myself, I just find more beauty in the female voice. It just seems mad to restrict oneself to music in English, when there are so many languages in the world.
The very sad truth is that for most musicians who want to earn enough to make a living from music have learned they need to sing in English to make enough money. Many Welsh language bands release songs to English to try to achieve commercial success as do bands across Europe. The Eurovision song Contest, once a competition where everyone sung in their native language is now a predominately English club. It’s very sad, because music written to appeal commercially is often dull, whereas that written to express your real thoughts is almost always much more interesting.
There is even a kind of liberal objection, that such ‘folk music’ is Nationalistic or promoting separatism, as if everything being the same, having no diversity, is somehow a good thing. That maintaining traditions is the opposite of being an open inclusive society, that seeking to conserve things is somehow wrong. If anything the white, male European/North American model is really not the one culture for humanity to have. There are so many interesting musical and cultural traditions out there, that are surely foolish to ignore or shun support for. I still don’t understand why so many people don’t look beyond the narrow confines of English language commercial music, especially in these dark days of Brexit, Trump and the rise of the far right. without it we would never have wonderful cultural mixes such as Bhangra combined with Scottish Highland bagpipes