Building bridges with music for stones and poetry for cement
Between January and March 2019 two groups of traditional musicians arrived in Wales and completed busy, varied, short tours here. Their visits were the culmination of a process of exchange that had been taking place for two years previously. The six-piece all-female band ‘Andreina Jolin’ from Iruña in the Basque Country toured in January, playing alongside – and jamming with – a number of native musicians across north and mid-Wales.
Andreina Jolin sing and play ‘modern traditional’ music from the Basque Country and also from cultures in Latin America that they feel share the same dynamics of repression, protest, regeneration and assertion. Two months later, the Sean Nos duo Doimnic Mac Giolle Bhride from Donegal, supported by Aindriasde Staic from Mayo, came to headline in Gŵyl y Pethau Bychain, a celebration of traditional music on and around Saint David’s Day in Machynlleth, and managed to squeeze in five performances in as many days at venues across the area. Sean Nos is the oldest surviving form of Irish music, still strong down the West coast of Ireland from Donegal to Clare; Aindrias in contrast performs a heady mix of traditional fiddle tunes, stories and poetry in both Irish and English, and uninhibited comedy.
Both tours were strikingly successful – Andreina Jolie were invited back to perform later this year in one of Wales’ most prestigious festivals ‘Y Sesiwn Fawr', and Aindrias too will be returning for a series of events and a solo tour in 2020. Both sets of performers were supported voluntarily by a cohort of native Welsh musicians and poets. In many ways, though, from the perspective of those who arranged and organised these events, it is the development process, the outcomes and even the costings that are truly remarkable.
Blas o Gymru 2017
A dance of languages and culture
Roedd ein taith i Wlad y Basg yn ceisio rhoi blas o ddiwyllant Cymru i’r Basgwyr trwy
gyfrwng cerddoriaeth a chelf weledol. Teithion ni ogwmpas y wlad gan ganu mewncanolfanau celfeddydol a chanolfanau cymunedol gan wneud llwyth o gyfeillion achysylltiadau newydd.
A tour by Welsh musicians and a painter to the Basque Country to share Welsh culture and perform together with Basque musicians, stimulating reciprocal tours by Basque artists to Wales.
MoMA - Aras Eanna Exchange 2017
In September 2017, the north Wales artist Marged Pendrell began a month’s working residency at Aras Eanna, a small but very lively arts centre on Inis Oírr in the Aran Islands off the coast of County Galway. During the same period, an artist from the Irish-speaking Gaeltacht took up a parallel residency at MoMA Machynlleth, a gallery in Bro Ddyfi, mid-Wales. Supported by Celtic Neighbours and Ealainn na Gaeltachta but led by the centres themselves, the residency exchange was followed by exhibitions of the artists’ work in both centres early in 2018.
Both artists are native speakers in their everyday and professional lives, and both are committed to making an exploration of language and culture a main theme of their residencies. “I’m very excited,” said Marged. “I will be riding around Inis Oírr on a push-bike, talking to people and learning from them, making maps, thinking about place names, and creating work from natural materials.”
International Musicians performing in Atlantikaldia 2017
Responding to a requestfrom Igor Otxoa, Director of Atlantikaldia, Celtic Neighbours supported four musicians from minoritised-language cultures to play in this exciting and innovative festival. Gerardo Albela, a traditional piper from Santiago de Compostella in Galicia, played a range of Welsh and Galician tunes with his colleague MaggieTomkins, a squeezebox player from Wales, The singer-songwriter Osian Morris from Wales also took part in Atlantikaldia, supported by the bassist Nicolas Davalan from Brittany.
Atlantikaldia 2016 was the culmination of ‘TOSTA’ a year-long series of festivals that took place in seven minority nations around Europe’s Atlantic seabord; in this year’s event, the same small Basque town of Errenteria again hosted performers and welcomed audiences from all around our shores. Between 24th and 27th September, the town rang to music and echoed to the enthusiasm of its participants.
Gorriti’s exhibition was the centrepiece of a powerful Basque contribution to our winter. In addition to his work, we hosted a wonderful smaller exhibition of rural arts and crafts from Nafarroa, sent across and introduced by Ana Andueza from Plazaola in Gorriti’s home town of Lekunberri. We had concerts by the Basque musicians Bitartean and Bidaia, a film in our two languages by Uxue Arzelus from Donostia, lectures and discussions and much more.
The shops offered discount to people who could order in Euskara, and the school students acted as translators and mentors. Gorriti’s work was the focus and inspiration of everything else happening in our corner of Wales at that time; but even such powerful experiences do not take place in isolation – and their value would be lessened if they did. Partly as a result of her contacts with Gorriti before it took place, the north Wales artist Luned Rhys Parri undertook a month’s residency in Lekunberri this spring, working and walking with him on a number of occasions.
“Gorriti sees the world in a very similar way to me,” she commented on her return. “It was a great experience wandering round the farms with him, meeting shepherds and cheese makers and getting a taste of traditional life there.” Luned returned with her finished work, and also a small group of actors and musicians, to share her visions with the community that inspired her, and give them a taste in turn of contemporary and traditional Welsh culture.
Craobh Abhainn 2016-2017
A contemporary multi-media production integrating live visual art, live story-telling and live music visualising the story of young Irish people in the nineteenth century, travelling to Scotland to pick potatoes, told in the most imaginative way. The audience heard and saw the story come to life as they were transported to the edge of Western Europe, where they heard Gaeilge and Gaidhlig, live traditional music and saw the vivid colors of the Western Shores.
The production was made possible through the generous support of the Colmcille initiative, and the expertise and energy of people at Sabhal Mor Ostaig and An Loachran in Gaelic Scotland, Fíbín and Áras Inse Guaire in Ireland, and was co-ordinated by Celtic Neighbours. The writer is one of the most respected dramatists in the Western Isles of Scotland, and the director/ mentor combines TV and stage drama in Connemara and elsewhere in Ireland with youth and community work.
Wythnos Euskara-Cymru Week 2017
Wythnos Euskara Cymru in Bro Ddyfi was a long week – eleven days rather than seven. It was packed with events, including two exhibitions, six evening concerts, a film show, a poetry night, a feast, a two-day art workshop and a number of other activities. At its peak, there were seventeen Basque visitors sharing our lives in the valley, and more than two dozen volunteers helping to make things happen.
A partnership between Celtic Neighbours, Ysgol Bro Hyddgen, MoMA Machynlleth, Menter Maldwyn and Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg, it grew out of many years of collaboration between artists, musicians and others in Bro Ddyfi and Nafarroa, and a strong sense that our two communities have so much in common that we can promote each of our two languages and cultures by learning about, admiring and supporting the other.
So, how did it go and what did it achieve, if anything? Here are three perspectives, from Year 10 pupils at Ysgol Bro Hyddgen in Machynlleth, who were each involved in different ways.
Roedd Wythnos Euskara Cymru ym Mro Ddyfi’n wythnos hir – yn un o unarddeg diwrnod yn hytrach na saith. Roedd yn wythnos llawn digwyddiadau, yn cynnwys dwy arddangosfa, chwe chyngerdd gyda’r nos, sioe ffilmiau, gwledd, gweithdy celf dau ddiwrnod, a nifer o weithgareddau mwy ymylol, cefnogol. Yn ei anterth, roedd dwy ar bymtheg o bobl gwlad y Basg yn byw gyda ni yn y dyffryn, a mwy na dau ddwsin o wirfoddolwyr yn cynorthwyo’r gwaith.
Roedd yr ŵyl yn bartneriaeth rhwng y Cymdogion Celtaidd, Ysgol Bro Hyddgen, MoMa Machynlleth, Menter Maldwyn a Chymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg. Roedd wedi tyfu o flynyddoedd o gydweithio rhwng artistiaid, cerddorion a phobl eraill ym Mro Ddyfi a Nafarroa, ac o’r ymdeimlad cryf bod cymaint yn gyffredin rhwng ein dwy gymuned bod posib i ni hyrwyddo ein hieithoedd a’n diwyllinnau ein gilydd drwy ddysgu am ein gilydd, a thrwy edmygu a chefnogi ein gilydd.
Cymylau Tystion 2014 - 15
Cymylau Tystion/Clouds of Witnesses
Over nine months in 2015, the small farming community of Y Fron Goch in the Dyfi valley of mid-Wales opened its doors to welcome two young women. Naomi Heath, of Llanafan in Ceredigion, is a digital and sound artist; and Ciara O’Flynn from County Kerry in the west of Ireland is a sculptor and visual artist. They helped build stone walls, dug manure, fed lambs and sheep, tried their hand on the tractors, listening and learning. They’spent time, too, working with children in the primary school nearby. People in the community shared tea and cakes, stories and memories, ideas and good fun with the visitors. They, in turn, became mirrors of the community, trying to reflect people’s lives in a beautiful, honest way, throwing a very different light on the phrase “community engagement”.
Their exhibition included sculptural work, drawings in a variety of mixed media, digital photography combined with maps, a soundscape and separate sound-tracks, a zoetrope animation made by children, and a video piece. After an enormously successful exhibition in MoMA Machynlleth in mid-Wales, Cymylau Tystion showed in rural community centres in Skye, in the west of Ireland and in Euskal Herria - the Basque Country. It spoke directly and clearly to people in other small-language communities, sparking off exchanges and dialogue that are still developing today. In the words of writer and broadcaster Mike Parker, “It is a terrific exhibition: stirring, moving, funny, informative and celebratory.“
Tair brought three fine female musicians together for a year in 2013, playing and performing together, sharing tunes ideas and techniques. Each was deeply rooted in the language and musical traditions of their native culture, and all were at the same time committed to innovation. Their collaboration culminated in a highly successful appearance at 'Celtic Connections' in Galsgow, followed by an acclaimed ten-performace tour of Ireland.
‘Tional’ was a three-day gathering organised by Celtic Neighbours at Sabhal Mor Ostaig on the Isle of Skye in June 2013, essentially to help launch new cultural collaborations and strengthen existing ones. One hundred delegates attended, from minority-language cultures across Europe. Hard talking and planning was mixed wuth performance and socialising. For two years afterwards, Celtic Neighbours monitored the development of collaborations that grew out of this event, and established the following results:
There were 9 successful interactions, with 28 partner organisations from 8 minority nations involved.
Every project was delivered in one of the smaller languages – often in two or more.
36 second and third generation collaborations moved towards the production stage.
Over 600,000 Euro has been generated in less than three years.
162,00 Euro has been paid in wages; 37,000 Euro in artists’and professional fees.
11 full-time posts have been created; 44 part-time; 17 internships.
More than 700 volunteers and other participants have been drawn in, and more than 15,000 audience members.
All these projects were taking place through one or more of the smaller European languages, and all were collaborations between community and production groups dedicated to working in those languages. Our research powerfully suggests that multi-lingual initiatives not only contribute significantly to long-term economic well-being, but have a positive impact on language use and cultural confidence in smaller-language communities.
Branwen was a tri-lingual music and drama collaboration, bringing together young people from three smaller-language communities. Young actors from Dingle in County Kerry and from Ceredigion in West Wales worked together for six months, devising a production based on an early-medieval story from the Mabinogi. They were joined then in an intensive week of rehearsals and fine-tuning by three young Gaelic musicians from the Hebrides.
The experience was crowned by three very successful performances at An Lab in Dingle. Co-ordinated by Celtic Neighbours, it brought together An Lab in Dingle, Theatr Felinfach in Ceredigion and Feisean na Gadhael in the Highlands and Islands. As we evaluated the project, we used our findings to create this resource for other groups embarking on similar multi-lingual, multi-partner initiatives.
The ‘Tír’ visual arts residency and touring exhibition project grew in the making. It finally come to an end inApril 2012, when it closed at the Pan-Celtic Festival in Carlow, more than a year later than was originally envisaged. It exceeded all expectations, both in its positive effects on the artists and galleries it has helped bring together, and also the communities who hosted it. The support we have received from a wide range of participants has been heartening, and in particular we would like to thank the project’s four main funders: the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, the Bank of Ireland, the Carnegie UK Trust and Voluntary Arts Wales.
Six young professional artists enjoyed the experience of living and working in a similar neighbouring native-language community,, and all commented that it had led to positive developments in their work. The host galleries - Oriel Plas Glyn y Weddw in north Wales, Aras Eanna on Inis Oirr in the Aran Islands off the coast of Connemara, and Taigh Chearsabhagh in South Uist - continue to develop the relationships they built upo through their collaboration.