Sŵnami: ‘Why can’t we sing in Welsh and be successful?’

3 weeks ago
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Sŵnami

Arabella Itani

For Sŵnami it was never a consideration to sing in English – Welsh is their first language.

While there has always been a thriving music scene in Wales, breaking out across the UK isn’t easy when you don’t sing in English.

But it looks like things are slowly starting to change and that’s mostly thanks to streaming.

Sŵnami (pronounced tsunami) are one of a number of exciting acts emerging from that vibrant Welsh-language scene.

“It just came completely natural. We speak to each other in Welsh so why not do it in song as well?” Gruff Jones, from the band, tells us.

And it’s really not holding them back.

Sŵnami

Arabella Itani

“Around releasing our first album, we represented BBC Radio 1 at Eurosonic Festival in the Netherlands,” guitarist Ifan Davies says.

“It was the first time that we played outside the UK. It was great – the Welsh barrier was no issue there.

“In Europe, language isn’t the most important thing and a lot of people speak two languages,” adds Gruff.

“We have had plays here on Huw Stephens’ show, but going to Eurosonic in the Netherlands made us realise it is possible to do this in Welsh.”

They have been asked to sing in English in the past but it’s not something they worry about too much.

BTS

The Chosunilbo JNS

In fact their answer is always: “If people like Christine and the Queens can sing in French and Sigur Ros in their own made-up language, why can’t we sing in Welsh?”

And we can add Spanish singer Rosalia and, of course, the behemoth that is South Korean boyband BTS to that list.

The music is even more poignant for Sŵnami as Gruff is autistic.

“I struggle a lot with communication and language,” Gruff explains.

“So we do try and create that feeling or message through the music as well.

“We start off with the music and the lyrics come after, so I hope that is what people feel when they hear the song.”

Christine and the queens

Kieran Frost

Sian Eleri presents the Chillest Show on BBC Radio 1 and is also deeply immersed in the Welsh-language music scene.

“It’s super-diverse. It’s really palpable and there is something there for everyone,” she explains.

“You’ve got your moody folk, electronic trip-hop with artists like Eädyth, you’ve got your punk rock with Adwaith and Alffa.

“All these amazing artists are making really interesting music and it feels young, and I don’t think it necessarily felt that young all the time.

“So it’s a really exciting moment to see the momentum that we’ll be taking over the course the next couple of years.”

Rock duo Alffa were the first Welsh-language band to break a million streams on Spotify.

That was because they were on a South American playlist.

Alffa

Alffa

And that is so encouraging for bands like Sŵnami.

“Before the streaming age, major labels had a big hand in breaking bands,” Ifan explains.

“And I guess the pressure to release an English album was a lot bigger than it is for us.

“With Alffa breaking streaming records and appearing on a montage for I’m a Celebrity, it gives us hope we can do similar stuff with our album, [it] feels like those barriers are there to be broken.”

He says there’s a strong support system within the Welsh-language music scene and it feels good to be a part of that.

And because of that, Sian feels there is a new-found confidence among these emerging artists.

“They are embracing that identity, knowing that it’s not just going to be limited to audiences that speak exclusively Welsh,” she explains.

“They know there is an audience beyond that and that is so exciting.”

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