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Move Over, M.C. Hammer; Here Comes Sobin a’r Smaeliaid

So-called “world” music could have a new sound to rival the beats of southern Africa and Latin America – Welsh-language rock music.

John Peel, veteran BBC deejay and guru of progressive rock, has aired a number of Welsh-language tracks on his weekly show. And the Alarm, the Welsh-based band, has started to record in both English and Welsh. There’s been no shortage of popular singers coming out of Wales – Tom Jones, Shirley Bassey and Bonnie Tyler among them – but few have dared to sing, let alone record, in their native tongue.

According to estimates, there are about 150 Welsh-language rock bands (embracing reggae, punk, post-punk, hip-hop, rap, etc.) performing in the principality, compared with just a dozen 10 years ago. One explanation for this thriving Welsh-language rock scene is the establishment of Welsh-language commercial channel S4C, which airs a couple of shows a week dedicated to the local rock scene.

“Because of these shows, a lot of bands get on tv and earn enough money to produce records,” notes journalist Dafydd Bowen Rhys.

Most active is punk band Anhrefn (Chaos), which recently wrapped a tour of Europe.

Here are lyrics from “Swings A Rowndabowts,” a song on Anhrefn’s latest album, released in December:

“Sgenna ti ddim hawl chware yna heb dalu

A chei di ddim talu yn dy iaith dy hun

Sgenna ti ddim hawl cerdded yr hen lwybrau

A chei di ddim yfed o dy ffynnon dy hun

Beth am adeiladu Marina ar ben yr Wyddfa

Ma pob dim yn troi rownd swings a rowndabowts

Ai Cymru yw y maes chwarae Pobl cyn elw.”

“You can’t play here without paying

And you can’t pay in your own language

You’re not allowed to walk the old footways

And you can’t drink the water of your own well

Let’s build a Marina on top of Snowdon

It all turns round swings and roundabouts

Is Wales becoming the playground?

People before profit.”

(Copyright: Cyhoeddiadau Sain, 1990.)

Other big names are rockers Sobin a’r Smaeliaid (The Ishmaelites), and rap group Ty Gwydar (Glasshouse).

Maximum sales for a Welsh-language band are about 5,000 units for a longplayer, per Dafydd Iwan, head of Sain Records, largest label in the principality and the only indie distrib.

Sain, based in the town of Caernarfon in north Wales, has about 50 titles in its catalog, most of them Welsh-lingo. About a third are MOR, a third rock and the remainder classical. Best sellers tend to be compilations aimed at summer tourists.

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