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Adwaith fly the flag for Wales in the Netherlands

13 Feb 2024 6 minute read
Adwaith fly the flag in Nijmegen

Luke James, Nijmegen

“Is anyone here from Wales?” asked Adwaith bassist Gwenllian Anthony, probably expecting a cheer.

But it didn’t arrive. The hundred or so people standing in front of her were Nijmegen natives skipping the festivities of the city’s carnival, taking place just 200 metres away, to be there.

“This is our first show without any Welsh people, I love that,” added Anthony before launching into their latest single, Addo.

And everyone started dancing as if they were all from Wales.

Amazing

It was a moment long in the making. “We were in the Netherlands quite a few times last year and it was just amazing,” explained Anthony, sitting on a settee backstage with her bandmates Hollie Singer (vocals) and Heledd Owen (drums).

“We played Eurosonic festival in Groningen and that was amazing,” added Singer. “We had a great reaction from the crowd. So it just felt natural to want to come back here.”

Our interview in the unpretentious dressing room of Merleyn, a venue with a maximum capacity of 150 people, comes a day after Dydd Miwsig Cymraeg.

The only double Welsh Music Prize winners could easily have marked the day with a sellout gig in Carmarthen, where the band began life in the bedrooms of school friends Anthony and Singer, or Cardiff, where they performed together with Owen for the first time exactly eight years earlier.

Instead they returned to spread the Welsh music gospel in Groningen as part of a four-date tour of the Netherlands, their longest consecutive run in any European country so far.

Crazy

“We thought there was going to be like five or ten people at the gigs but yesterday at Vera [in Groningen] there were about 200 people, which is crazy,” said Anthony. “A lot of these people haven’t seen us before as well.”

Why the Netherlands? Well, the band’s booking agent is based there. But it also ranks third on the list of countries with the highest number of Adwaith streams on Spotify.

The band has received regular airtime on alternative music stations too, one gig goer told me.

“I think the Netherlands is a good place to start,” said the band’s 26-year-old bassist. “We’ve also been to Spain, France, Portugal and Italy. We’re trying to do more European gigs.

“They just understand that we speak and sing in Welsh. It’s not questioned. It’s just a really cool thing for them.”

The band’s latest single, Addo, features James Dean Bradfield on guitar.

Bradfield’s bandmate Nicky Wire once said he couldn’t understand the Manics’ success abroad because they were a “difficult band in translation.” What chance then for a band singing in Welsh?

“I quite enjoy listening to music that I don’t understand and I think a lot of people do,” added Anthony.

“It gives them space and scope to get what they want from the song. To interpret it how they want.”

Euphoric 

Addo, about a draining relationship with a self-destructive partner, has been described as the band’s darkest song lyrically. The lyrics though aren’t matched by the euphoric sound.

“A lot of songs have that juxtaposition,” replied Singer. “It doesn’t have to make sense, the lyrics with the music.”

But aren’t they concerned that the feminist message in Addo, or Lipstick Coch from debut album Melyn, is more likely to be lost in translation?

“Last night when we played in Groningen people were coming up to us and saying I didn’t understand a word of it but I really enjoyed the vibe,” added Singer.

Adwaith in Nijmegen

“I think that when we make music we think a lot about the picture that the song paints. We write songs as if it’s for a film almost.”

Watching Dutch people dance, cwtch and instinctively try to sing along proved the point.

The band cite the “soundscapey, dramatic, atmospheric” Urdu-language folk and jazz of Arooj Aftab, who they saw at Green Man Festival in 2022, and Columbian-American singer songwriter Kali Uchis, who proudly performs in Spanish as well as English, as international influences.

World music

“We listen to a lot of world music,” said Anthony. “A lot of middle eastern music, Turkish psychedelic folk, and just stuff from all around the world.”

Those influences can be heard clearly on Mwy, the second new release from Adwaith’s forthcoming third album.

Fans can expect to hear more of the band’s new music on the upcoming tour of the UK and Ireland before the album is released.

Back on the continent in May for gigs in Antwerp and Amsterdam as festival season begins, the band’s success inevitably means an increasingly demanding schedule.

“Smoking cigarettes and drinking beers is off the table now,” said Singer. “It’s just water and ginger tea now.”

Adwaith.

Perhaps that’s why while Gartref, one of the group’s first singles, and Bato Mato, its second album, were both inspired by epic train journeys, the upcoming album was written in and inspired by Wales.

“You do get inspiration on the road,” said Anthony. “But we see it as like a job now. Whereas when you first go abroad it’s like this is the most exciting thing ever. Now it’s like we’re buckling down.”

Nonetheless, they insist they still get a buzz from playing abroad.

By the end of the gig, Anthony was soliciting marriage proposals for visa purposes. “We wish we could stay but Brexit,” she said to pantomime boos.

The band though have their sights set on a tour outside of Europe.

Japan

“Japan” they replied in unison when asked where they’d like to play next. “I think we’d go down well in Japan,” said Singer.

“I’d love to play in the Basque Country and Lithuania as well,” added Owen. “It’s a similar size to Wales and I just want to go to Vilnius to be honest. It just looks amazing.”

Does their growing popularity put extra pressure on the band to act as ambassadors? The term doesn’t sit comfortably with them but it’s a role they embrace.

“We are I guess because it is a lot of people’s first introduction to Welsh language music,” said Anthony.

But she recalled the band’s visit to the SUNS Europe festival of music in minoritised languages, held every year in Udine, Italy.

“Other artists are trying to save the language through singing and that’s the only way that the language is used. So we get a perspective on how lucky we are in Wales.

“We try not to put pressure on ourselves,” she adds, “but if people get into Welsh language music through us that is amazing.”


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Dai Rob
Dai Rob
1 month ago

Awesome band…..seeing them in Pontardawe next month!!!

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
1 month ago

It never did the singing Divas’ of Mali any harm…

Give Oumou Sangare, Fatoumata Diawara and Rokia Traore a spin…

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
1 month ago
Reply to  Mab Meirion

You could ask Ryan from Wrecsam to bring the Surfrajettes over from Canada and elsewhere and book you for a Ladies 11 Rock Concert…another Canadian ‘girl’ band are the BeGood Tanyas but they could be retired…be lucky…

Last edited 1 month ago by Mab Meirion

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