Anna Lewis

Gwyneth Glyn Interview

Tell us about your music, and poetry; what informs and inspires you?

My inspiration always comes from my immediate surroundings, be they physical or emotional. Having grown up in the countryside and being surrounded by birdsong, sycamore trees and icy streams, this is the imagery I always return to - there is something timeless in the ebb and flow of the seasons.

But if my rural upbringing gave me solitude to make believe, my family and community gave me stories to tell. My 96 year old grandfather still shocks me with tales of his youth! Williams Wordsworth said that "poetry is the spontaneous outpouring of powerful feelings... recollected in tranquility." I had plenty of tranquility in the Eifionydd of my childhood. The heartaches that came afterwards gave me a lot to sing about!

I am constantly inspired by hen benillion - ancient Welsh folk poems, many of which are thought to be written by women. There is a profound simplicity in our ancestors' expressions of their own powerful feelings. I aspire towards that same simplicity in my own work.

How did this project with Tauseef come about?

By a weird combination of government initiative and fate! Tauseef and I were very fortunate to have a mutual friend and colleague in the form of Donal Wheelan, the master of mastering at Hafod studios in south Wales. When Donal was consulted by Wales Arts International about the possibility of bringing together artists from Wales and India to work together musically, he instinctively felt that Tauseef and I would get along. And he was right! From the moment I saw a Youtube video of Tauseef singing Thehri Thehri to Rais Khan, the legendary Pakistani sitarist, it was clear to me that we should work together. We are both very grateful to Wales Arts International for their support in this continuing collaborative journey.

What excites you about this project?

To be given the opportunity to explore music with such a gifted soul as Tauseef is a blessing in itself. But the real spark happened when we both got together in the Tŷ Crwn (Round House) at Donal's place in September. The air was getting colder, we lit a fire, we talked, we played music. And as we shared our stories and our poetry something happened. It was as if the air was charged with the energy of our ancestors. The music that poured out of us was timeless; it felt like a gift. We both had an uncanny sense that it wasn't coming from either of us but from somewhere else. That was exciting.

What has been the most important aspect of this collaboration for you?

It has given me a tremendous insight into the profound beauty of Urdu poetry and ghazal singing, both of which I was previously unaware. It has also made me reconnect with and appreciate anew the incredible richness of my own Welsh cultural heritage. What has amazed me is the parallels between both traditions; they are thematically very similar - unrequited love, regret, longing, death... Tauseef and I were in tears more than once as we shared the stark simplicity of our forefathers and mothers' expressions of emotion. The material we are dealing with is potent stuff!

What has been the reaction of Welsh audiences to this work?

At the present time the work is being kept a very guarded secret as it is still in development. But one very exciting progression is the introduction of other musicians into the mix. The supremely gifted and lovely Georgia Ruth Williams with be joining us with her harp, and Tauseef has some stellar friends who will also join us on Indian violin, guitar and tabla. Welsh audiences are very intrigued to hear what we come up with! We want it to be a great surprise when they do.

When you first visited India, what were your first impressions of the country and culture?

What struck me most was the warmth of the people. Everyone we met was so open and joyful, it really put me at ease. It's hard not to fall in love with the vitality of the place - its colours, the incredible cuisine, the way music is revered as something sacred and yet is an integral part of everyday life. Everyone talks about the hustle and bustle of a city like Delhi or Mumbai, but there is also stillness at the centre of all that commotion; a timelessness which I find irresistible.

How do you feel about performing at the Desert Festival?

It's an honour to be performing alongside such incredible musicians. The line-up is amazing. I can't wait to hear the other artists, as well as hearing how our own work becomes part of such a great musical melting pot.

How do you feel about performing at the XChange Festival?

I can't wait to be part of such an amazing event. It is always slightly daunting to play to an audience that really listens! But it will be a joy to be involved in such an unique celebration of culture and music in 2012.

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