Gwenan Gibbard, Trelew, Feb 2015, GG

Gwenan in Patagonia 2015

In February 2015, we supported Gwenan Gibbard to travel to Argentina to perform in a number of locations in Trelew and Gaiman, and then performed at the Patagonia Celtica Festical in Trevelin.

We asked Gwenan to tell us more about her visit:

If you were to see the pile of books I've got at my bedside at the moment, you'd have a good idea of what's been on my mind over the past few weeks. From the poetry of R Bryn Williams and the writings of Eluned Morgan, to the works of Cathrin Williams and all sorts of different CDs, I can't get enough of the tales and stories of Patagonia and the Patagonian way of life at the moment! This has all been sparked by my unforgettable visit to ‘Y Wladfa’ (the Welsh colony in Patagonia) last month – ten full days packed full of rich experiences.

Yes, I knew a bit about the history of the migration to Patagonia and had heard interesting stories and experiences from a number of friends who'd been over there on a visit, but nothing could have prepared me for the thrilling experience of being there myself, on South American soil, further away from home than ever before, while at the same time feeling safe and completely at home among friends and kindred spirits.

With my sunglasses and sandals safely packed in my suitcase, I eagerly set off for Manchester, carrying a very special harp made by Telynau Teifi which would, when I headed back home, be staying in its new home in the Andes. It was a privilege to take the harp to the end of its journey and to be a part of this special campaign led by Elinor Bennett. But before bidding the harp farewell there were a good deal of performances and concerts to do, starting in Trelew, in the lovely Teatro Verdi. The concert, in the company of the people of the Chubut Valley, was a special experience for me; it was an evening full of interesting conversations, and it was wonderful to be able to work alongside some local musicians, namely Caren Jones, Sonia Baliente, Otro Sielo and the Mariela Ledesma group. I must thank Catrin Morris for all the thorough organisation and for the warm welcome. Being a part of the official celebrations in Trelew to mark one hundred and fifty years since the founding of the Welsh colony was a very special experience.

During the few days I spent in Trelew I managed to do a fair bit of wandering around the town's streets in the warm, strong breeze, marvelling at the striking memorial to Lewis Jones, one of the initial founders, and getting a chance to pop into the homely Welsh School, where I tried ‘mate’ for the first time ever! Having known each other for years, it was lovely to catch up with Esyllt Nest Roberts de Lewis and family in Gaiman, and a special thanks to Mabon and Idris for letting me try dulce de leche for the first time! Also, there was a social event on in Gaiman that week, and I enjoyed the good company, the singing, and the tasty food, of course. I then had a wonderful and very interesting journey to Puerto Madryn with Cathrin Williams, where I saw for myself the exact spot where the Welsh landed in 1865. In no time at all I experienced the closeness of the communities of Trelew and Gaiman, and the incredibly warm welcome given by everyone everywhere.

Before long it was time to leave for the Andes. I had tried on a number of occasions to imagine what kind of a place the 'paith' (the prairie) would be, having heard so much about it, and I got a dramatic view of it while travelling overnight on the bus. It was a clear and still night, and the paith was illuminated by a bright moon and endless stars, and I gazed at this remarkable, magical landscape for ages, just as if I were watching a film. This was a real adventure... On arriving in Esquel I was struck by the magnificent panorama of the huge Andean mountains, and on the way to Trevelin I was amazed at the Welsh names of the farms at the roadside. I'm very grateful to Margarita Green for inviting me to take part in the Patagonia Celtica festival in Trevelin, which was a fantastic event. I've never seen a prettier location to host a dance and music festival. There was something magical about this green spot next to Afon Fawr (Big River), and there was a special atmosphere throughout the weekend. On the first morning in the Andes I was in the company of Elinor Bennett and Rhisiart Arwel, and a throng of other performers and visitors, many of whom were from Wales, on an enjoyable musical train journey into the stunning solitude of the mountains. I had four very sociable days in Trevelin, and I have fond memories of long days of endless sunshine, chatting by the lake to the accompaniment of folk music from the Celtic countries, quenching our thirst with sweet beer from Trevelin, singing an unexpected duet with Alejandro Jones, and making yet more friends with people from Trevelin and Esquel. I had the opportunity to perform in a concert in Esquel and to hold harp workshops in Trevelin, before heading home. Thank you very much to Alwen Green and Aldo for the accommodation and for the warm-hearted welcome I received while in the Andes. We did quite a bit of chatting over many cups of tea, and they kindly showed me many of the local sights.

The Welsh language and Welsh culture – these were absolutely central to the lives of the early settlers in Patagonia, and I see that they're still incredibly important in the lives of Welsh Patagonians today. I felt the enthusiasm of the old and the young alike, and a desire to sustain the language and our traditions. A hundred and fifty years after the Mimosa's pioneering voyage, it's great to think that there's so much contact and coming and going between Wales and Patagonia today, and that we are, as always, 'one big family'. I have been inspired by my journey and am keen to try to sing about the experience – we'll see what happens! Thank you very much to everyone for the unforgettable experiences, and I'm already looking forward to coming back.

Gwenan Gibbard

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