Any of you who has roots in other places, and for us Canadians, that is most of us; may have felt this kind of pride in your ancestral homes. It is a passion that reaches deep into the memories hidden within our cells and into previous incarnations of our souls even. I have been lucky enough to explore some of those primal memories and the lands from which they have arisen.
My whole life, I had felt an almost overwhelming compulsion to go, or rather, return to Wales. It has been a fire in my cellular memory since I first learned of it. Wales....Cymru....the land of the Red Dragon. Two years ago this September, I realized that dream and crossed that wish off my bucket list. Traveling with my wife, another explorer of passion, we spent nearly two weeks visiting some of the sacred and historical landmarks of England and Wales.
After several days visiting sites in Somerset and Cornwall, we boarded a train and headed for the mountains of North Wales. When we crossed the border into Wales, an irresistible knowing came over me. Without even looking out the window, I pulled myself out of the half-napping fugue I was in, to turn and look at my wife.
"I am home!" I told her and just moments later came the announcement that we were now in Wales.
On the train, we had met a personable young man who hailed from Devon originally. He had just returned from a weekend of partying in Greece ans sat across from us half asleep most of the time. Inquiring where we were going, he laughed at our pronunciation of the town and simply told us, "It's pronounced Betsy Coed."
For anyone who is Welsh or aware of the town 'Betws-Y-Coed', you are probably laughing and realize how badly the youth had butchered the true pronunciation.
From our B&B hosts in the town, we learned the true way of saying it and I made sure to master it. After all, it was part of my ancestral language and a thing I took pride in.
Over the years, I had learned a smattering of pronunciations of letter combinations from my father who knew a little of his language but not much. He had taught me that the 'dd' was a 'th' and how to roll my 'rrrs' among other things and while in Wales, I learned the true sound of 'll' but when I returned to Canada, mundane day to day matters took over and I let my passion for my homeland subside. I am Canadian too and generally proud of the land of my birth in this incarnation as well.
Recently, that passion was re-ignited once more, thanks to the band, "Calan."
"Dwi'n dysgu Cymraeg" - I am learning Welsh.
"Dwi ddim yn rhugl - eto" - I am not fluent yet.
There is a local festival in London, Ontario each year that combines music and food and has become extremely popular over the years. This is Sunfest, its live music typically Latin in nature or from one of the tropical or sunbelt nations. great to dance the salsa and such too. This year, my wife was checking out the line up of performers when she saw that there was going to be both a Scottish and a Welsh band playing. Just the mention of a Welsh band was enough to bring up my excitement levels. This was not typical of Sunfest and we both knew we had to go see them. We had a date with the band, Calan, whether they knew it or not.
When the night arrived, I prepared by wearing the earring of the Welsh dragon I had bought in Wales and the t-shirt of a Red Dragon carrying the Welsh flag I had as well. The performance started as the band took the stage; a tall man with a fey smile and a fiery woman on the fiddle, another fellow skillfully pulling chords from his acoustic guitar while two other women played their own instruments, an accordion and a twenty-stringed handheld harp.
Traditional Welsh music came from these instruments during this performance, interspersed with some of their own original and compelling music including the song, 'A Tale of Two Dragons', based on an old legend of a prophecy of two dragons battling for supremacy and how the victorious Red Dragon became the symbol of the Welsh flag, one of which the band pulled out and draped over speakers at the front of the stage. The legend sometimes ties into the legend of King Arthur and what may have been Merlin's, also known as Myrddin (remember the 'dd') first prophecy.
It was at this time, that the tall slender fiddler who earlier had noticed me cheering in the audience, or rather, the Welsh shirt I was wearing of which he now made mention. Throughout this whole experience, I had felt my passion for my Welsh heritage returning and was swelling with overwhelming pride for my people and with grand appreciation for this wonderful band.
Throughout their set, the accordion player set aside her instrument and added another to the ensemble, her feet, with traditional clog dancing added into the mix, joined occasionally by the harp player dancing as well. It created compelling rhythms that only a corpse could resist tapping their foot to. The tall fiddler player exchanged his fiddle at times for the Welsh pipes (the 'pibau cyrn' or 'pibau cymraeg', I believe) and whistles. It was a powerful and joyous performance I will never forget.
Yet, this was not the end of the tale of why I am passionate about my roots and my ancestral language. After the show, we were in the beer tent and bumped in Calan. They recognized me from the crowd and my wife and I entered into a lively conversation with them. I met Patrick and Angharad, the fiddlers; Beth, the accordion player, singer and clog dancer; Sam, the guitarist; and, Meinir, the harpist and dancer.
They were a young, charismatic and extremely down to earth group of musicians who we chatted with for quite awhile, my Welsh pride soaring the whole time. We spoke of Wales and how those of Welsh descent abroad all took such pride in the small but historically vital nation; how the language had nearly died out in my dad's time and how now and when we were in Wales, teens and young people could be found speaking Welsh on every street corner; how I had known in my blood the moment I had entered Wales, how I had learned to pronounce Betws-Y-Coed properly and how I had learned from an older Welsh woman on our recent trip to Ireland that the government of New Zealand had been so impressed how Wales had brought back their language that they had sent educators over so that they might be able to do the same with their own fading Maori language.
We suggested a couple of other local festivals that they should look into for their next North American tour as well.
It was an amazing night and we became determined to go back and see their Sunday performance as well. The following day, I began researching online sources to learn to speak and read Welsh. By the time we saw them at their performance on Sunday, I had memorized how to write and say,
"Dwi'n dysgu Cymraeg" - I am learning Welsh, much to our mutual pleasure.
Their second performance received a standing ovation, quite a feat at a festival where many came to hear the Latin and sunbelt music. An older woman with that pervading Welsh pride was there waving a Welsh flag and she too received a shout out from Calan just as I had on the Friday night. We bought their CD which they gladly autographed and invited us to seek them out when we return to Wales and suggested we stay in touch through their Facebook page, CALAN.
It was an encounter that has not only set my Welsh blood burning but continues to do so. Any of you of Welsh blood might know what I am feeling and any of you of other descent, I challenge you to seek out knowledge of your cultural origins and embrace the beauty of the heritages that have helped make you who you are today.
"Dwi'n dysgu Cymraeg"
"Dwi ddim yn rhugl - eto"
"Diolch yn fawr"