Mentro – Gwen Mairi
This is quite literally a daring venture by harpist Gwen Mairi. The word ‘Mentro’ means to dare, or to venture in Welsh. Which is precisely what she has dared to do – branch out on her own after several years in collaboration, to release an album of traditional tunes, sung in Welsh.
Although brought up in Scotland, Gwen lived in a Welsh speaking family. “Combining the melodies and literature of Wales with classical finesse” (she trained at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama), she captures the spirit of the folk tradition. Her sensitive and unique vocals, combined with harp, cello and other instruments makes this a pleasure to listen to.
A niche album, it will appeal to those who enjoy Celtic harp music for easy listening or even Celtic harp meditation. Although I have zero Welsh, there are several instrumentals, and the Welsh language is lovely on the ear. The track ‘Y Deryn Pur’ includes the words “Mentra Gwen” which means “Venture Gwen” and she admits that these words have become her personal mantra at this crossroads in her career.
Although firmly rooted in the Welsh tradition, the old, traditional methods are mixed with a contemporary twist. The Welsh call the southern part of Scotland and northern England Yr Hen Ogledd (The Old North), when the language spoken in ancient times was a form of Welsh. Inspired by ancient words from a sixth-century poet Aneirin who came from what is now Midlothian, words of passion from the Old Testament, Rhosyn Saron (Rose of Sharon), and also drawing on poetry written by her own mother, in Tawelwch (Quietness), it is a meditation on the beauty of stillness through life.
She draws on the memory of her grandfather in Hwyr (Late), dealing with the passage of time from the perspective of old age. There is a deep sense of soul, belonging and a real sense of place – namely west Wales and the banks of the River Teifi, reflected in the instrumental track of the same name.
‘Mentro’ also features award-winning musicians Gwilym Bowen Rhys on guitar, mandolin and fiddle and Jordan Price Williams on cello. Produced by Aled Hughes, it is recorded live at Sain, resulting in a delicate, unusual album that captures the unique spirit of Welsh music.
This would make a quaint Christmas gift for anyone interested in traditional Celtic or harp music. Released on Erwydd, the folk/traditional off-shoot of Welsh label Sbrign Ymborth.
For further information on the talented and intriguing Gwen Mairi, visit gwenmairi.co.uk