I left my native Wales when I was just eighteen but March 1, Saint David’s Day, is always a time when I think about my roots.
The stereotype is that all Welsh people sing. It’s part of an ancient tradition. As children we grow up performing in eisteddfodau—music and poetry competitions—which take place every Saint David’s Day. If you win a competition you perform in front of the whole school, which can mean singing in front of more than a thousand pupils. My grandmother was also a singer. That’s her in the photo at the top of the page. So I grew up very comfortable singing in public.
Putting down roots in Uruguay
My family and I had moved around the world a lot before we came to Uruguay back in 2000. I really felt the need to put down roots and we got a dog* and a piano almost straight away. Two things you can’t have when you travel.
I also went back to my roots as a singer. Instead of singing the rock and blues I’d always done, I started investigating British folk and celtic music and how to give it a contemporary and local twist – after all, I was making celtic music in South America.
Wales and Uruguay – a musical match
I was really fortunate that a mutual friend put me in touch with the late great Uruguayan guitarist, Jorge Galemire.
At the time, Galemire was well-known for his major role in refining the uniquely Uruguayan rhythm, candombe beat. So the majority of Uruguayans would have been totally surprised to hear that he always said that Celtic music, especially from Brittany which shares linguistic roots with Welsh, was a big influence on him. He particularly loved Alain Stivell.
El Gale as he was known and I hit it off musically right away. We formed a duo, then a band, and our eponymous album Trelew (named after a Welsh town founded in South America) was nominated for a Graffiti, Uruguay’s equivalent of the Grammys.
Sadly Galemire died a couple of years ago. So when the British Embassy in Uruguay asked me how I was going to celebrate Saint David’s Day this year, I thought I’d share one of the first recordings Galemire and I made together of a song in Welsh.
Until today it’s not been available online. It has El Gale’s big steel-string guitar ringing throughout. Enjoy and happy Saint David’s Day!
* There’s a joke in the English-speaking community here that you haven’t really “arrived” in Uruguay till you adopt a stray dog. Even a previous US ambassador got herself one.
Uruguay also has a massive musical tradition. Check out my recommended 5 Uruguayan albums you must listen to
Uruguay and Wales share various characteristics – like they are both nations of just three million people. The BBC and Guru’Guay explored the differences and similarities in a 3 minute video shown during the Wales V Uruguay game in the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
Karen shares why she thinks it was destiny she ended up in Uruguay
[Article first published March 1 2017 and updated on the date above]