Happy Saint David’s Day from your Welsh woman in Uruguay

I left my native Wales when I was just 18 but March 1, Saint David's Day, is always a time when I think about my roots. Especially living here in Uruguay.
By Karen A Higgs
The Guru'Guay's grandmother was also a singer, like most of the people of Wales
Last updated on March 1, 2021
Karen Ann in Welsh costume
Photo: The Guru’Guay at three years old in traditional Welsh costume – the 1960s version

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

Photos: Guru’Guay

[Article first published March 1 2017 and updated on the date above]




14 Responses

  1. Dear Welsh woman.
    I was moved almost to tears by your amazing song. I seem to be quite uneducated in the Welsh language and your words are foreign to me but the song seemed to touch me more than if it was written in my native Spanish or my secondary English language. This is a tribute to you and the crystal steel guitar work of a man i admire as a musician. Congratulations. I’m an ex Pat Uruguayan who immigrated to Australia as a young child and this song has me questioning whether to travel to Uruguay next summer or head to Wales to listen to more of this language that is so beautiful and aged to perfection like a very very fine wine. Thank-you for sharing this great song. You have intrigued me enough to study your language more.

    1. Wow! How lovely to read your message, Pablo. Galemire was truly a wonderful guitarrist. There was actually a tribute to him last Sunday in Montevideo and I performed three of the songs we wrote together. It was extremely moving, especially to be together with his old collaborators – Fernando Cabrera, Mauricio Ubal and others. All the best and thanks for writing, Karen

  2. Very beautiful, thank you for sharing.

    And thank you for the though on Galemire, a big fan here. I was fortunate enough to see him live on a few occasions, including one in the early eighties, before he became “famous,” at a free concert in Plaza Gomensoro. It was so windy that evening that the musicians were playing leaning against it. A huge loss indeed.

  3. Dear Welsh Woman,

    In my turn I wish you a Happy Saint David’s Day !

    However you don’t know me. So please, let me introduce myself. I am a 76 year old Belgian, happily living with my wife in a quiet spot of Punta del Este since a couple of years. I do read a lot incl. each and every email that I receive from this Welsh Woman, artist and B&B owner in MVD. So why I am so much interested in what she writes. Well, the information she spreads is more than worthwhile, in time and to the point. Interesting by all standards. Moreover she spreads her information in a very personal way. But moreover… she is Welsh ! And what does this mean to me ? That she comes from that particular part of the UK the people of which I like so much. So now it comes: I was born in Alltwen, Pontardawe, Glam. Until the age of almost five I was a Welsh boy, son of a Belgian refugee family that was truly and caringly welcomed by the whole of the village. When the war ended I was taken to Antwerp where I was further raised as a Flemish boy. However my parents and myself returned to Wales a number of times after the war ended. Apart from spending our holidays over there, the main purpose was to keep in contact with the people that had been so kind to us during 5 years and that still considered me a real Welshmen. At one of these occasion we accompanied a group of Alltwen people to an Eistedfodd, the location of which I don’t recall. But I do remember that it took more than a few hours drive each way by chartered coach during which there was singing and singing and… singing.
    Later on my wife and I also toured Wales and other parts of the UK, mainly for her to get to know the beautiful Welsh scenery and meet the last surviving villagers who had known me (and spoilt me !) in my early childhood. Indeed most unfortunately by then most of the South Walians who had known me best in my childhood had passed away. But the valley was as beautiful as ever, or maybe even more beautiful than before because the steel works and the above ground mine installations had been dismantled by that time. As to the village itself most regretfully it had paid its toll to modern traffic needs: a huge flyover had been constructed to link both sides of the valley, completely ruining the charm of old Herbert St, the typical main street of the old days…

    For what I know of you through your writings, I think you are a true member of the people I’m so fond of. I remember having seen one or another present day picture of you in past issues, but I must say that you look wonderful as a three year old in your sixties costume!

    Kind regards,
    Jean Michielsens
    (P.S. as you might have guessed my name is to be read in French)

    1. Dear Jean, I am so moved by your story, and SO grateful that you have shared it. When you make it to Montevideo, do write to me and we’ll have a beer and catch up about Wales. A big celtic hug to you and your wife, Karen

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