Gwenno: 'I've always had a faith that music doesn't have any linguistic barriers, and I've been proved right'
- David Pollock
- 1 May 2019
Welsh musician discusses her Cornish roots and upcoming projects
Searching for Gwenno Saunders' name online, it's interesting to note a news story which says the Cornish Language Board believes her second and most recent album Le Kov was responsible for a 15% increase in students taking Cornish language exams last year. That's still only 77 people in total, and the language remains 'critically endangered', but the album was clearly both a big advertisement for and a significant work in the culture of the minority British language in which Saunders was raised (her father is Cornish poet Tim Saunders).
'When you make something, it's always completely out of your control whether people understand it or not,' says Saunders, the day after returning from an Australian tour. 'The response [to the album] has been incredible. I've always had a faith that music doesn't have any linguistic barriers, and I've been proved right; I feel that, as human beings, we're interested in each other's stories and in different cultural perspectives.
'I wasn't raised in Cornwall so I had a language from a land I never lived in,' she continues, 'but that was the same for lots of people in my area of Cardiff; there were people from Bangladesh and Pakistan and Somalia, so having these languages made me feel more connected to most people on the planet. We're a monolingual state with bilingual countries within it, and it's easy to forget that most of the rest of the world is multilingual quite naturally.'
The sung Cornish element of her music is viewed by Saunders as being internationalist, rather than inward-looking or exclusive. For the former singer of under-recognised pop vocal trio the Pipettes and the winner of the Welsh Music Prize in 2015 for her debut album Y Dydd Olaf, the album is a creative highlight so far. Next up is the score for a Welsh-language version of Brecht's Caucasian Chalk Circle for Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru. 'It's a lot of work, but it's fantastic to find new ways of working,' she says. 'I love getting to a chorus but with this you just can't, so it's a very different experience.'
Hug & Pint, Glasgow, Wed 29 May; supports Manic Street Preachers, Usher Hall, Edinburgh, Sun 26 May.