Gwen Màiri grew up speaking Welsh in Scotland and now lives in Glasgow where she is, naturally, learning Gaelic. She is a trained harper on the classical pedal harp and the lever harp on which she performs Douze Noëls. Her debut album, Mentro, was a collection of Welsh songs, tunes and poetry but here she has looked further afield. Douze Noëls is a collection of twelve carols from the Basque region first published in 1897. Originally they had words in the Zuberoan dialect which Gwen dispensed with as she completed settings for her students. Having done that she decided to work on them some more and record them herself.
As is my habit, I first listened to the album in the car on a foggy afternoon with Christmas shoppers (I presume) driving hither and yon. Cocooned in the warmth it made me feel quite festive despite the gloom and the traffic outside. Performed solo, Douze Noëls may be one for the purists but there is nothing stark about it and tunes like ‘Kanta Zagun’ and ‘Biba Jesus’ are quite jolly – making it perfect for settling down with and that book you got for Christmas. That said, I feel that some of the tunes could use some support in the lower registers although Gwen gets down there on ‘Oi Betleem’ (I think you can work that out for yourselves) and ‘Eguberriren Jitiaz’, one of the more solemn pieces.
After a while I decided to stop writing and go where the music wanted, which was by far the most enjoyable part of the procedure. Sometimes we try too hard to analyse and forget to listen or look. As the poet W.H. Davies said, “What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare?”.
Artist’s website: www.gwenmairi.co.uk
‘Birjina Gaztettobat Zegoen’ – official video: