Dafydd Iwan yng Nghorwen
(Dafydd Iwan in Corwen)

directed by Dafydd Iwan,
Ar Log & Cr Penyberth
(Fideo Sain, 1988)

Dafydd Iwan, the driving force in Welsh folk music over the past four decades, made the 20-song video Dafydd Iwan in Corwen in 1988, along with his Cyfeillion Chwarter Canrif (Friends of a Quarter Century) to commemorate 25 years of protest and song. Today it serves as a historical document and a summing up of a whole era in Welsh music.

There's an authenticity and simplicity about this video. Although the visuals are low-budget, the effect is that of being at a concert in a small Welsh-speaking community. Songs and introductions are all in rapid-fire Welsh. There are good shorts of the crowd "giving it loads" even though the audience is an older one. (Knowledge of Welsh is useful, but not essential for enjoyment. My comprehension is limited.)

This video, which is available in both Euro and North American formats, chronicles 25 years of fighting for the Welsh language in song. In the 1960s, when Iwan started his career, the Welsh language had no official status in Wales. Incredibly, you could use Chinese or Arabic in a Welsh court, but not Welsh! This video brings us back to the Thatcher era when the state of the language had moved from "condition critical" to co-official status, thanks in great part to the work of musician/poiticians like Iwan and parliamentary leaders like Gwynfor Evans.

Dafydd Iwan yng Nghorwen opens with the well-known folk group Ar Log and a nice version of "Yn iach i ti Gymru," a traditional folksong of "hiraeth" or longing for home. Iwan then begins his own set strongly with "Wrth Feddwl am fy Nghymru," one of his earliest and best known songs, in which he remembers great Welsh heroes and laments the coming loss of the language in Welsh language communities.

Iwan continues with a selection of workmanlike efforts, backed by his own band. The first half of this video is somewhat lacking in variety both visually and musically, as it consists of concert footage only. A few moments of scenic relief (Welsh landscapes or photos of Dafydd in his youth) would have been easy to procure and might have provided visual variety without detracting from the music. But there are great songs, such as "Cn Mandela" and "Cn Victor Jara (Santiago 73)," which show Dafydd's international concerns and link the struggle of the Welsh with those of the broader world. And those such as "Baled yr Eneth Eithafol" and Mae'r Llencyn yn y Jl" that chronicle the years of language rights protests. "Mae'n Wlad I Mi (This Land is Your Land)" is a highlight, too.

The tempo changes as Iwan sings "Dal i Gredu." Even though he seems to be learning his own lyrics (the tune is the familiar "My Way," actually penned by Paul Anka) it is delivered with energy and a passionate finale. He jokes that some people have compared him to Frank Sinatra, and that he hates the song: "Dal i Gredu" starts in a humorous vein and becomes serious as it moves to its climax. Its point is that despite all the setbacks, including neighbours who read the Sun newspaper and vote Tory, there's still reason to believe in Welsh freedom. This is followed by the lighthearted (but also serious in intent) "Magi Thatcher." The Iron Lady was no friend of Wales!

Cr Penyberth, a female-voice choir, provides a change of pace with "Cilmeri" and "Mae gen i Freuddwyd," and then joins Iwan, his band and Ar Log on the finale. One particularly fine moment is Iwan's rendition of "Gweddi Dros Gymru," the Welsh version of Sibelius's "Finlandia." In a superb arrangement, Cr Penyberth comes in on the second verse to provide a soaring counterpoint to Iwan's strong tenor. It's a real treat to hear and to watch. The popularity of this song in Welsh Wales brings to mind some poignant comparisons between the history of Wales and that of Finland.

Iwan and friends end strongly with the signature tune "Yma o Hyd" followed by an encore of "Gwinllan a Roddwyd" and a rousing "I'r Gd," with it's chorus calling the old and young of Wales "to battle." Given that Thatcher was still in power and the Welsh Assembly was not yet in place, these songs had a great resonance and speak to wounds that have not fully healed. Much has been achieved but the fight is not yet over. It is astounding that since these songs were written, many former Soviet republics have achieved much greater strides towards national freedom than have Wales and Scotland.

This video recording stands as a landmark in Welsh song and the struggle for Welsh freedom, and presents some of the great songs of that fight in unforgettable context.

- Rambles
written by David Cox
published 8 February 2003