Khasi-Cymru Collective: Sai-thaiñ Ki Sur (The Weaving of Voices ) review – from Wales to India
Also known as the Gentle Good, Gareth Bonello is a Welsh musician and singer who engages in far-reaching cross-cultural collaborations. Ten years ago, he released Y Bardd Anfarwol (The Immortal Bard), working with musicians in Chengdu to tell the story of the 8th-century Chinese poet Li Bai, aligning the Taoist master’s life with druidic storytelling, in Welsh.
Sai-thaiñ Ki Sur (The Weaving of Voices) was made with musicians from the Khasi hills of Meghalaya state in north-east India, an area dominated in the mid-19th century by a Welsh Methodist mission, against which an indigenous folk culture movement fought back. Some Welshmen helped them print Khasi literature and fight the British empire, having fled a country where their language and culture was also suppressed; this messy legacy is explored by a collective of contemporary musicians, poets and academics, led by Bonello, whose deep, lilting voice has never been more moving.
Songs used as tools of subjugation, such as Welsh hymn Pererin Wyf, are transformed by the duitara, a stringed instrument made from the wood of the jackfruit tree. Bryniau Cassau, a long-lost, bawdy Welsh drinking song, is played live in a bird-filled tropical thunderstorm (it’s still in the Khasi hymn book). Other tracks merge influences in language and sounds, like Hediad Ka Likai, mixing the Welsh word for flight, the name of a Meghalaya waterfall, and the playing of a besil (a native bamboo flute) while Pahambir underlines how radically different, percussive and textural Khasi folk music is.
Powerful originals such as The Men Who Have Hate Speech on Their Lips by spoken-word poet Lapdiang Syiem – an acclamation of Khasi women’s strength through the generations – take the listener deep into the territory’s identity. This beautiful album underlines the importance of delving into history with sensitivity and creativity.
No Fixed Abode (self-released) by Northern Irish trio Trú (comprised of players from British-Ukrainian, Ulster-Scots and Irish nationalist backgrounds) is a distinctive, atmospheric debut of Gaelic waulking (fulling cloth) songs, Scots lullabies and ballads about vengeful Japanese spirits. Cath and Phil Tyler confirm my hunch that they’re Newcastle’s Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings with Some Heavy Hand (Ferric Mordant), a fantastic set of home recordings and unreleased tracks: Cath’s voice straight as a die, roughly tender in your ear. Crate-diggers will love Robin Denselow’s The Electric Muse Revisited (Good Deeds), a lovingly constructed four-disc tribute to the 1975 book he co-wrote exploring British folk’s interactions with other genres. It travels from stunning, rare demos from Sandy Denny and Shirley Collins to new tracks by Sam Lee, Lisa Knapp and a nightingale.