How often do we take language for granted? How often do you see someone walk up to a local in a foreign country and speak English, under the assumption they will reply? As English-speakers, we could theoretically travel the world without ever having to speak a word of another language. Even at home, our television, music, and restaurant menus all come in the language that we expect, so much so that it is something which we almost cease to think about.
That’s why when we hear something in a ‘new’ (or in this case, very old) language, we are initially very surprised, even taken aback.
This may be the first reaction when listening to alternative-rockers The Joy Formidable sing in their native Welsh. Anticipating the 10-year anniversary of their breakout album “A Balloon Called Moaning” the acclaimed band, active since 2007, are planning to release a special anniversary edition of the album on October 25, complete with a Welsh Language Acoustic version, “Y Falŵn Drom.”
The band have opted for a stripped back and reflective feel, reimagining many of their electric sets acoustically, though still playing into the familiarity of the previously released songs. The choice makes sense especially in Welsh versions such as “Chwyrlio” (below, along with its counterpart, an acoustic version of the original hit “Whirring”) as it allows the melodic beauty of the Welsh language to shine.
The songs, in their essence, remain the same – a beautifully calming and composed celebration of ten successful years in music. Beyond this, however, The Joy Formidable’s work represents an acknowledgment of home and tradition.
“It’s exciting hearing them in the Welsh language because now they have new life too and can be a celebration of language as well as memory,” lead singer and guitarist Ritzy Bryan says of the reimagined songs.
And while the nuances and history of the language of Welsh may remain largely unknown to those outside of the region (there are less than 200,000 total speakers outside of Wales), hearing the songs in this new way certainly are important in raising appreciation and awareness of the language, and its unique importance to the Welsh people.
Language preservation is important because for many cultural groups, large portions of cultural heritage and tradition have been transmitted through spoken word. In many ways, language becomes the key to an entire history of people. When we lose a language, we risk losing much more of a culture than initially thought.
Art, specifically music, is one way in which a language can be immortalized. That’s why the work of groups such as The Joy Formidable and others should not go unnoticed. Notably, artists around the world release songs in treasured languages that celebrate cultural tradition. Maisey Rika, for example, sings in Te Reo, the language of New Zealand’s Māori people. Many of her songs are accompanied by music videos evoking traditional Māori imagery that have racked up millions of views on youtube.
Meanwhile, the Coen Brothers were praised for including “Del Milner’s Trern,” a classic Yiddish song, on the soundtrack to their film A Serious Man. The film’s inclusion of Yiddish is a nod to the historical language of the Ashkenazi Jews. Following the holocaust, the number of Yiddish speakers declined from 11 to 1.5 million.
When artists choose to sing in treasured languages of their heritage, they can create a real cultural impact. When the Spanish global sensation Rosalía released “Milionària,” largely featuring lyrics in Catalonian, the song reignited a debate on the health of the Catalonian language.
Of course, listening to music in foreign languages, especially uncommon ones, may not be our first instinct. It’s hard to not understand the lyrics and sing along, and we get that. If the songs of The Joy Formidable and these other artists are any indication, however, the payoff is certainly there in musical enjoyment. It’s just a matter of taking the time to seek out and appreciate artists beyond our typical sphere.
The Joy Formidable are anticipating the release of their album “A Balloon Called Moaning – 10th Anniversary Edition” on October 25th.
The band has also announced their “Ten Years Floating” tour, set to kick off in Manchester on Nov 22nd.