2 Mar 2017

Welsh language immersion bears musical fruit

From Upbeat, 1:30 pm on 2 March 2017
Lisa Jen from 9Bach

Lisa Jen from 9Bach Photo: York Tillyer

Total language immersion is at the heart of 9Bach - an alternative folk group formed by Welsh singer-songwriter and pianist Lisa Jen and her husband English guitarist Martin Hoyland.

Lisa spent her childhood completely immersed in the Welsh language, so it made sense to name the band '9Bach' - a play on numbers and words with nine meaning 'Nana' in the North of Wales and 'Bach' a Welsh term of endearment.

The group, whose songs reflect their strong roots and Lisa’s ancient Celtic mother tongue will perform at Womad in Taranaki this month.

9Bach’s music is an interesting hybrid of contemporary dance technology and traditional acoustic instruments like harp and harmonium.

Lisa grew up in a generation when the language was being taught in school again. Everything in her day to day life – school, playground, home, and media – was Welsh.

It was something that was also passed down from her mother.

“It’s a gift,” she says. “I can’t even speak English to my dog or to the flowers. It’s just wrong! It doesn’t feel right when I talk to something I love in a language I’m not comfortable in.

“We breathe, dream and live through the Welsh Language.”

She combines that rich tradition with new technology to create a unique sound. Originally the band performed traditional folk songs, but now they are writing their own, with their past two albums completely original material.

9Bach has been together 10 years and some of them are English, which Lisa says can be quite controversial at times. But it’s their varied backgrounds that make them unique.

Some of the players come with classical training, others a rock vibe, but combined their different tastes create something unique. “You do get bands that sound like the Welsh version of the Arctic Monkeys… or Coldplay,” she says. “I don’t want to be like that.

“We were called "genre-defying" in a review… I’m stealing that!”

You can catch 9Bach at Womad:

Friday 17 March 9.15pm at Nova Energy Taste The World
Saturday 18 March midday Te Paepae workshops
Saturday 18 March 9.15pm on the Dell Stage
Sunday 19 March 3.00pm on the Tood Energy Brookland Stage

William Dart reviews a 9Bach release alongside some other Welsh music.