The place of memory
Gwenno is on a mission. The Welsh artist has released her second full- length album, Le Kov, sung entirely in the Cornish language. Cornish was facing near extinction until a resurgence in the early 20th century and has been steadily growing ever since. Le Kov, which translates to “the place of memory,” explores the subconscious of a culture, the mythology and history of Cornwall. Le Kov is rich and inspiring, filled with alluring antiquity that entangles with modern-day politics. Gwenno explains, “This album is a combination of accepting the culture which your parents have valued enough to want to pass on to you, regardless how small, and utilizing it in a positive way to try and make sense of the world around you, it’s also about having to accept and respect the nuances that make us all different and discovering that all of our stories share the same truth.”
The simple beauty of each song is obliterated by chaos in the recall of ancient history clashing against the present day. Her voice is enough to make the album worth listening to, but the enchanting melodies dancing around her vocals make it all the more mesmerizing. She could sing about cheese and it would feel transcendental, and in fact, she does. One of the best tracks off of the album is “Eus Keus?” meaning, “Is There Cheese?” The song takes elements of ‘90s pop ballads and runs them through a shimmering filter of low fi guitar and synth melodies. Gwenno’s voice is magical, summoning up images of everything but cheese. She narrates the verses with playful urgency. Inspired by an old Cornish phrase, “Is there cheese? Is there or isn’t there? If there’s cheese, bring cheese, and if there isn’t cheese, bring what there is!” Gwenno’s joyful chanting is a celebration. “You can imagine my delight when I discovered that this fine saying was about my favourite foodstuff, cheese,” she says. “I was instantly compelled to write some music to accompany it and I’m very much looking forward to playing this one live.”
“Herdhya,” or “Pushing,” is a hypnotic song “about the feeling of isolation after the Brexit vote, and realising that you’re stuck on an island- Britain- with perhaps many people who are trying to push society back to a regressive idea of the middle ages that has never existed, and imposing that on everyone else,” says Gwenno. “Den Heb Taves,” meaning, “A Tongueless Man,” has the grim undertones of a funeral march, inspired by the saying, “Still true the ancient saw will stand, too long the tongue, too short the hand. A tongueless man, though, lost his land.”
Le Kov is dark, a tribute to culture still present but largely lost in time. However, in that darkness, there is a beautiful warmth of the love for one’s personal history and the things that remain, even if only in the memory. “Tir Ha Mor,” meaning “Land and Sea,” is a breathtaking track, standing out amongst the rest for an irresistibly catchy chorus. It’s about the painter Peter Lanyon, who learned to fly planes in an attempt to “get a more complete knowledge of the landscape” of his country, and died in an airplane crash in August 1964.
You won’t need a Cornish dictionary to appreciate the hypnotic commemoration of a rich culture that refuses to be forgotten. Both playful and serious, psychedelic and shimmering, Le Kov will remain in the memory of its listeners for years to come.