Bethan Nia’s ground-breaking bilingual album ‘Ffiniau’ (the Welsh word for ‘Borders’) is set to release on the 21st of June. The project, produced by REM’s studio own Charlie Francis, seeks to explore the boundaries that take root between communities , individuals, languages, and cultures.
The piece is carried by Bethan’s ethereal and dreamy vocals alongside her signature and distinctive harp. The ephemeral atmospheric air that Bethan crafts is the result of a near decade of song writing that this project culminates. In her own words, “This album has been a labour of love for several years and I’m just pleased it’s finally come to fruition. The musicians who I have supporting me are the cream of Welsh folk musicians, and I’m so happy to have them play on the album. The world needs music right now. I hope that ‘Ffiniau’ will relax, soothe and enchant listeners and be the perfect accompaniment to that day on a summer beach that we all hope and pray is coming.”
Her vision for the album is certainly well founded. Ffiniau is infinitely relaxing, even to a listener like myself who has absolutely no comprehension of the Welsh side to the album. ‘Outside’, the track out for public listening right now, sees Bethan’s vocal prowess on full display. The full range of her magnificently powerful voice is assisted by subtle strings that magnify the impact of each note she hits. The jaw dropping falsetto is only equally matched by the extent to which Bethan is able to hold note in the track.
Across each of the thirteen tracks, Bethan’s harp stands out as the distinctive element. It sets the project markedly apart from other folk albums, giving it a near fantastical feel. I’ll make special note here of one of the final tracks, an entirely instrumental piece lead and carried by a harp performance unlike anything I’ve heard before. It ebbs and flows like a river – serene, blissful, and serenading. Simply close your eyes and let Beth’s strings transport you to a more pleasant place.
Ffinau is an experience not to be missed. If you’re a fan of folk music, make note of the June 21st release date. You won’t be disappointed. We had a chance to talk to Bethan about her work and the album itself. Check it out down below.
1) Hey Bethan! Tell us a little bit about yourself, where you’re from and how you got started as an artist?
I live in Pontypridd in the South Wales Valleys. I was brought up with Welsh folk songs, singing in our local chapel and competing at the ‘Eisteddfod’ which is a cultural Welsh language festival. This was a catalyst for me becoming a musician and artist. I then trained as an actor before being drawn back to my first love – music.
2) The harp is a pretty unique instrument – how did you first pick up the harp? Who inspired you to play it?
The harp is our national instrument in Wales. In most Welsh language medium schools there’s a harp and teacher, offering lessons to children. When I first saw a harp, I was drawn to the different coloured strings – it looked magical to me and, when I heard it being played, it touched something deep within me.
3) What makes the harp so special?
Not only are harps amazing to look at (I’m biased!), but its association with angels and heavenly music is no coincidence. The harp has a wide pitch range, soothing tones and harmonic frequencies that relaxes the body and mind. This gives it that magical and mystical quality. The beautiful sound of a harp is unique – I find everyone just loves to listen to the harp. It’s also very forgiving when you’re learning!
4) What was performing at Glastonbury like? How special was it?
The whole experience was quite an adventure! Very surreal, even now when I look back on it. I loved performing at Glastonbury. I hadn’t been to the festival before the gig and I was amazed by the scale of it! The Avalon stage just suited my music perfectly.
5) Tell us a little about what the album title Ffiniau means and why this name was chosen?
I chose Ffiniau which translates as Borders (or Boundaries) as it became apparent that there was a theme running through the collection of songs. Some of the Welsh folk songs on the album are about class division, or doomed lovers forbidden to marry outside their class. There are borders between languages – Welsh and English and, in my songwriting I explore the borders between worlds, in a spiritual sense.
6) What is a piece of advice you’d like to give to musicians during these hard times?
To look after your mental and emotional health, first and foremost. This period has been so difficult for so many musicians and artists. On the positive side, I think that the internet has given us opportunities we never had before to connect our music and sell it to people around the world. It’s very empowering to build an online music business yourself as it puts you in the driving seat of your career. There are lots of great courses out there that will teach you how to do it.