Live : DnA

DnA are a Welsh instrumental folk duo from Abertawe (Swansea) - formed by mother and daughter Delyth and Angharad Jenkins for a first performance at Gower Folk Festival in 2007.

Aside from their work together they both have distinct musical identities, Angharad most famously adding her fiddle to the band Calan, who tour their vibrant take on Welsh traditional music widely, and Delyth recognised as a leading exponent of the Celtic harp, with four lauded solo albums. Despite these other distractions, in the decade after that first gig they have released two superb collections together, Adnabod (2013) and Llinyn Arian (2018).

The venue for this late summer afternoon date to support Llinyn Arian's release, Galeri, has recently benefited from a two screen cinema extension, which includes a new entrance and foyer - but it's just a few extra paces before you are back in its familiar heart.

The Galeri's main performance space has not been altered by the building work; its continued structural simplicity and acoustic clarity means it remains a place where you can focus entirely on what you have come to see. For this show the plain curtained walls of its flat, matt black stage were adorned with strings of white lights. Respecting the minimal staging, DnA only added a functional low table for a harp and a clothes rail hung with Angharad's three fiddles as a set, the frame of the latter informally decorated with bright fairy lights.

After a brief introduction the duo played for an hour; a bewitching, intimate conversation, as if across a kitchen table, between Delyth's harp and each of Angharad's fiddles in turn. The cadence rose and fell, but was always mesmerising - at times taking the form of call and response, at others the instrumental voices interwoven, murmuring in harmony.

The matinée concert opened with Stranded, a tune written whilst Angharad was marooned by weather after a fiddle workshop on the island of Lissmore. It finished with Sosban Fach, in between relying mainly on their second album, with highlights from their first (see below).

Each composition was introduced and explained in Welsh then English, whether a traditional piece or a tune they had written from scratch. Three non-musical moments framed the afternoon, emphasising the human qualities evident in the whole performance - a poem, a brief spoken insight into how they work together, and the sharing of an ocean drum.

The poem came midway through the afternoon as Angharad read a piece written by her father, the poet Nigel Jenkins, who died in 2014.

The subject of the poem (Hiraeth) was his grandmother's relationship when old with rural Carmarthenshire, where she originated from. Angharad introduced it by explaining how she has only really developed a relationship with her father's written work since his passing. It was a poignant moment. Delyth provided a harp backing to her daughter's voice as she read - a setting fit for her late husband's words, as he was noted at his readings for how "his deep, melodic Welsh accent turned every line into music".

A few minutes later, between pieces, Delyth described the duo's rehearsal and creative process. She mapped out a typical rehearsal day, which lacked all formality, the music built instead into the natural rhythms of the time they spent together. The seamless mix of traditional and more experimental sounds they have developed in their work is rooted in this inherent, instinctive method.

Finally, for the composition Brandy Cove, an ocean drum (a bhodran shaped instrument seemingly filled with small stones from the beach the piece was inspired by) was passed amongst the audience to recreate the sound of waves on shingle. Each time the drum was handed from one person to another the stones shifted and made the sound. Tellingly as Angharad handed the drum to the first audience member there was a genuine delight in the connection in her face.

Musically, throughout the afternoon they gave a flawless, affecting performance. The familial bond must in part explain the empathy between them, and provides an easy narrative, but it is only the expression of this close relationship on stage that matters.

If you thought you only liked your traditional music shod in scuffed work boots, loudly voiced and with its roots showing, then experiencing this set would be hugely dislocating and disarming.

The sound Delyth and Angharad make with just harp and fiddle is both accomplished and tender. Live they clearly use traditional elements and sources for the music's heartfelt foundations, but just as vitally the matching of their shared virtuosity with genuine human warmth contributes to the sublime experience of seeing them perform.

In the simplest of terms, this was an hour of hushed folk rapture.

 

 


DnA