Lisa Jen gives an insight into the inspiration behind and meaning of the songs on the album Anian:
‘Anian means nature, the natural order, natural morality; nature, the (natural) world, creation.’
‘It is YOUR VIBE, what you are made of, your soul and bones, your creation and how you connect with other people or other creatures.’
‘You can be in touch with your Anian or tragically not. You can recognise YOUR anian in other people’s anian and that what connects you to them: you laugh at the same things, you feel the same things, you are sharing the same line from your belly to their belly… your eyes have a lazer connecting to their eyes – it’s electric yet calm and just… is.’
‘If you’ve shared a childhood, a sense of place, the same dialect, breathed the same air and swam in the same rivers and smelt the same smells like dead sheep with maggots in the cavity of their belly, or wet leaves on mud, or lake water on hot skin then… even if you have nothing at all in common as adults… you will be able to connect as you have the same anian. But it’s not about culture, upbringing, language or identity, as you can, and possibly will, have the same anian as a gentleman from Arnhem Land in the Australian dessert, or a Londoner that accidentally spills a G&T in your lap at 4am.’
‘It’s the minerals and chemicals that we are made of, that happen to have the same matching ingredients as that person over there, that will connect you forever.’
‘It is a magical beautiful intangible thing that hangs there.’
Writing and songwriting and root of all songs
I found this album came from a desperate and slightly anarchic place. After Tincian, which very much looked back and commemorated stories from the past, I found myself looking to the present with this album. It marks where I’m at, whether it’s my age, being a mother, or simply being much more exposed to social media where I’m faced and forced to see pictures and videos, images and words that I simply can’t cope with right now in my life.
1. Llyn Du
Imagine Cwm Idwal lake or Ogwen lake on a moonlit night. You might come across this deranged and damaged queen under the black shimmering ice cold water:
‘I am the queen of the black lake,
take me, lead me.
I am eternally impregnated
and rejected, by the Beautiful one.
The wind embrace my thighs and the mist caress my breasts
My mind… my mind is… distorted… I am trapped… you trapped me here… is this The Voice? Yes this is the voice… I hear you…
I embed my ‘hiraeth’ in your neck… you… you who left me here…’
It’s based on the book One Moonlit Night by Caradog Prichard, a novel that had a great affect on me when I was young and still remains my favourite ever Welsh novel.
The footprints glide and wonder, you roam and I hear your song far away and almost silent. But can you See the place, can you Feel the place, sacred place can you dream this mystical vibey place. Listen feel the soul of this place.
It’s a song about a connection to a place: A connection to someone. A laugh or a quality or characteristic that strikes you and leaves you breathless. We need to start looking, start feeling things. Feel it in your belly, feel it in your genitals… just feel for God’s sake!
3. Yr Olaf
A song inspired by this photo of Sudan, the last male white rhino. It is from the perspective of a poacher:
‘You are incredible,
Strong bones although fate proves to be stronger,
Bring me your soul,
I’ll destroy it,
I’m a lunatic, I’m constant and I’m certain I’ll GET you’
It’s like the poacher talking to the animal just before he/she destroys it. Prick! Then the bridge of the song where it goes acapela is in the third person and says: “How does it feel to look at the last, the last, ultimate and final of it’s kind?” Then the chorus is:
You’re losing your battle,
Matchless/incomparable spirit and soul,
I’m afraid your day has come’
I’m questioning what kind of person are you that wants to destroy such an amazing thing? Who has pleasure in planting their dagger in leathery skin and enjoys the last glimmer in their eye. I love singing this song. It makes me angry!
This is a true story. Ivan is a boy, he leaves his flat, as his step-dad shouts and his mum cries, and walks out into the snow carrying nothing but a ripped magazine picture of Svetlana. After weeks of living on the street along with other children, who aren’t very nice, he slowly builds a relationship with the wild dogs.
He can reach into the bins, and share the rubbish food, and he gets their protection in return. Ivan is happy. Ivan trusts the dogs because they don’t lie like humans do. Ivan is ok, he feels love… loved… by them. He is in a routine and he feels warmth amidst the freezing cold nights.
In the end the authorities capture him, after a few failed attempts because the dogs attacked the officers each time they tried, and place him in an orphanage. He is the saddest he has ever been, he didn’t want rescuing.
This song is the moment when Ivan and the dogs are separated, the She dog, the head of the pack, the beautiful one… and him, are ripped apart and never to see each other again.
This song is from the perspective of the third person who is watching this painful separation:
“Leave him to cry, let him cry… she is beautiful (the dog!)
He now can’t find her eyes glistening… the one who was watching,
She never lied to him. Him and her and the first snow,
They watch together, they breathe together and they eat together.
There are bodies appearing under the surface of the melting snow.”
There is poverty, people dumping their pets at the other end of the city because they can’t afford to feed them anymore. Mothers are dumping their babies and children at the other end of the city too, they can’t feed them either…. somehow Ivan and the dogs have found a harmony together, a partnership, they function and care and love.
Who are we as humans to stop that? To say this is not right? That a child can’t live on the streets and under the ground with DOGS!!!! Ivan is happy. It explores the human relationship with other creatures and nature, and how far we are now removed from that.
A feral child you might call him… but he was feeling love for the first time.
I heard a play called Ivan and The Dogs by Hattie Naylor and that’s what inspired the song… here is a few lines from the play.
And I fall into a deep sleep.
I see my dogs, all of my dogs, they are singing to me: Vano, Strelka, Ruslan, Kugya and Belka. We’re down in the dark, dark city and it’s very cold. Belka goes still and we all stand and wait. Suddenly she barks and w run, and run into the wild, wild forest, into forever. Into now. Running and running with my dogs in the white falling snow.
5. Si Hwi Hwi
This is an old Welsh folk song. It’s amazing as it is from the perspective of a black woman, who is singing to her child on their last night together before the baby will be killed and her bound in chains.
It’s an anti-slavery song. A man from Blaenau Ffestiniog emigrated to the States in 1850s and as a response to the injustices of slavery, he wrote this poem.
The verse was only short, and I wrote a second verse to it. The mother compares a grave to a feast and festival, as anything would be better that THIS… separating her from her child. In the end she makes a decision to kill herself and her child than give her self up to the white man.
Documented by Dr Meredydd Evans, his mother used to sing it to him as a child in Tanygrisiau where they lived (near Bleanau) it has a special meaning, as it is literally an undocumented song and simply passed from mother to boy. Luckily he sang it and that’s how I know it.
This is heavily influenced by Greek Rembetika songs from the Greek Underworld… The opium smoking dark underground, dirty dangerous bars, where the musicians would sing. Songs are mainly about poverty, love, social injustice, the fights of the labouring class and the freedom of Greeks from fascists of all kinds.
It’s about admitting that sometimes you are wrong. We all do wrong… It’s about questioning what ARE you doing to help this dying world and all it’s people suffering… And how long can you go on looking away, ignoring and burying things and issues.
Admit that you aren’t doing anything substantial to help… anything.
Inspired by this story. It’s from a perspective of a crow, not that you know it even if you can speak Welsh, -it’s cryptic and not one mention of black feathers and mean eyes! It’s from a desperate and passionate point of view:
I understand your posture now
Starting to read your body
Understand your language
Your stance, I know
It’s about the act of giving, of WANTING to give and to please. It’s about human relations with nature and creatures we share this world with, how beautiful they are, and how we couldn’t give a flying fuck. How removed are we by now from having a relationship with other species?
This is a positive song though, celebrating a partnership and relation and love that you can share.
These are words by Gerallt Lloyd Owen – my favourite poet who died recently. He has an amazing gift of making you feel guilty as a Welsh person… for fucking it up, for not giving a shit about your language and his famous poem was about Llewelyn, our last prince who died in 1282. Gerallt wrote:
“Weep Llywelyn, weep, weep blood as you look at us now”
So you get the idea of how furious he is about the state of the Welsh nation.
Heno is written more recently and is a lament for the dying of the Welsh nation. There is a lot of talk about the doors of Hiraeth opening to magical music, but every yesterday has been, and in the deep roots of our anian our nature, our bones and making we never were wise, and made sense of it all… something writhed inside and memories were familiar with song but… what?
We have deconstructed the dreaded Cerdd Dant. Cerdd Dant is a unique tradition of singing lyrics over a harp accompaniment. There are strict rules about rhythm and cadences. As much as it remains an important part of Welsh culture, and a major element in The National eisteddfod… It is really not cool. I have a very complicated relationship with Cerdd Dant where I absolutely hate it and yet… I’m fascinated by it. It scares me and moves me at the same time! It is such a marmite thing in Wales that Esyllt (9bach harpist) refused to be involved in the development of the song!
So what with using the words of Gerallt Lloyd Owen, a traditional arrangement by Gwennant Pyrs in the form of a Cerdd Dant – it caused controversy within the band! Our take on it was to actually sing the harp part and harmonise the melody so that it actually has soul – I hope. I can’t listen to Cerdd Dant a lot, but I am proud of what Mirain and I have done with this. We’ve fucked it right up! Playing with rules and coming away from the tradition! I heard the women Cor Seiriol Choir sing this in an evening of remembrance to Gerallt Lloyd Owen, it completely floored me, and I knew we had to do a version of it for 9Bach.
The dying human, is left in an apocalyptic world. She asks an imaginary bird to go to The World and say sorry. Something like this…
‘Go to her,
come here, come here
I’m here in worry
Come here, come here
Tell her tenderly
I’m talking form the heart,
from the heart
When do we realise it’s too late? When IT IS too late I suppose.
10. Ambell Hiraeth (Trad)
A combination of three Welsh folk songs. I’ve mashed them into one. It’s melancholic and talks about being ready for the grave… there is hiraeth for a person and hiraeth for a place.
Although there is appreciation for music and song that is a balm to the soul; a little hope. Then there is heartache and a gesture of ‘please save me’ my heart will break… I can’t live… I won’t be alive for much longer. Very sad.
11. Breuddwyd Y Bardd (Trad)
A poets dream, his eyes are slowly closing, and as he sighs and dreams he sees himself as something he never was. In his dreams he hopes, he visualises life as beautiful and joyful. It is all a fantasy, like life, how real is all of this?
The dreamer dreams the dreams of his heart.