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NextGen Spotlight: Mari Mathias

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a woman with wavy brown hair and a fringe looks at the camera. she is in a wheat field

To celebrate Welsh Language Music Day (9 February), Youth Music NextGen Fund artist Mari Mathias discusses the importance of celebrating folklore, tradition and the Celtic language through music, as well as her upcoming collaborative EP, and the growing vibrancy of the Welsh language music scene.

Stories act as the bridge between our past and our present. They create understanding, form connection, house tradition and keep alive the memory of places and people that have come before us.

As a songwriter, Mari Mathias harnesses the power of storytelling through her first language, Welsh, to explore the ancient mysticism of Celtic folklore. Through song, Mari dives deep into the bounteous soil of her Welsh heritage, and is one of the young artists representing the Welsh language in the contemporary music landscape.

Mari aims to create conversation with her music, driving re-connection with forgotten aspects of Celtic nature and tradition. Through support from the Youth Music NextGen Fund, Mari has been working on a concept EP about the rich cultural heritage of rural Wales that sees her collaborate with several other young Welsh language musicians.

​​​​​​Your music is inspired by Welsh folk tales. When did your fascination with the mythical past begin, and what led you to focus on Celtic stories in your music?

From an early age, I have been captivated by the magic of folklore and Welsh mythology , expressed through a variety of artistic mediums. Including poetry, storytelling, music and art. I am particularly drawn to the Celtic traditions of my own heritage and that of our Celtic cousins.

Growing up, my parents’ artistic talents fuelled my fascination with Welsh history, mythology and a sense of magic that always seemed to surround me during my childhood - the source of the Awen found in the rustle of the trees, the bird song and the stories that were passed down to me from my family ancestors , that further kindled my imagination. (Awen: A term for the inspirational muse or the essence of creativity and flowing spirit that awakens our own within)

Local tales of West Wales inspired some tracks on the album such as the legend of the giant Bica, The smuggler Sion Cwilt, The Lady of the Lake, Llyn y fan fach and the spirit of Annwn (The other world in Welsh mythology) that sparked the magic of the production and the visually striking music video that  incorporates the strong themes on the concept album.

The tales of Ceridwen, Blodeuwedd, Taliesin and many more from the famous four branches of the Mabinogion, connects me to the rich mythical traditions of our past. Folklore offers a valuable insight into cultural attitudes and beliefs, providing important contextual understanding for both our history and archaeology. My debut concept album ‘Annwn' also blends samples of my great-grandfathers cassette tapes, creating a window into a significant place that no longer exists, but holds vast meaning.

'Alternative-folkis your self-defined genre, a label that you feel is fitting for a nation that is confidently redefining itself. How does your music reflect this spirit of self-reinvention?

My musical stylings represent a fresh and modernised take on the rich traditions of Welsh music, aimed at bridging the gap between past and present, cultivating a sense of deep Welsh cultural identity and belonging amongst myself and listeners alike.

During the writing of my debut album, I immersed myself in the works of renowned bands such as Fernhill, Carreg Lafar and Gwyneth Glyn. However, my recent discoveries of Lankum, John Francis Flynn, and Anna Mieke have been equally as influential, inspiring me with their seamless blending of traditional musical folk forms with jazz and other contemporary styles from around the world.

With the current resurgence of folk music, I believe that my innovative approach to Welsh folk music and folktales will aid in the reconnection of Wales with its cultural heritage. This unique heritage is embedded in its language, traditions, and history. Singing on behalf of our ancestors and their battles for the Welsh language is a significant privilege, and it is my honour to preserve and share these stories and songs.

As well as shining a spotlight on Welsh history in your songs, you also sing in Welsh. This linguistic choice adds a distinct cultural richness to your music. Could you share how incorporating the Welsh language enhances the storytelling in your songs?

For me, singing in Welsh imbues my music with a richness and a deep-seated connection that cannot be replicated when I sing in English. It is, after all, my mother tongue and a language with a unique melody, punctuated by words and phrases that are inextricably linked to the natural world. Most notably, the names of the mountains, rivers, lakes, trees, and countless species are steeped in historical significance, providing a gateway to better understanding the people who have inhabited this land for centuries. In the stories, it gives the land and its characters their origin and true identity , enabling us to understand the landscape that surrounds the tales.

My first language is Welsh and it shapes my whole identity as a musician and as a person. It also shapes the identity of the stories and tales that have been passed down from oral traditions for centuries. Cymraeg is such a poetic and ancient language and it connects me to my heritage, my ancestors, and my hopes for the future of Cymru. I believe that as the whole world recognises the beauty and rich history of Wales, the Welsh language will be acknowledged as a vital part of its Celtic heritage. Despite the challenges it’s faced, Cymry have successfully revived and expanded the number of Welsh speakers and continue to do so.

Youre based in Cardiff, a city with a vibrant music scene. How has being part of this community shaped your musical identity and impacted your creative process?

I moved to Cardiff from the coast of West Wales to establish myself as a musician , with it’s vibrant opportunities and connections to the music industry. I first studied a BA in Performing Arts and then went on to do an MA in Songwriting & Production. I had an instant sense of belonging that came from being part of a thriving music scene. That sense of camaraderie that comes from being part of a close-nit creative community like Cardiff. I instantly felt welcomed in to the supportive network , performing at independent venues and reaching out to industry professionals that pointed me in the right direction. Over the last 5 years, organisations and individuals like Anthem, Gorwelion (Horizons), Clwb Ifor Bach, Twrw Tafwyl, The Forte Project & Mei Gwynedd (Jigcal Studios) helped me grow early on in my creative career.

By being apart of local jam sessions, I started developing new ideas and songs inspired by both the coast of Ceredigion and Cardiff’s vibrant music scene. My recent compositions and renditions are developed folk forms , drawing on traditional and contemporary motifs. The character and vibrancy of Cardiff flows naturally alongside the sound, developed through collaborations and musical experimentations. The new arrangements blends both my past and the present day, incorporating Celtic mythology, folklore and a mystic soundscape that connects us to the culture and visual landscape of Wales, layered with memory and nostalgia with cassette tape recordings of family ancestors and birdsong.

These experiences have shaped my sound and influenced my creative process, by meeting new like minded musicians that have contributed to my growth as an artist and the development of my identity and sound. 

With support from the Youth Music NextGen Fund, youre working on an EP that captures and responds to the changing rural lands and communities in Wales. Why did you decide to focus on this particular concept for the project?

The focus on the concept EP is to capture the changing rural lands and communities, aiming to preserve the rich cultural heritage of rural Wales, by shedding a light on the challenges and triumphs faced by these resilient landscapes over the seasons.

The support from Youth Music NextGen Fund has made this collaborative EP possible, which will be a sonic journey that captures the essence of the changing rural landscapes and communities in Wales, showcasing the beauty and diversity of the land.

The EP will discuss the significance of community life and how it can counterbalance the isolating effects of technology and emphasising the value of face-to-face interactions. The tracks will draw on parallels between the resilience of nature and our own ability to adapt and overcome challenges. How nature can bounce back from adversity, despite its challenges - offering us hope and inspiration for a brighter future.

I hope the concept EP will create a platform for dialogue and understanding, bridging the gap between rural and urban communities by creating an enchanting world of the Celtic calendar and its connection to nature. Each track represents a different season, allowing listeners to experience the changing landscapes and emotions that come with the Spring Equinox, Summer Solstice, Autumn Equinox, and Winter Solstice.

  • Cyhydnos y Gwanwyn (Spring Equinox)
  • Heuldro’r Haf (Summer Solstice)
  • Cyhydnos yr Hydref (Autumn Equinox)
  • Heuldro’r Gaeaf (Winter Solstice)

mari mathias dances in a wheat field in a black hat and white shirt

The EP will feature collaborations with other Welsh language artists. How do these collaborations contribute to the overall narrative and atmosphere of the EP, and what do you believe it adds to the representation of Welsh language music on a broader scale?

Through the collaborations, we aim to create a sonic experience that resonates with listeners on a deeper level by celebrating  ancient traditions, melodies and the Celtic language. We aim to create a conversation about the forgotten aspects of nature and tradition through the lyricism and melodies. The unique landscapes of Wales and the communities make Cymru a special place to be. These tracks will hopefully open our senses to our surroundings and re-connect us to each other.

The EP will be an enchanting tapestry of Welsh language music, intricately woven with collaboration with other talented artists , folding in traditional folk forms , melodies , poetry and contemporary motifs. These collaborations will bring together a ray of different narratives and styles, creating a truly unique representation of Welsh language music on a broader scale. These collaborations transcend language barriers, giving the Welsh language and the landscapes of Wales a voice that we hope resonates with audiences worldwide. We will explore the musical tapestry of Wales by harmonising with nature in a musical ode to rural Cymru. It aims to create a sense of unity and appreciation for the different rhythms and cycles that exist. We hope the music inspires all to embrace the interconnectedness of all things. We hope to take you on a journey through time, tracing the evolution of Welsh language music from its traditional roots , to its modern-day interpretations, creating a unique and dynamic musical experience that bridges the gap between generations.

Lastly, what are your hopes and expectations for the future of the Welsh language music scene?

The Welsh Language music scene has a profound influence of Welsh language music in shaping individuals and collective identities, as well as fostering a sense of belonging within communities. My hopes and aspirations for the future of the industry, is that Wales’ Music Scene will only grow in vibrancy and become internationally recognised for its resilience and its ability to transcend linguistic boundaries. I’d like to see more collaborations with international and inter-Celtic artists  through events, from Eisteddfodau to dedicated music festivals that will bring people together and foster that sense of pride in the Welsh language.

I also hope to see a future where Welsh artists reach global audiences and captivate listeners from around the world. More opportunities and platforms where music lovers from all walks of life can come together to celebrate their rich heritage and cultural significances. By breaking barriers and crossing borders.

Wales’ music scene is a catalyst for cultural pride and unity and I hope that can inspire creatives around the world to breathe new life into the global music industry and be proud to preserve their cultural heritage.



Connect with Mari Mathias:

Instagram: @marimathiasmusic_

TikTok: @marimathiasmusic_

Find out more about the Youth Music NextGen Fund here.

The Youth Music NextGen Fund has been made possible thanks to our principal partners the Players of People’s Postcode Lottery, and support from PPL (Phonographic Performance Limited) and the Dr Martens Foundation. We are also grateful for our vital support from the National Lottery via Arts Council England.