Wales and India don’t usually spring to mind as obvious musical partners. But the new album Ghazalaw is a musical pairing which draws together the Indian ghazal and the Welsh folk traditions. It focuses on the singing of Tauseef Akhtar from Mumbai and the singer-songwriter Gwyneth Glyn from North Wales. Akhtar accompanies his singing with harmonium while Glyn plays guitar and the pair are helped along by a small band of musicians on tabla, harp, violin and guitar.
Glyn was introduced to Akhtar three years ago and they began exchanging musical ideas around the affinity between the songs and music of their respective traditions. They appeared under the name Ghazalaw in India where they developed the songs further along with other musicians and then in 2013 were selected to be showcased at WOMEX in Cardiff. This has led to their finally releasing this eponymously titled debut album.
The ten tracks on the album feature the two singers exchanging vocals with Akhtar singing in Urdu and Glyn in Welsh. Ghazals are ancient love poems which spread to India from Arabia and are still popularly sung. According to the album’s sleeve notes: “Today the ghazal is as much a part of Indian and Pakistani culture as the curry, and fills a gaping absence just as well.” In turn, Glyn contributes her own settings of some love poems from the Hen Benillion an anthology of anonymous poems of old Wales.
The two weave these sources into the songs so well that at times it’s easy to forget they are singing in different languages. The music is sumptuous and accessible. At times it’s so relaxed that it’s like soaking in a warm bath but still has just enough edge to save it from becoming bland. One hesitates to use the much maligned term ‘fusion’ but this is a fusion of styles in the true sense which really works.
Ghazalaw is released by Marvels of the Universe.