Award-winning harpist Bethan Nia’s debut album Ffiniau (Borders) is self-described as ethereal Celtic folk: Ffiniau combines harp, vocals, strings and synths along with field recordings.
Nia steers unapologetically into the woodland-harpist vibe to present her mystical Celtic music. The natural world is echoed in her choice of traditional Welsh source material, such as ‘Bugeilio’r Gwenith Gwyn’ (Watching the White Wheat). Producer Charlie Francis, of R.E.M. fame, lends his talent and keyboard skills, which adds to the atmosphere and plays with the border between traditional and contemporary.
Ethereal is the important word here. As an album, Ffiniau takes the listener to a particular place – if you allow it to. Nia’s vocals are lullaby-esque, whilst also being clear and focussed.
If ethereal Celtic folk isn’t quite your cup of tea, then there are two tracks that stand out nevertheless. In ‘Beth Yw’r Haf I Mi’ (What is Summer To Me?) the synths and electric drum kit are much more prominent. The bass balances the higher frequency twinkling harp and provides a round bed to support Nia’s powerful Welsh fricatives. This track combines the traditional and contemporary into something greater than the sum of their parts.
‘Kananaskis’, composed by James O’Grady, is another shining moment on the album and is an instrumental which features harp and crwth – an ancient Celtic instrument. Nia’s skill as a harpist is evident, whilst the oscillating patterns are punctuated by off-kilter rhythmic string stabs.
The hypnotic rhythms of the harp contrast really satisfyingly with the medieval crwth (bowed lyre) sound.
Nia hopes Ffiniau will ‘soothe and enchant listeners’, which is something we probably all need right now.
Main photo credit: Kirsten-McTernan