Le Kov isn’t a place you can visit, at least not physically. The inspiration behind Gwenno’s second album, it’s an imaginary city on the bottom of the sea – a sunken utopia off the coast of Cornwall that was once a land where people could be free to be whoever they liked. It sounds like exactly the sort of sanctuary the world could do with right now…
That fact isn’t lost on the Cardiff-born singer. While her last album, 2015’s Welsh-sung Y Dydd Olaf, had politics at its core, Le Kov is far more relaxed. “I’m personally seeking out and responding really well to art that lifts my spirit,” Gwenno explains from her home in Cardiff. “Not that it doesn’t challenge me, but that it challenges me to think positively rather than going, ‘Yes, isn’t it shit?’ because we all know that.”
Le Kov has that same uplifting nature, a fun and beautiful mash of psychedelic pop, boasting songs about as varied and surreal topics as cheese (‘Eus Keus?’), isolation (‘Herdhya’), and a lullaby for her son Nico (‘Hunros’). Although it’s entirely Cornish, it doesn’t feel inaccessible to non-speakers – there’s something bewitching about these unusual combinations of sounds that feel like they’re taking you into another world.
“Music is such a utopia in itself – I can’t imagine being able to have this conversation any other way.”
While Gwenno might not have visited Cornwall too much, she is fluent in the language and grew up speaking it at home thanks to her father, the St Tudy poet Tim Saunders. Y Dydd Olaf ended with ‘Amser’, a musical adaptation of a poem he had written in Cornish, and Le Kov reflects the musician’s decision to claim the vernacular of her dad’s home. “When I was growing up, I thought it was my dad’s thing and we just speak Cornish,” she says. “As I got older, I was like, ‘That’s a bit rubbish.’ If your parents have given you something, you either go ‘that’s nothing to do with me’ or you take ownership over it.”
She describes the album as a “declaration of existence” for Cornish, which was at one point considered extinct, but had its status changed to “critically endangered” by UNESCO in 2009 following a revival. Still, the amount of people who use it is in the thousands. “The story of the Cornish language itself is fascinating and it would be really lovely if anybody thought that was interesting as well,” Gwenno says. “Music is such a utopia in itself – I can’t imagine being able to have this conversation any other way.”
Made with her regular collaborator and husband Rhys Edwards, another exercise of Le Kov was for Gwenno to “reconnect with [her] inner child”. ‘Eus Keus?’, based on an old harvesting phrase about cheese, is “the kind of song I would have made up as a five-year-old”, while ‘Daromres y’n Howl’ is a bouncing ode to the frustration of traffic jams, sung with Gruff Rhys. “I like the idea of a duet about [that],” she smiles. “Normally duets are really clichéd, so I thought it would be good to do a duet about being stuck in traffic and that being quite annoying. It’s just a bit silly.”
Le Kov is the antidote to the storm swirling around the world right now – bright, mythical, and magical. For Gwenno, that was always the aim. “Things are increasingly stressful and we’re bombarded with information,” she says. “I just wanted to make an album that was really warm, intimate, personal, and happy, and just try to find the joy, and the ridiculous, and the utopia of home.”
Job done. If only Le Kov were a real place.
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