Sep 21, 2009

10 Questions with Karen Ann of 'Trelew'

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Welsh singer Karen Ann grew up in the South Wales valleys and started performing in eisteddfodau (traditional music competitions) at school. She left Wales at eighteen and fell in love with Latin America after going AWOL in Mexico at 21. She’s played in jazz duos in Costa Rica and rock bands in Argentina and sung tango in English in the USA. Finally putting down roots in one of South America’s smallest countries she felt the tug of her own and returned to singing Welsh and Celtic traditional music, forming a duo with the guitarist Jorge Galemire in 2005 which evolved into Trelew in 2007.

Q1 – What part of Wales are you from?

The South Wales Valleys – a small village called Maes-y-cwmmer in the Rhymney Valley. My parents still live there. I was born in Newport, Gwent.

Q2 – When did you emigrate to Uruguay and why?

I'd been fascinated with South America, particularly Argentina, since I was a child. I can still recall a primary school geography lesson about the gauchos. I ended up marrying an Argentinian and we lived in Costa Rica, Liverpool, Buenos Aires and Washington before moving here in 2000. Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay where we live, is across the River Plate from Buenos Aires. It's a small city, quaint, right on the water and it has a great quality of life. I'm a Valleys girl and Buenos Aires is just too huge for me.

Q3 – You are the founder of a Welsh band called "Trelew' in Uruguay, how did this come about?

We chose the name Trelew because of its Welsh and South American roots. It's the name of a town in Patagonia, founded by Welsh immigrants in the 1880s. We're not exactly a “Welsh band” - though we definitely draws on Welsh traditional songs and our own lyrics have Welsh themes – like the Welsh emigration to Patagonia. We wrote the songs after reading the diaries of some of the early colonists – incredible epic stuff. Another of our songs is about my grandmother's life growing up on charity in Aberdare after her father suffered an accident down the pit. So Welsh issues are important to our music but we're based in South America and all of the musicians except me come from Latin musical traditions.

Q4 – How would you describe your music?

Traditional British folk meets Buenos Aires melancholy meets Pampas zamba (a type of South American folk rhythm). People have told me our new album could be used a film soundtrack, it evokes sweeping South American landscapes, journeys across the sea. Galemire, the guitarist is amazing. He has created these walls of acoustic guitars that are just incredible. Then there's the bandoneon which is such a haunting instrument – completely associated with tango - though South Americans who know the bandoneon will find that it sounds completely original in this album. There's definitely something about the “old country” and something definitely South American about it, and the fusion has its own life.

Q5 – Do you have any plans to tour in the America's or elsewhere overseas?

We'd really love to play the States – it's amazing how many festivals there are going on... Right now we're putting together a tour of South Brazil. And of course, we really want to play in Trelew, Patagonia – we're working on that one ;)

Q6 – What do you miss most about Wales?

Bacon butties and my nan.

Q7 – Do you think you will ever move back to Wales?

It's not really on the cards right now. Though I go back there all the time -all my family are there.

Q8 - What are your dreams and ambitions for the future?

We'd like to complete our “Welsh-Patagonian trilogy” which still has only two songs!

Q9 –What do you think is the best way for Wales to go about raising its profile overseas?

Publicise the countryside, the people are so friendly and the fact that it is a lot cheaper than London so worth going and spending at least a week. People who know who have been from this part of the world -IF they go at all- go for a day on the train to Cardiff. It's just not enough. My mum works in Caerphilly Tourist Information Centre next to the castle – so if anyone reads this and goes there, drop in and say hello :)

Q10 - Do you have any messages for our AmeriCymru readers?

We'd love to get greetings from the North of the continent. You can find us on Facebook and MySpace.

Trelew's first album named Trelew was released in September. It's available at and shortly on Amazon, Itunes and all other good internet stockists.

Interview by Dave Parry

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