Comedian Esyllt Sears on how the Welsh Independence movement took a great leap forward recently in Cardiff with the Yes is More gig, making political hay in the sunshine of an underground gig.
My firm belief is that it isn’t emotional blackmail or scaremongering that will move the argument for Welsh independence to the mainstream but rather, popular culture. It is in music, social media, sports, film, comedy and books where we nurture our identity and grow in confidence.
I’ve long thought the same in relation to the fight for the future of the Welsh language. You can legislate, incentivise and educate as much as you like, but it’s hearing the language normalised in modern culture, and having it filter down into people’s social lives and conversations which will secure it.
On 15th February, I attended the Yes is More gig at Tramshed, Cardiff. It was billed as the first in a series of events under the Yes is More banner and a way of triggering a debate for an independent Wales. Supported by Charlotte Church’s Late Night Pop Dungeon, Super Furry Animals’ Cian Ciarán and Gruff Rhys, Gwenno and Boy Azooga, I have been left completely distracted by what I felt that night. Something felt different.
Maybe it was because I was stuffed full to the brim with burger, fries and extra fries; or because my mother in law was staying the night to babysit so there was no rush to get home; or because I was clutching two double rum & cokes. But bouncing about and sweating along to Charlotte Church and her interpretation of Destiny’s Child hits, it felt like a shift was taking place. Being at a pro-Welsh independence event was suddenly acceptable and accessible.
Of course, many attended this gig because they are already fully pro-independence, but a large number were there because of the wonderful line-up of acts on the bill, my husband included. The night was organised under the independence banner, but done in such a way that it wasn’t off-putting to those who have no strong feelings either way. It was more about starting a conversation and normalising the discussion, placing it within reach of everyone in Wales – people that are Welsh by birth, those that have chosen Wales as their home, Welsh speakers, non-Welsh speakers, white collar and blue collar workers. And what brought us all together under one roof that night was music.
My husband, who hails from Dorset, and I had a good half hour debate about what we both want for Wales in the future, and I truly believe it’s the first time he’s realised that he has a say in it. He’s lived here for nearly 10 years and it took a DJ battle between Gwenno and Gruff Rhys to make him see that.
I was brought up in a family where fighting for Wales’ voice to be heard was something ingrained in us from an early age. I attended my first political march when I was eight, I put posters up over road signs in my teenage years and still post letters with the stamp upside down. But I must admit to being an independence sceptic for a long time – not because I haven’t wanted to see an independent Wales but because, for me, it is not independence at any cost. I could never make that leap based on emotion alone. I need to see a strong argument based on the economy and infrastructure of the country. This is finally happening and what will keep that momentum going and help bridge the debate between the ‘already informed’ and the ‘never even considered it’ is popular culture.
Popular culture gets the conversation going and builds the confidence that is needed to take it forward. The reason that different cultural elements have such a strong role to play is that they have the power to pleasure, to unite, to cause controversy, to connect you to others.
In the crudest way, let me offer a comparison: Greggs made veganism accessible and acceptable, Charlotte Church has just done the same to Welsh independence. And that is not a bad thing in my mind. Not at all.
Esyllt Sears is a stand-up comedian and writer from Aberystwyth who has worked on BBC Radio 4’s The News Quiz and The Now Show, and a new S4C sketch show, Elis James: Nabod y Teip, due out later this year.