Bethan Nia – Ffiniau (2021)

With her debut album, Bethan Nia is exploring the boundaries that exist between people. Ffiniau, Welsh for borders, touches on the lines that separate people from languages to experiences. Each song brings her deep roots in Welsh folk tradition to life before combining with Nia’s sparkling vocals and harps.

The bi-lingual tracks have your mind flying to a beach in the warm summer months with the sea lapping at your feet and gentle sounds filtering into your ears. Already amazing people at Glastonbury Festival, harpist Nia is set to take the music world by storm with this album. Delicate tones and the beauty of the bi-lingual vocals shine through each track and take you far away from the stresses of life.

The album starts with ‘Bugeilio’r Gwenith Gwyn’ which opens with a sound like the rain lightly falling on the leaves of trees in a forest. Nia’s vocals add to the delicate feeling of the music as she fills you with the wonders of Welsh. Not knowing what is being said is not an issue as the gorgeous movement of the music more than makes up for it. Nia’s vocals delivery also helps you connect with the meaning of the song without any understanding of the language being needed. You can get lost in the gentle touches of the strings and plucking notes of the folk soundscape.

‘Ym Mhontypridd Mae ‘nghariad’ has a deeper feeling to the music that brings a traditional folk feeling to the music. There is a delightful Celtic edge to the song that makes you think of epic stories and bardic tales. The change in vibes between this song and the last is a wonderful showcase of the musicality Nia has to offer. As with the last track, the vocals are in Welsh but they sink into your chest and squeeze without any effort. Nia’s vocals are really captivating on this song as your mind is taken to the Welsh valleys or a misty walk through the Brecon Beacons.

The gentle birdsong and lightness of ‘Between Land and Sea’ is wonderful after the depths of the last track. As the first English track on the album, this song shows that Nia is just as captivating in English as she is in Welsh. The delicacy of the album continues to weave its way through your senses with this song. Using a metaphor of land and sea, Nia questions the spaces between people and how they have come to be. The strings have a mournful edge to them that brings a deep sadness to the music.

‘Tŷ Fy Nhad/Diferion Y Gerwyn’ uses a creeping opening to grab your attention before the gentle rays of dawn break through. The earthy feeling of the track is wonderful after the lapping of water in the last. Through the music, you are drawn into the dawning of a new day and the gossamer rays of light that come with it. You can easily close your eyes and sink into the softness of this single that is so relaxing and peaceful. Nia’s harp is wonderful and enters a lovely waltz with the strings for a captivating instrumental track.

There is a new vibe that comes with ‘Ar Lan Y Môr’ and the layered approach of the track. There is a haunting string line that shines in the upper levels while a deep and earthy beat comes through from the depths. Nia’s vocals have a yearning feeling to them that is tinged with sadness. There is a serious emotive hit in this track that causes emotions to well in your chest looking for an outlet. This is possibly the most touching track on the album that will leave you feeling shivers of emotion rushing down your skin.

‘Outside’ lets Nia’s vocals really shine in a way that the tracks before have not. Her voice is sweet as it calls out against the light melody. The rise and fall of her performance sends shivers running down your spine and sticks with you for long after the track ends. The light instrumentation only bolsters the power of her voice that mists over your skin and leaves you wanting more. There is a lovely story in the lyrics that is washed with sadness and a sense of self.

Bethan Nia
Image credit: Kirsten McTernan

The next track is ‘Beth Yw’r Haf I Mi’ which is more upbeat than the other tracks so far. The beat gets your head moving to it with a light toe-tapping. The haunting violin that has made an appearance throughout the album is back to tug at your senses. It weaves its way between the light twinkle of the melody that fills you with a feeling of new growth and life. There is a delightful layering to the music that really highlights the musicality and prowess of Nia.

Nia’s vocals call out clearly over the soundscape of ‘Cân Yr Ychen’. The traditional folk feeling of her vocals is a little at odds with the stripped-back melody resting below. There is a bubbling feeling in the notes that do make it through the melody. With the stripped-back melody, her vocals are the driving force of the track and set you soaring on their vibes. It is an interesting song that offers a great reprieve in the album.

‘Winter’s Song’ uses an acoustic sound to pull you into the wonderful tones of the violin. There is a delicate interplay between the strings that fills you with a lightness and an easy vibe. Nia’s vocals bring a wintery landscape to your mind with a chill in the air and a frost resting on the grass. There is a sadness in her performance as she mourns with the poetic lyrics. The use of nature in the lyrics is wonderful and helps you connect with the depths of the emotions within her performance. This is a really touching track and you can easily listen to it on repeat.

There is a rolling feeling to the opening of ‘Balad Sgêr’ that captures your imagination. You can hear the story within the vocals even if you don’t know exactly what is being said. The bardic vibes of earlier in the album come back through this song as you fall into the swirling tale of the music. The rise and fall of the vocals beckon you further into the emotions of the story as you hope for a happy ending. The humming backing vocals bring an ethereal feeling to the music.

‘Gwêl Yr Adeilad’ brings a new depth to the soundscape with the tapping shuffling beats and the plucked notes. There is an almost twilight feeling to the music that weaves tendrils of dark around your senses. The harmonising vocals bring a new edge to the music that have you flying on a Celtic edge of folk that is utterly wonderful. You can imagine this song calling out to your spirit over expansive meadows that beckon you to walk through their long grasses.

The light tones of ‘Kananaskis’ have a dancing feeling to them that makes you want to twirl to their rhythm. The brightness they bring has an almost playful feeling to it that puts an easy smile on your face. As the song progresses, these twinkling tones get a rippling edge like water cascading down rocks and filling you with the peace of nature. You can’t help but breathe a little easier while listening to the harp and the strings rising to meet it in a complementary dance.

The album comes to a close with ‘Between the Lines’ which hits you with some melancholic tones from the first moment. The piano line brings a yearning feeling that perfectly highlights the lyrics and Nia’s almost forlorn performance. There is a poignant message in the track as it brings the overall messaging of the album to a single song. You can feel the distance between people while Nia tries to reach across the dividing line. The melody is rich in its arrangement and so beautiful that it can easily bring a tear to the eye.

Through the beautiful and haunting tones of Ffiniau, Bethan Nia shows why she is an artist to watch out for in the folk scene. Each track is touching and tender with a Celtic edge to traditional folk tones. The bi-lingual nature of the album is wonderful and adds an almost cinematic feeling as you wander the woods and meadows with her.

Find out more about Bethan Nia on her website, Facebook, Twitter and Spotify.

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