Wales is often known by the phrase “the Land of Song” (Welsh: Gwlad y Gân) and its people have a renowned affinity for poetry and music.
Perhaps the most well-known musical image of Wales is that of the choir, in particular the male voice choir (Welsh: côr meibion). While this is certainly a part (though of greatly diminished importance) of the current musical life of the nation, it is by no means the only or the oldest part, and the choral tradition does not really stretch back significantly beyond its heyday in the 19th century.
Much older is the tradition of instrumental folk music. The harp has been closely associated with Wales for a very long time, and one kind of harp, the triple harp is uniquely Welsh. Other specifically Welsh instruments included the crwth and the pibgorn, though both fell out of general use by the end of the 18th century. Due to Nonconformist Christian disapproval, the instrumental folk tradition fell into decline through the 19th and early 20th centuries, but has since seen a revival and is now arguably as strong as ever. The principal instruments are the harp and the fiddle, but many other instruments are used, and both the crwth and pibgorn are again being played by a small but growing number of people.
Wales also has a long tradition of folk song which, like the instrumental tradition, and for the same reasons, was long in decline but is now flourishing again. One notable kind of Welsh song is cerdd dant which, loosely, is an improvised performance following quite strict rules in which poetry is sung to one tune against the accompaniment of (usually) a harp to a different tune.
In the mid-late 1990s new Welsh music became unexpectedly fashionable, with the chart successes of bands including Manic Street Preachers, Catatonia and the Stereophonics. These groups helped the media at the time invent the epithet “Cool Cymru”, an answer to Britpop’s “Cool Britannia”. Prior to that, Welsh acts including The Alarm, Shakin’ Stevens and Bonnie Tyler had all had high profiles, but there had never been much of a movement.
Around this time, groups such as Super Furry Animals and Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci rose to popularity, and artists such as Tom Jones, John Cale, and Shirley Bassey had something of a renaissance.
The late 2000s has seen the rise of many smaller independent bands such as The Monte Dons, The Jug Band and Sicknote.