When the National Eisteddfod was held in Cardiff Bay in 2018 it was billed as a breakthrough moment for the annual Welsh-language festival. The urban setting and a ‘fenceless’ policy dispensed with the idea of an enclosed ‘Maes’, the main field that normally commands an entrance fee.

But the capital has been home to another free-to-enter Welsh-language festival for fifteen years now. And Manon Rees-O’Brien, chief executive for Menter Caerdydd, a charity that promotes and extends the social use of Welsh across the capital city, says that ‘for many of us who live in Cardiff, summer wouldn’t be summer without Tafwyl.’  

Established by the charity in 2006, Menter Caerdydd has grown the Tafwyl audience from just over a thousand people in the early years, to nearly 40,000 packing out Cardiff Castle in 2019. 

And while news stories have focused on this year’s Tafwyl having been selected to be part of Welsh Government’s Covid test event series, open to a fortunate 500 people made up of parties of between four and six, all with negative PCR and lateral flow test results, it is perhaps the confidence with which it has taken to the digital realm that should really be making headlines.  

Like many other events that punctuate Wales’ cultural calendar, Tafwyl quickly adapted to the pandemic restrictions last year to create an attractive online offer, and on Saturday thousands are expected to watch the event livestream on Wales’ digital platform AM.

Among artists performing at Cardiff Castle on Saturday are the globe-trotting Cowbois Rhos Botwnnog, rockers Breichiau Hir, bilingual electro-soul diva Eädyth, and the now 70-year-old Geraint Jarman, godfather of Welsh language rock – a man to whom it might be said Tafwyl owes much of its innovative spirit.

Like that seminal Eisteddfod in 2018, Tafwyl plays a huge role in the crumbling perception that Welsh-language and English-language culture exist on opposite sides of an invisible fence.

And the digital nature of this year’s festival will only serve to bring more Welsh-speakers, Welsh-learners and non Welsh-speakers together across the whole country. The internet means it doesn’t matter if you tune in to Cardiff Castle from Cathays or Caernarfon.

Tafwyl’s extensive fringe festival has also served to break down barriers, with events as diverse as storytimes for young children, a session with the Football Association of Wales to prepare the nation for watching the Euros from home this summer, and the launch of the first LGBTQ+ podcast in the Welsh language, ‘Esgusodwch Fi?’ (‘Excuse Me?’). 

READ MORE: 

This week a Zoom session allowed the interested to ask Professor Dylan Foster Evans from Cardiff University, and Helen Prosser from the National Centre for Learning Welsh, questions about the language, and the experts provided a history lesson about the use of Cymraeg in Cardiff, as well as information about Welsh schools. 

Cardiff is now home to twenty Welsh medium schools – seventeen primaries and three secondaries – and pupils contributed to Tafwyl a special performance of ‘Sa Nab Fel Ti’ (‘There’s No one Like You’) organised by The Welsh of the West End.

Young people are central to the festival, with  online sessions involving TikTok, Minecraft, make-up, cooking, and dancing, as well as a rugby workshop with Cardiff Blues. 

And as well as showcasing Welsh talent, Tafwyl also provides a window on the world.

Ani Glass will perform songs in Welsh but also in Cornish. Completing a round-up of Brythonic languages, there is also a collaboration with Breton festival Gouel Broadel ar Brezhoneg, who bring us 'EMEZI', a jazz-pop/hip-hop female duo, whose name means ‘She Says’ in the language spoken by 200,000 people in the north-west of France. 

On Friday evening the weekly Supper Club run by Oasis – a Cardiff-based charity that provides support to refugees and asylum seekers – will allow its virtual guests to choose between chef Geraldine Griffith’s curried goat and sweet potato curry, followed by a special banana rum cake. Oasis are one of twelve caterers providing takeaways, allowing punters who are not in the lucky 500 to complete the festival experience at home. 

In addition to this celebration of Cardiff’s food culture, heritage and long history of immigration, Dr Simon Brooks from the School of Management at Swansea University gave an online talk entitled ‘Hanes Cymry’, explaining how Welsh language culture has been multiethnic since the days of the Romans.

And Seren Jones hosted a hard-hitting discussion around identity titled ‘Does Welshness Mean Whiteness?’. Jones will present the livestream of the main event, alongside Huw Stephens and Tara Bethan, and says:

‘It’s a privilege to be part of the team, to broadcast from my home, Cardiff, and to enjoy our culture. After a tough year for everyone, Tafwyl is the best way to celebrate the beginning of a new chapter.’

Wales has a long way to go to live up to its own idea of ‘a tolerant nation’, but arriving as it does in a week that began with a decisive election result that obliterated hard-right representation in the Senedd, and before next week’s further easing of lockdown, it is difficult not to share Seren Jones’ enthusiasm for Tafwyl.

This outward-looking festival  has far exceeded its own original goals to become a celebration of modern, multicultural Wales – a nation in which we can all participate, wherever we have come from, and whatever language we speak.

Tafwyl will be streamed live on Saturday 15 May between 10am and 9pm on AM Cymru, Highlights will be screened on S4C at 8pm on Sunday 13 June. For the full festival programme visit tafwyl.cymru