Yn Rio

27/10/2021Carwyn Ellis Delivers 3rd Album Of Welsh Tropicalia Performed W/ The BBC National Orchestra Of Wales

There are certain albums that are so good, they're impossible to pass up. But then life happens and other releases pop up and, well, time. So when the opportunity recently presented itself, to review the latest album by Carwyn Ellis & Rio 18, we jumped at it. We popped the promo CD into our car's system and were teleported to Brazil for a good 30-something minutes. Thanks to autoplay and duly keeping our eyes to the 'autobahn' ahead, we must have listened to the full album three more times, as time flew by and the sun came out.

Back in 2017, Cardiff singer, songwriter, composer, arranger, multi-instrumentalist and producer Carwyn Ellis – frontman of Coloroma, founder of Bendith and regular host at Soho Radio – joined the Pretenders on a tour of South America, the first stop being Rio. Basically, as soon as he'd set foot in Brazil, the avid record collector and fan of Brazilian music had filled his bags with new music, upon which Chrissie Hynde herself suggested, he link up with her friend Alexandre Kassin, a central figure on the local music circuit. 

The initial idea was to record an album with Brazilian musicians, yet sung in Welsh and about one year later, said idea began to take shape. Ellis met with Kassin and soon found himself on a plane headed back to Rio, to record his 2019-released album "Joia!". Next, adding his longtime friend Shawn Lee to the mix, Ellis proceeded to record his 2021-released album "Mas", an album not only presenting a mesmerising body of sound and pristine tropical arrangements to go with Ellis' Welsh lyrics, but also addressing pressing global issues centred around water. ("Mas" also happens to be that album we mentioned at the start of this write-up)

Of course, in 2020, the global pandemic happened. But shortly after the recordings for "Mas" were completed and even before it was officially released, Ellis received a call from Gareth Iwan Jones, producer at Welsh language network BBC Radio Cymru, commissioning a third album to be performed live in March 2021 alongside the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. Due to you know what, however, the recording process was challenging to say the least: "There would be no audience present. The orchestra would have limited numbers. And as the pandemic worsened, it became clear that Rio 18 themselves would not be able to travel or rehearse together either."

Nonetheless, with everyone involved working together remotely, "Yn Rio" eventually saw the light of day, was performed live in Cardiff in March of this year, and was officially released last Friday on Légère Recordings. "'Yn Rio' is based around a day in Rio,” Ellis explains. “The events of 2020 influenced the record inasmuch as I wanted it to be a complete antidote to what was going on. If you couldn’t go on holiday in real life, you could at least put this record on.” True to his words, the album is a welcome, tightly arranged breath of fresh air.

The music on "Yn Rio" is brilliantly performed and ultimately rewarding, guaranteed to put a smile on your face and raise your soul. “There are some days so idyllic you just want to be able to jump back into them at the touch of a button. That’s what I was searching for when I was writing these songs,” Ellis adds. And so, without further ado, we present you this thrilling work of art and light-hearted yet precise musicianship and musicality. 

You can stream the full album via the player below or head to Bandcamp, where you get a short video to each song with Carwyn Ellis explaining the idea behind.

AUTHOR: Lev Nordstrom