During our first year we offered a programme of ’52 Things’ made with and for the city’s creative community to showcase the fantastic people and places in our city. You can find the full 52 here.

The Creative Cardiff team took some time out in June to enjoy the first and fabulous Cardiff Festival of Voice. Directed by the Wales Millennium Centre’s Graeme Farrow and curated by Sarah Dennehy, the festival brought together an eclectic and provocative mix of styles and genres  – from Rufus Wainwright to Laura Mvula, Ronnie Spector to the Les Mystere des Voix Bulgares, Femi Kuti to Anna Calvi, Van Morrison to Hugh Masekela. 

The international flavour of the festival was underpinned by that most plausible of clichés -  Wales as the Land of Song. This was showcase for Welsh singers like Gwenno, Charlotte Church and Bryn Terfel, as well for stars coming home to Wales, like Green Garside of Scritti Politti and the Velvet Underground’s John Cale. National Theatre Wales performed a play that celebrated the power of song – which included a new Manic Street Preachers’ song that brought its narrative threads together. The Welsh National Opera performed La Voix Humaine in (an admittedly large) front room in Penarth.

Director Graeme Farrow wanted the festival to encapsulate the words he walks past every day when he goes to work: “in these stones horizons sing”. The festival was, in that sense, Cardiff’s claim to owning a Festival of Voice, while using all forms of vocal expression – whether hip-hop, opera, dance, folk, Afro-pop, poetry, pop, soul, cabaret or choral music – to stretch artistic boundaries.

One of the highlights – Charlotte Church’s dystopian fairy-tale, the Last Mermaid – captured both these ideas. This was one of Cardiff’s best known voices offering something entirely new – something few popular singers of her generation would have imagined, let alone attempted. This was no Disneyesque musical: indeed, the ensemble performance was hard to describe. In a glowing review, the Guardian called it an “experimental music-dance-video piece”, but it was the Wales Millennium Centre’s famous poetic inscription that best captured the spirit of the event.

The small stage brought together simple crafts and digital flair - combining visual, musical and performance artistry to weave a dark tale of environmental apocalypse. It took us on an unpredictable journey from deep beneath a polluted ocean to a brave new world of drugged automation. Charlotte Church’s flawless voice was at its centre, beginning with the pure sound of mer-language to a score ranging from the popular to the operatic avant-garde. 

The Festival of Voice was full of such pleasures and surprises – who knew the famously shy Green Garside had such a vocal range or such engaging repartee? Or that Van Morrison and Bryn Terfel could pull off a duet? What could have been a bland exercise in greatest hits and home-spun platitudes was elevated by an original artistic vision that made it something much more interesting.

This was Cardiff, and Wales, at its creative best.  

It underlined the special part that festivals play in our cultural life. They provide an opportunity to fill local venues with international talent and a chance for Welsh artists to engage with it. The intensity of a festival – with so much on offer - encourages us to broaden our creative horizons, to take us beyond our cultural comfort zone.

For the Creative Cardiff team, the Festival of Voice epitomised the cultural ambition of the city. Building on its undoubted strengths, but in ways that are outward-looking - neither predictable nor safe. If there was anything missing, it was a slight sense that the city wasn’t quite ready for such an event. It was almost too much to take in: while audiences were enthusiastic some venues that should have been full were not.

This is, perhaps, as it should be: we want our cultural innovators, entrepreneurs and impresarios to be ahead of the game. Festivals can serve up tried and tested box office bankers, but they should prompt unexpected challenges, as this one did so well.

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