Drums beat harps to Eisteddfod win

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The Independent Online
The rhythms of the Caribbean brought a new beat to this year's Royal National Eisteddfod, leaving traditionalists more accustomed to the strains of plucked harps than throbbing drums somewhat bewildered.

But the steel band from Cardiff's Fitzalan High School enthralled festival- goers at Bala and carried off the first prize plus a pounds 300 cheque in the Open Instrumental Competition.

The drummers all aged 14 to 16 come from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. Unlike the Eisteddfod where Welsh is the only official language, twenty- one different languages are spoken by pupils and staff at the comprehensive in the city's docklands. The school governors publish their annual report in nine languages: Gujarati, Welsh, Bengali, Arabic, Somali, Urdu, Cantonese, English, and Punjabi.

However, Angus Dunphy, the head teacher, said: "These children are Welsh. They may wear another hat or two but they are Welsh." For most of the band it was their first experience of a town like Bala, 200 miles north of Cardiff, where more than 75 per cent of people use Welsh as a first language.

The rise of mining in South Wales a hundred years ago drew people from all over the world. The school lies in an area, currently being developed by the Cardiff Bay Development Corporation in a pounds 1bn-plus scheme, which has for long been a multi-racial community embracing West Indians, Somalis, Chinese, Americans and Europeans from many lands.

The docklands drummers are not the only innovation at this year's festival. For the first time, alcohol is being sold on the nearby "youth" field, while the main field stays dry.

The venture has sparked little interest, though, and festival-goers are shunning the bar for Bala's bustling pubs a mile down the road.

A visit by to the Eisteddfod by the Secretary of State for Wales, Ron Davies, contrasted sharply with the appearance last year of his predecessor, William Hague, who abandoned his programme in the face of angry demonstrators.

Mr Davies strolled around meeting people with hardly any sign of a precautionary police presence.

Maybe the fact that he addressed a meeting in Welsh helped; it was the first time in 18 years that a Secretary of State has been able to do so.