Posts Tagged ‘norway’

Live Review | Førde Traditional and World Music Festival, July 6-10

Posted on July 13th, 2016 in Recent posts by .

Førde-©Arve-Ullebø-Free2

With 300 artists from 30 countries, Førde is the biggest festival of folk and world music in Scandinavia. Simon Broughton was at the latest edition, which finished on Sunday, July 10 (Photos courtesy of Førde Festival)

Førde, a small town of 14,000 people in the west of Norway, is surrounded by mountains, waterfalls and fjords. So it’s a spectacular location for a festival and some of the Førde Festival’s concerts are in farmyards, wooden cottages and on mountain tops. As a broad theme, the festival took the idea of ‘Flight’, reflecting the unprecedented movement of refugees in the world, and that is something I will look at in the next issue of Songlines, out August 26. But, from Førde itself, here are some personal highlights of the 27th edition of the festival.

One of the most atmospheric locations is the Jølster Museum, a collection of traditional wooden houses, not far from Førde. The small rooms only fit 30 or 40 people, so the concerts were acoustic and intimate. At different locations between 11pm and 2am – when the summer night is more or less dark – you could find music from Norway, Finland, Spain, Tuva, Kenya and Malawi. I just dived in at random and struck lucky. In one of the smallest cottages a couple of old gents in trilbies were playing Hardanger fiddle and the guitar-like mandola. The room was packed and pretty dark, but I found a place on the floor and could make out the neat white beard of the fiddler and catch the light glinting on the mother-of-pearl on the fingerboard. The musicians’ smiles suggested they knew each other well.

Gunnar-Stubseid-&-Ale-Møller-©Forde-Free

I only discovered afterwards that this was one of the most-loved duos in Scandinavian folk music: Gunnar Stubseid, from Norway, on Hardanger fiddle and Ale Möller, from Sweden, on mandola (pictured right). They first met in 1986 and started playing in this novel combination. Stubseid comes from Setesdal region where the most rugged Hardanger fiddle music is found, but here the sound was softened by the plucked strings of the mandola. The acoustic of the wooden room was perfect for this music and the tapping of the two gents’ feet on the wooden floor was the ideal accompaniment. The cyclical, trance-like tunes draw you in and you hardly know whether five or 25 minutes have passed. You can imagine long evenings enjoying music like this a couple of centuries ago.

The contrast between the rustic simplicity of the Jølster houses and the main venue at the Førdehuset cultural centre is striking. Here the large hall has dramatic lighting, screens, graphics and a slick live video cut of the concerts. La-Bottine-Souriante-©Forde-FreeThe big crowd-pleasers were Sephardic singer Mor Karbasi, who brings drama and theatricality to her songs in Ladino, Moroccan Berber and Hebrew, and the magnificent French Canadian band La Bottine Souriante (pictured right), who have been active, with different line-ups, since 1976. They’re a force of nature with their trademark foot-percussion, fiddles, accordion and a powerful horn section.

In a get-up-and-have-a-Balkan-party way, the double-bill of Romanian and Hungarian Gypsy music from Mahala Rai Banda and Romengo was stunning. This was music that comes from very deep Romani roots – and tied perfectly into the migration theme of the festival. With the singing of Romengo’s petite but powerful Mónika Lakatos, it drove the audience into a dancing frenzy.

The Scandinavian band to look out for are Denmark’s Dreamers Circus – three young guys on fiddle, mandolin and accordion. There is charisma, talent and a powerful performance onstage.

The most memorable performance was the premiere of Arctic Ice Music, by the world’s only ‘ice musician,’ Terje Isungset. He literally plays trumpets, xylophone, chimes and drums made out of ice. But however extraordinary and beautiful that is, there are limitations to what ice can do. So here he was working with Sami and Inuit singers from the Arctic plus Tuvan throat singer Radik Tyulyush, which brought in an awesome sonic landscape, created in just three days.

Arctic-Ice-Music-©Forde-Free

To play his instruments, Isungset wore a furry hood, thick sweater and gloves. I don’t know whether he’s sponsored by a Norwegian sweater company, but he’s missing a trick if not. During the show, Isungset had an ice helper (his daughter) bring instruments on, unpack bars of ice so they were ready to be played and remove them before they melt. It was a logistical choreography. “The concert is about human beings relation to nature and how to live with it,” he said to me before the show. “The Inuits really know how to live in the ice and this generated the idea for the concert.”

Isungset’s contribution was largely percussive, with incredibly delicate sounds from tapping ice rods while stepping in crushed ice, to more melodic sounds from his ice xylophone. The latter is essentially like a balafon, but while the balafon evokes the dryness of the desert, Isungset’s iceophone sounds fluid.

The singers added layers of texture and melody. The Inuit singers brought the breathy, rhythmic sound of katajjaq; the Sami singers add more ethereal joiks; and Radik Tyulyush produces a deep pulsing growl. One of the Sami singers, Sara Marielle Gaup Beaska told me she was performing joiks about nature, animals, the wind and “one from Finland about the Russians colonising Sami land and your feelings knowing it will be destroyed.” The various layers, textures and otherworldly sounds seemed like listening to an aural equivalent of the Northern Lights. Glorious, beautiful, but elusive. It is something that deserves to be seen around the world because it’s not only inspirational music, but there’s a powerful message in there as well.

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Festival | Førde Traditional and World Music Festival, July 3

Posted on July 30th, 2014 in Live, News, Recent posts by .

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Photos by Førdefestivalen 2014/Knut Utler

A Summer Night in Jølster

There’s much to be said for hearing live music in beautiful surroundings and the late-night setting for this year’s opening evening – the festival’s 25th anniversary – was particularly appealing. The annual Summer Night in Jølster concerts are held in what’s called a museum, but it’s more like a small hamlet, 20 minutes drive from Førde. Comprising of half a dozen traditional buildings, some with customary grass roofs, they’re set back off the road, nestled in the trees. The music didn’t start until gone 11pm but being mid-summer in Norway, it doesn’t really get properly dark. However there were small fires and burning tree stumps dotted around the site to light up the pathways and to take the edge off the chilly and slightly damp night air.

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The concerts are billed as ‘intimate’ and they certainly are – I could have practically strummed Bassekou Kouyaté’s ngoni myself, I was sat so close to him, even hearing the gentle squeak of his wah-wah pedal. The Malian musician gave a tremendous semi-acoustic set, accompanied just by his wife Ami, sons Moctar on calabash and Mamadou on bass ngoni. Bassekou with his full Ngoni ba group give a slick, impressive show, but seeing the quartet perform in such a small space, surrounded by pictures from local artists was very special indeed.

Each of the half a dozen acts performed short 30-minute sets, then rotated around the three different rooms. Between sets there was time to mingle in the open-air, makeshift bar, chat and enjoy some traditional music from Indre Sunnfjord Spelemannslag – one of the area’s leading Hardanger fiddle groups.

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The final performance of the night was an impressive and intense one by Erlend Apneseth, a local, rising young star of the Hardanger fiddle. A highly focused and earnest player, Apneseth has already won much acclaim for his debut album (Blikkspor on Grappa – to be reviewed in #104). It’s joked that even Norwegians have a love-hate relationship with their national instrument; its sound can be slightly jarring and at times dissonant but being sat in close proximity to Apneseth’s collection of fiddles brought a new resonance and closer appreciation of this enigmatic and beautifully embellished instrument with its sympathetic strings.

A wonderfully atmospheric evening and one that perfectly illustrated to a newcomer like myself, why Førde is so highly regarded by locals, visitors and musicians alike.

Read more about this year’s Førde Festival in the next issue, on sale August 29.

A compilation CD of music from many of this year’s performing artists is available with the April/May (#99) edition. Buy the issue.

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Landkappleiken in Otta, Norway – June 28-July 1

Posted on July 7th, 2012 in Recent posts, Reviews by .

Words by Kevin Bourke

Established in 1896, Norway’s folk music and dance competition Landskappleiken is arguably the main reason why the traditions of Norwegian folk music have remained so dynamic over the past 100 years.

Every year, at a different location, singing, dancing and playing traditions, invariably all quite different from region to region, are judged on very specific criteria by a jury. “The competition aspect is crucial, as is the link between music and dance,” insists a local folklorist, pointing out that “even the best professionals take part in this event, along with the no-age-limit amateurs. For all of them, Landskappleiken is about prestige and keeping the tradition alive.”

With its resolutely unglamorous approach, it’s hardly Folk Idol, although I suspect the spectacular Laus dancers on Saturday afternoon could easily wow a Saturday night UK TV audience! The 1,700 or so inhabitants of this year’s picturesque venue Otta, some four hours north of Oslo, found their numbers quadrupled for the weekend as more than 1,400 amateur and professional participants, plus spectators, poured in to soak up hours of music and dance, rather than the notoriously expensive beer.

Later on, as category winners were announced and with some even more serious dancing about to start in the beer and food tent, most of them seemed to be trying to squeeze their way into the town’s kulturhus, where choreographer and Halling folk dancer Hallgrim Hansegard and his Frikar dance company, widely credited with helping Norway win the 2009 Eurovision Song Contest, were premiering 8, the project he had been hard at work on ever since. “It was like the Tarantino film Kill Bill without the violence,” he observed of travelling to China without a translator to try to combine the very different dance and training disciplines of four Halling folk dancers with four Chinese kung fu monks.

If Landskappleiken aims to tell the story not only of Norwegian traditional music but also the culture as a whole, it was a perfectly-judged final event.

For details of next year’s Landskappleikein, contact: www.landskappleiken.no

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Oslo Music Scene

Posted on March 5th, 2012 in Recent posts by .

Words by Olivia Haughton
Photos: Frode Inge Helland / Navinder Tatter

I’ve just got back from a month in Norway and am easing myself back into the bustle of London life. Oslo, at less than a tenth of the size of London, has a very different feel to it and I was keen to find out how vibrant the city’s music scene is.

The Hardanger fiddle

While there, I spent a lot of time at NRK, Norway’s national TV and radio broadcasting corporation. Many of the building’s walls are lined with pictures of musicians and cabinets displaying historical TV and radio artifacts, modern Norwegian art and, most interesting to me, musical instruments. My eye was caught by the intricately decorated Hardanger fiddle, the country’s traditional instrument.

On first glance, you could be forgiven for thinking it is an ornate type of violin, but, as I came to appreciate, they two are very different beasts. Anne Hytta, a folk musician and Hardanger fiddler, explained that while you may be able to play the the instrument so that it sounds a little like a violin, traditionally it has a different kind of quality. “It is focussed on harmonies, which is very important in creating its full sound; kind of like an orchestra in one instrument.” I asked Hytta if she would play something for me, and as she did I immediately felt the instrument’s full sound. It’s not surprising really since it has five extra strings which resonate in sympathy to the main four. Having only heard recorded Hardanger fiddle music, I was struck by the wall of sound that enveloped me in such an intimate setting.

Riksscenen

Novgorod performing at Riksscenen in OsloOne of the best places to hear traditional Norwegian music like this is at a new venue in Oslo called Riksscenen. The purpose-built building houses three stages of different sizes, designed specifically for folk music and dancing. We found ourselves in the smallest of these rooms, which seats about 40 people at café tables, for a concert by local ensemble, Novgorod [pictured]. Led by accordionist Gabriel Fliflet, the quartet played a stomping set and had the audience in fits of laughter throughout. Even with my non-existent Norwegian, I grasped some of the jokes and couldn’t help but laugh at the double-bassist’s attempt to play, dance and sing while stood on top of a speaker. It was a very intimate space and a wonderful performance that really brought the music alive.

If you’re planing a trip to Oslo this spring then make sure you catch Hytta perform with her trio Slagr at Riksscenen on 16 March.

The Norwegian Radio Orchestra

On my search for the city’s alternative musical beat, I was told that NRK’s own Radio Orchestra might be of interest. Hearing them rehearse Brahms was beautiful, but it wasn’t exactly what I had in mind. Chief Executive of the orchestra, Rolf Lennart Stensø, set me straight with his stories of the orchestra’s recent collaborations. As well as regularly performing traditional classical material, the musicians often team up with artists from other cultures.

Before Christmas a collaboration with Bhangra musicians was hugely successful, I’m told, as was their performance with Iranian musician Javid Afsari Rad. Even a concert with Norwegian black metal band, Dimu Borgir proved rewarding, which might seem hard to believe but, having listened to the recording, I have to concede that it works. The Opera House, where the orchestra sometimes perform, is a stunning piece of design and well worth a visit with, or without, a concert booked.

Oslo World Music Festival

Oslo is home to its very own World Music Festival, which, last year, hosted the likes of Ballaké Sissoko & Vincent Segal, Balkan Brass Battle and Sezen Aksu. The festival has been growing since its conception in 1994 when it began as part of a movement to counter a growing sense of racism in the country that was adjusting to its new multiculturalism.

Oslo World Music Festival is now well established on the international scene and provides a great round off to the festival season. I don’t know about you, but the warmer weather of the last few days has got my festival anticipation going already!

Jungeltelegrafen

If you can’t make a trip up north to get a feel of Norway’s music culture then perhaps you can tune into the airwaves instead. Listen out for Jungeltelegrafen, NRK radio’s weekly world music programme (with regular features in English) to get a feel of world music from a Norwegian point of view. Presenters Sigbjørn Nedland and Arne Berg have recently returned from a trip to Zanzibar, so I’m guessing there’ll be some interesting content to come.

I’m already day-dreaming about my next trip back to Norway and when I get there again, the music scene is one of the first things I’ll check out. Locals and regular visitors will, I’m sure, tell me that I’ve missed out vital venues or musicians, but this was my musical taste of the city and I’m already hooked.

 

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