Dan Lundberg: Swedish folk Music - from village greens to concert platforms

Drone rock

As mentioned previously, folk music and folk music-making have undergone radical change. The Swedish group Hedningarna is one example of this new situation.

Hedningarna (picture) was formed in 1986-87 by three musicians, Anders Stake, Björn Tollin and Totte Mattsson. From the start the group was oriented towards a historic sound ideal.

The basic instruments of the group were bagpipe, Mora fiddle (Moraharpa, an older form of keyed fiddle) and modified Renaissance lute, in combination with various types of simple percussion instruments. Their ensemble-playing was based on three simple building blocks: melody, drone and rhythm.

Swedish bagpipe

Mora fiddle (Moraharpa)

By the end of the 1980s the group had built up a “medieval image”. Concerts were planned down to the last detail. “During the concerts in the Folk Music Tent project in 1990 we hit upon the ‘show’ — a bit of hocus-pocus, incense and lighting”, Totte Mattson explained in an interview in 1995.

During the autumn of 1990 Hedningarna began to collaborate with two female Finnish singers, Sanna Kurki-Suonio and Tellu Paulasto (picture), who specialised in an archaic Karelian style of singing which fitted in well with Hedningarna’s pungent sound.

In 1992 the group made their commercial breakthrough with the CD Kaksi! (Two). By 1995 about 35,000 copies of Kaksi had been sold, and the CD was also awarded the Swedish Gramophone Prize in the genre “Folk music and song”.

Despite their orientation towards historic sound ideals, Hedningarna used electrically amplified instruments from the start, which resulted in a musical sound and language which was close to that of rock music. The members themselves emphasised their teenage “garage rocker” years.

On the CD Trä (Wood) from 1994, developments in music technology have contributed to further innovations. On one of the tunes, Tuuli (Wind), Hedningarna make use of sampled material from the Swedish Broadcasting Corporation’s recordings of Sami singing (yoik), adding fragments of “Prästpigans jojk” (The priest’s maid’s yoik) by Thomas Ponga (1920-57) as part of the accompaniment to the song. As an extra nicety, the Finnish Sami singer Wimme Saari (who like Thomas Ponga has roots in the North Sami village of Karesuando) takes part in the recording with a spontaneous “yoik improvisation”.

 Tuuli (Wind). Hedningarna 'Trä' (SRSCD 4721)

Hedningarna have made use of recorded folk music material in a way that resembles the technique used by jazz musicians in Adventures In Jazz And Folklore. Their sources are also taken from the same archive. But the main aim is different. While the jazz musicians used the recorded material as a melodic starting point, Hedningarna use Thomas Ponga’s yoik more freely, as melodic and timbral colouring. By means of computer adaptation, editing and transposition, the group has actually produced a new yoik, a fact which has also been pointed out by Sami who have heard the recording.
Hedningarna represent an important link in the development of a new phase in Swedish folk music. During the 1990s many folk music groups, both in Sweden and abroad, have made use of a “drone rock” sound which resembles Hedningarnas’.
There are several explanations for the impact of drone rock on Swedish folk music during the 1980s and 1990s. During the 1980s Swedish bagpipe music found itself at the centre of a strong “revival” movement. Courses in bagpipe-playing and bagpipe-making were organised in many parts of the country. Since the Swedish bagpipe tradition had been comatose throughout the nineteenth century, there were no models available where repertoire and performance practice were concerned, so the Swedish bagpipe revival was something of an experiment in the art of recreating a tradition. For the most part tunes were borrowed from the Swedish fiddlers’ repertoire. To a certain extent, models for bagpipe technique were found in the living bagpipe tradition of other European countries, and in ensembles which specialised in medieval and Renaissance music.

Polska efter Oppigårds Lars Per Gudmundson, Jan Winter hurdy-gurdy,
Ola Bäckström violin (GLP8)

The bagpipe, together with the Swedish hurdy-gurdy (which also had a “revival” of its own) and other drone instruments, revived obsolete ideals of timbre and ensemble-playing. At the same time, since the models were situated so far back in time, they allowed for considerable freedom in the combination of instruments and the style of playing. In their pursuit of historic models many folk musicians, in addition to musicians who played drone instruments, began to extend the search beyond the fiddlers’ tradition. The re-entry of drone music into the Swedish folk music arena has since been manifested in special drone instrument rallies and bagpipe festivals.
At the end of the 1980s a new term was launched (not least for marketing purposes) in musical contexts — World Music. This all-embracing label was introduced by a few smaller British record companies to facilitate the sale of different types of music with various “ethnic” connections that were difficult to categorise. The term has come to mean many different things and has been used to denote all sorts of music — from local folk music forms from various music cultures throughout the world to various non-Western art music forms. On the other hand, when referring to European and North American music forms “World Music” has often come to stand for mixed music. The mixture has usually consisted of traditional folk music which has been combined with various popular music forms, such as rock, jazz, techno etc.
With the help of world music, a world-wide media-based musical arena has been created where new folk music from different cultures can be placed in what could be called a global form. In this new mixed music, the rock-influenced style (illustrated by Hedningarna, for example) takes the form of a pop/rock-influenced sound, a prominent heavy “beat” accompaniment and a recording technique where the microphones are placed extremely close to the artists. Another typical feature of this style is the tendency to mix local, preferably “exotic”, instruments and song techniques with this basic accompaniment. This type of music can be summed up in the combination term global form — local content. Hedningarna thus belongs to the same category as a multitude of “world music groups” throughout the world.

 Sparve lilla. Groupa 'Imeland' (AMCD730)

Drone rock

Dan Lundberg: Swedish folk Music - from village greens to concert platforms

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