Norway is known for its natural beauty of glacial fjords and Northern Lights, but NPR world music contributor Betto Arcos visited Norway for the music.
Arcos traveled to the Oslo World Music Festival, where he has seen talented musicians from all over the world. Here are some of the musicians featured at the festival.
On Norwegian indigenous music
This is a traditional Sami singer. His name is Vassvik. The Sami are the indigenous people of Norway, they also live in other parts of this region, of these countries. And they sing in this style called joik.
Born and raised in the fishing community of Gamvik, Europe’s northernmost mainland point, Vassvik continues the cultural heritage of the ocean Sámi. Not only joik – which is not unlike Mongolian throat singing – has shaped him since his childhood. This is a region with a stormy and barren landscape covered in darkness in the Winter. Vassvik’s music reflects this landscape.
Vassvink is one of the most exciting contemporary Sami joikers (throat singers). Vassvik’s music offers a timeless tradition which speaks to the listener across languages, across civilizations. After two albums under his own name, Vassvik now performs as a quartet.
On contemporary Norwegian music
This is something that I think in some way shows you the diversity of colors and sound in this country. I want to introduce you to a singer whose name is Susanna. She is a Norwegian singer whose music combines baroque with American folk songs, and also texts by Shakespeare, Lou Reed and others.
In 2011 Susanna and Giovanna Pessi released the album ‘If Grief Could Wait’ – where they interpreted Purcell, Cohen and Susanna’s own music. They raised a lot of attention for their unique instrumentation and blend of music from the Baroque, 70’s singer/songwriters and new tunes.
At Oslo World 2017 they will perform songs from a new album, with a brand new quartet. In addition to vocals and harp, Ida Hidle will be playing the accordion and Erlend Apneseth the Hardanger fiddle. We will have the opportunity to descend into Susanna’s mystical and mythological universe.
On calypso music
This is the legendary calypso singer Calypso Rose. She is from Trinidad and Tobago. She is 77 years old, and I have to say, she put on a show and a half. Everyone was dancing, it was such infectious music.
Calypso was born from the slaves who were sent to Trinidad and Tobago. Back in the day, women had the highest status in this music. So it is safe to say that Calypso Rose has brought calypso back to its roots.
Calypso Rose sees herself as the “mother of all female calypso singers” who have come after her. She is the undisputed Queen of Calypso, having started composing songs at age 15. She has suffered a few heart attacks and is cancer survivor.
This particular song really is an anthem for a movement in Trinidad called #LeaveSheAlone. Calypso Rose wants to bring attention to the culture of sexual assault, domestic violence and harassment that is pervasive, especially during Carnival.
On classical Arabic music — with a twist
They are called The Great Departed, in Arabic they are called Al-Rahel Al-Kabir. They make classical Arab music but with a modern and very, very cool twist.
What is important here is the content of what they sing — no one is free of their satirical songs. And ISIS gets the heavy whipping here. They have a song called “St. Baghdadi’s Celebrations” and it is a mocking hymn dedicated to, of course, the late leader of ISIS Abu Bark al-Baghdadi.
Let me give you a little bit of what the lyrics say:
O master Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi,
You who rule by God’s rules,
You who defends the laws of God,
You who defends the sons of God,
You will lead God’s servants to an abyss like no other.
At the concert a couple of days ago here, there were quite a few folks from the Middle East and a few refugees from Syria. They were laughing every time they sang the chorus. This is very serious stuff, but at the same time they say, ‘Why should we have a hard time with what is happening? Let us poke fun at these crazy guys.’
The Great Departed’s music is not too different from the satirical and topical comics found in newspapers. Perhaps that is not so strange: bandleader and songwriter Khaled Soubeih worked as a journalist before founding the band together with five other friends. Together they swear by the old jungle saying “laughter drives the tyrant crazy.”