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The Nordic Roots Musical Tradition

Music is a diverse form of expression that takes in many styles. It's a popular field that can only be briefly sampled in a short article.

Many places in northern Europe, such as Tromso, Norway are prone to the occasional spectacular display of the Northern Lights.

Many places in northern Europe, such as Tromso, Norway are prone to the occasional spectacular display of the Northern Lights.

What Are Nordic Roots?

Nordic, which literally means "the North," generally refers to the northernmost region of Europe. The term is more inclusive than Scandinavia, which for the most part refers to the kingdoms of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. Besides these three closely-knit nations, the Nordic lands also include Finland, Iceland, and the Faroe Islands, as well as two large indigenous groups, the Greenland Inuits and the Samis, who both live north of the Arctic Circle.

Languages are diverse, and mileages between these nations can be great, especially as you travel out into the North Atlantic to Iceland and Greenland. Music tradition runs strong here, but during the 21st century and the latter years of the 20th century, there has been something of a cultural renaissance, similar to what has been experienced by the writers of the region.

A Little Chain of Island Makes Big Musical Waves

Although the Faroe Islands only harbors about 50,000 residents, two very different musical performers are featured here. One is a Viking heavy metal band called Tyr, while the other is a traditional woman folksinger named Eivor Palsdottir.

Tyr, named for the Norse God of law and justice, is a small band of rockers that can really crank it out. Not surprisingly, they have a strong following across Europe and are considered one of the top ten Viking heavy metal bands.

Eivor Palsdottir

The vocal range of Faroe Islander, Eivor Palsdottir, is just incredible, as it is with the much better known Bjork. Maybe it has something to do with growing up on those windswept islands of the North Atlantic and speaking a language that is very close to Old Norse. Anyway, the video that is posted here is not about trolls, as the title might suggest, but rather it concerns the spellbinding powers of an evil wizard.

Björk Guðmundsdóttir

No Nordic musical survey would be complete without the acknowledgment of the ground-breaking Icelandic singer known worldwide as just Bjork. Now some 30 years since she broke out with the Sugarcubes and a spot on Saturday Night Live, the Nordic performer is still going strong, despite an operation on her vocal cords.

P.S. Take notice that both Bjork and Eivor are named in the traditional Norse manner, where daughters receive different last names than their male siblings. This custom is still practiced in Iceland and the Faroe Islands but has been long since been abandoned in Scandinavia.

The Hardanger Fiddle

On to Norway, where they have their own traditional fiddle, called the Hardanger. Most common in the southwestern part of the country, this stringed instrument comes with eight or nine strings, though only four are played with the bow. The others are underlying and resonate when the top strings are struck or when tapped directly.

Though most commonly used to play older Norwegian folk tunes, such as Fanitullen, the Devil's Tune, the instrument can be adapted to more contemporary songs. The Devil's Tune is a sad tale about two young men who go to a wedding and get into a fight. Death results.

The Nyckelharpa

In Sweden, the Hardanger fiddle is replaced by the more complex nyckelharpa, a keyed violin instrument that is played with a bow, while keys are depressed with the other hand. Presented here is a traditional Nordic song called Gammelharing, as performed by a Danish musician, Amalie Bruun. By the way, Myrkur is the stage name for Amalie, which in the Old Norse language of Iceland, refers to darkness or gloom.

A Little Swedish Pop

For decades, the Swedes have been putting out English-friendly pop stars. Perhaps, you have heard of ABBA, a seventies phenom, or the currently popular Tove Lo. Featured here is a relatively new and upcoming popular cultural success.

Better known as Avicii, Tim Bergling has been carving out a very successful career for himself. Originally from Stockholm, Avicii has just released two very successful albums. With his use of English, the young Swede promises to be a voice heard by many over the upcoming years.

Traditional Finland

Maria is an amazing accordion player, even when she is mixing it up with the gals, as she does in this polka number. Trained in both classical and folk styles, Maria is a versatile musician who has also played with contemporary-styled musicians as well.

Almost Russia

Varttina is a Finnish band that hails from Karelia, a part of Finland that borders Russia and is known for speaking its own dialect of the Finnish language. Parts of Karelia were ceded to Russia after the Winter War of 1939–1940. As a result, many residents, who suddenly found themselves living within the borders of the Soviet Union, promptly moved back to Finland.

Varttina has been going strong for over 30 years, entertaining enthusiastic audiences all around the world. Though in recent years, the band has downsized from this larger version. Sorry, I could not find any English translation for this song.

A Swedish Speaking Minority in Finland

Despite its name, Finntroll is a Swedish-speaking group from Finland, where about 20% of the country speaks the German-rooted tongue. Interestingly enough, Finnish is not Germanic but rather a relative of the Hungarian language. As visible in this rollicking video, these outrageous heavy metal rockers have no hang-ups about returning to their Viking roots, even if just for show. For an English translation of this song without the outlandish visuals, you can go here.

Sassy Denmark

Denmark is a small nation, wedged on top of Germany, kind of a Viking spear towards German aggression. Every square inch of this Scandinavian nation gets put to use; whether it be farming or housing, there's not much left to spare. Not surprisingly, the young musicians from this place take readily to electronic, hip hop, and rap styles. Nowhere is this better evidenced than with the two dancehall rapsters, who call themselves, Djames Braun (the Danish spelling for James Brown). Although this song is in Danish, the upbeat, kickass style makes it worth a listen.

And if you want to hear more of this upbeat Danish style, you can go to this webpage, where most of the young Danish artists record in English.

Scandinavia has its fair share of grit and grime, as this building in Christiana, Copenhagen illustrates.

Scandinavia has its fair share of grit and grime, as this building in Christiana, Copenhagen illustrates.

The Sami Yoik

The Sami Yoik is not a song in the western storytelling way. Moreover, it is a way of singing and chanting, where the singer becomes one with the object or being that he or she is singing about. With this in mind, it is no small wonder that Sami yoiks have titles like "The Wind," "The Rough-legged Buzzard," "Dawn Light," "Eagle Brother," or "Spring Sun."

Many of the Sami, sometimes referred to as Laplanders, still wear a traditional dress.

Many of the Sami, sometimes referred to as Laplanders, still wear a traditional dress.

A Traditional Sami Singer Familiar with videos and Contemporary Music

Sofia Jannok is a Sami singer who seems as equally at home performing hip, contemporary videos as she is with the traditional style. Here, you can listen to Sofia singing a yoik that, in essence, is the wind.