Tag Archives: Icelandic music

Friday, March 23, 2018 — Lóa fiðurgisin

Engis biður ein á strönd
— elsk að friði— þysinn,
Stor­mak­lið né lýð um lönd
lóa fiður­gisin.

[Alone on the beach, the feath­ers worn and shab­by, the peace lov­ing bird tries to evade the noise and the storms that blow through the lands.]

̶ Guð­mundir Friðjóns­son

The above is from an amaz­ing record­ing of rímur sung by Steindór Ander­sen, a renowned kvæða­maður, or tra­di­tion­al chanter. This verse is from an old record­ing, but it is fol­lowed by addi­tion­al vers­es in a mod­ern, rock-like orches­tra­tion by Hilmur Örn Hilmars­son. Both men have worked with Sig­ur Rós. The sen­ti­ment is appro­pri­ate to my inves­ti­ga­tions in Ice­land. This small, peace-lov­ing island coun­try has weath­ered many storms blow­ing across the sea from pow­er­ful con­ti­nen­tal tem­pests. While mis­takes have been made, Ice­land is a place where peo­ple seem to believe that prob­lems can be solved. This atti­tude is in sharp con­trast to the mor­bid pas­siv­i­ty and defeatism that enshrouds some of the larg­er and loud­er nations. To under­stand this, I’ve been speak­ing with a vari­ety of Ice­landers. It is just a first step. I have been mere­ly intro­duc­ing myself and estab­lish­ing some rap­port so that these issues can be explored in greater depth by cor­re­spon­dence. It has proven both infor­ma­tive and delight­ful. The egal­i­tar­i­an Ice­landers care not that I have lit­tle pres­tige — I’m mere­ly a curi­ous Cana­di­an. Peo­ple rang­ing from civic and nation­al politi­cians and civ­il ser­vants to aca­d­e­mics, musi­cians, and film­mak­ers, have all giv­en me pre­cious time and hon­est talk. I must thank, among them, Ásgrí­mur Sver­ris­son, Kári Gun­nars­son, Sveinn Guð­munds­son, Herdis Sig­ur­jons­dot­tir, Ste­fán Bal­durs­son, Sibeso Imbu­la, and Sig­urður Bjorn Blondal. There will be oth­ers to thank in the days to come.

Solv­ing the prob­lems that face a nation is not served by con­coct­ing utopias, but by observ­ing sound prin­ci­ples of fair­ness and rea­son. I was delight­ed that every­one I spoke with seemed to take that approach. There was no whin­ing. As one of my infor­mants observed, in the wake of the finan­cial cri­sis of 2008 some of the peo­ple respon­si­ble for the deba­cle were lat­er instru­men­tal in cor­rect­ing it. Appar­ent­ly, the well-being of the coun­try in the end over­ruled stub­born pride. This was a remark­able point to make. Every nation, like every extend­ed fam­i­ly, has its fools, and even the wis­est have their moments of fool­ish­ness. But it is a strong fam­i­ly indeed that has fools who learn from their fol­ly. When I was in Ice­land the first time, short­ly after the cri­sis, I did not find peo­ple in a pan­ic or a rage. I found peo­ple who knew that they had made mis­takes, and were deter­mined to cor­rect them. Now that I am back, I see the results of those efforts, and they are impres­sive. Cana­di­ans could learn from this. We are not a small, tight­ly bound togeth­er coun­try like Ice­land. Indeed, we are loose and sprawl­ing, with many fac­tions bare­ly aware of each oth­ers’ exis­tence. But we are not a tor­pid giant like our neigh­bour to the south, and not con­demned to moral and intel­lec­tu­al paral­y­sis — unless we so choose.

We are now enter­ing a time of much greater per­ils than mere stock mar­ket crash­es. We will have to step nim­bly to sur­vive. 

Of Monsters and Men, and Of Men and Monsters

Ice­land, con­sid­er­ing its small pop­u­la­tion (329,100 at last count), has pro­duced a phe­nom­e­nal amount of rock music that has reached a glob­al audi­ence. It’s as if Oshawa, Ontario or Eugene, Ore­gon each had a half-dozen world-lev­el bands. Absurd­ly improb­a­ble, when you think of it. Reyk­javík is a live­ly lit­tle city, but its frisky music scene, what Ice­landers call jam­mið, is con­fined to a hand­ful of clubs in the “101” dis­trict: Café Rosen­berg, Kaf­fibarinn, Bar 11, Dil­lon, Den Danske Kro, The Celtic Cross, The Eng­lish Pub. After mak­ing the rounds, peo­ple stag­ger out­side to find a hot dog or a crushed sheep’s head as a post-gig snack. The hard-drink­ing Ice­landers take their jam­mið seri­ous­ly. Bands and audi­ences mix freely in this pro­found­ly infor­mal and egal­i­tar­i­an coun­try. This small, but intense scene has pro­duced phe­nom­e­na like the Sug­ar­cubes and Björk, Mínus, Sig­ur Rós, Quarashi, Sálin, Botnleð­ja, Maus, Agent Fres­co, Samaris, Mam­mút, and Jakobí­narí­na.

Ingólfr Arnarson founds the first settlement at Reykjavík in 874 A.D., laying the groundwork for jammið and the Icelandic music scene. An 1850 painting of dubious historical accuracy by Johan Peter Raadsig.

Ingól­fr Arnar­son founds the first set­tle­ment at Reyk­javík in 874 A.D., lay­ing the ground­work for jam­mið and the Ice­landic music scene. He appears to be stand­ing pre­cise­ly at the spot where Kaf­fibarinn stands today. An 1850 paint­ing of dubi­ous his­tor­i­cal accu­ra­cy by Johan Peter Raad­sig.

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