Connecting the past with the present

Jazz-inspired Scandinavian folk music quartet Åkervinda tours North America

Photo: Emma Engström / Svengström Musik & Illustration Åkervinda is reinventing the Nordic folk tune.

Photo: Emma Engström / Svengström Musik & Illustration
Åkervinda is reinventing the Nordic folk tune.

Victoria Hofmo
Brooklyn, N.Y.

Åkervinda is a quartet of four Scandinavian women who sing traditional Scandinavian folk songs. They have a pure, authentic sound: ethereal harmonies, ancient tones, joyous jubilation, and haunting pain can be heard in their voices. Although they work with folk music, it is interesting to note how these four women also have training in a very different style and modern form of music—jazz. It sounds counterintuitive, but it works. Many of us in the U.S. will have the good fortune to hear their unique sound this summer, as they are touring through parts of North America.

I had an opportunity to interview a member of the group, Lise Kroner.

Victoria Hofmo: How would you describe Åkervinda’s music?

Lise Kroner: Gracefully entwining melodies, rock solid groove, and ever-intriguing harmonies. The core of the group’s repertoire is the traditional Scandinavian folk tunes, as well as melodies from the instrumental part of the tradition. Through improvisation original arrangements are created, with a distinguished touch of jazz influences.

VH: How did the four of you come together?

LK: The four singers in Åkervinda met at a Swedish “Folkhögskola”—a traditional way of going to school in Scandinavia in a creative environment.

VH: What does the group’s name mean?

LK: The group’s name, Åkervinda, is inspired by a Swedish wildflower whose roots spread far and wide like rivers under the ground.

VH: Does the group sing things besides traditional Scandinavian music?

LK: No, but we are planning to incorporate some original tunes written in our native languages.

VH: Your website describes you as “jazz singers at heart.” How does that translate into Nordic Folk Music?

LK: Every one of us has been going to school with a focus on the improvisational music—in other terms: we’ve all been singing a lot of jazz during our careers as singers. It’s like learning a language, and as it is with languages; when you know them, it comes natural to you to express yourself with them.

To incorporate these two genres with one another is not as far out as it may sound. In Åkervinda it is our goal to re-invent the Nordic Folk tune. We are not singing vocal arrangements in a purely traditional manner; we are doing it in our own way.

VH: You recently participated in the Aarhus Vocal Festival. Tell me about that experience.

LK: Aarhus Vocal Festival is an internationally acknowledged festival for vocal music—choirs as well as vocal groups. We met a lot of talented singers from all over the world. It was an amazing experience for us, seeing that we are a fairly new group in this environment. A lot of great opportunities for collaborations with talented singers around the world opened up to us.

VH: At this year’s festival you received a second prize for vocal groups and a special prize for innovative arrangement. Can you speak about these awards?

LK: Out of 26 applying vocal groups we were selected to participate in a competition at the festival. And out of the five selected groups we won the second prize. In our opinion, competing in music is kind of weird, seeing that you can’t really measure music in that way, so for us it was just a great experience to meet other vocal enthusiasts from all over the world. Everyone in the competition were really great singers.

We won a prize for “The Most Innovative Arrangement of the Compulsory Piece,” which was a task that every one of the groups were given. The tune was by the Danish Singer/Songwriter Mads Langer. The text didn’t really fit our style, so we came up with our own text in old Swedish language, and discovered that we’d made a song about immigration.

VH: You recently met up with Jaron Freeman-Fox, Canadian fiddle player and singer. Can you speak about your partnership?

LK: We have a recording session with him in Toronto [this] August. We met Jaron Freeman-Fox in Malmö in Sweden last summer, where he was playing a concert with his band, “Jaron Freeman-Fox & the opposite of everything.”

He’s a great fiddle player and an interesting singer. Visit his homepage: theoppositeofeverything.com/site.

VH: Can each of your members speak a little about their musical background and what being part of Åkervinda means to them?

LK: I grew up in a family where singing was a natural part of being. Later in life I decided to take my love for music and singing to a professional level. With an educational background from some of the best music schools in Denmark and Sweden, I am now focusing my time and energy on the musical projects combining the traditional music and the improvisational music. To sing with a group like Åkervinda is a dream coming true. Not only is it a great honor to be able to share this beautiful music with the other members of the group, as well as with the audience, it’s a blessing that a lot of people find the music so touching, that they allow themselves to let the music carry them away emotionally.

Iris Bergcrantz: Jazz has always been a natural part of my life, since I grew up in a jazz music family. I have studied music in Ireland and there found a love for the Irish folk music. I have been composing my own songs and performing them all over Europe for many years.

Linda Bergström: I am a jazz singer who recently graduated from the music academy of Malmö. I am now active in many bands in Sweden as well as Germany, Åkervinda being one of them.

Agnes Åhlund: Although I have been studying jazz for many years, I grew up with folk music around me and it has always influenced my work. Being a part of Åkervinda has been very important for me, enabling me to develop within a music tradition that’s very dear to me.

VH: What are the group’s future plans?

LK: We’re planning on touring in Scandinavia spring and summer 2016. We also have some connections in South Carolina, so maybe in 2016 a trip down south is on the menu as well. We are constantly developing our sound as a group and are open to influences from around the world.

VH: Is there anything you wish to add?

LK: We have our first album available on iTunes as well as Spotify. Buying it on iTunes will of course support us even more than streaming it on Spotify. But feel free to do whatever you like. Though, we do well as a live group, so please come see us while we are in the neighborhood!

Tour dates:
Danish Lutheran Church, Toronto
Aug. 2, 2015, 5:00 p.m.

Canada’s First Community Radio Station
Aug. 3, 2015

Silvana, Harlem, New York City
Aug. 8, 2015, 6:00 p.m.

Pianos, New York City
Aug. 9, 2015, 8:00 p.m.

The Scandinavian East Coast Museum, at Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Aug. 10, 2015

The Contented Cow, Northfield, Ill.
Aug. 14, 2015, 5:00 p.m.

Gammelgårdens Spelmansstämma, Scandia, Ill.
Aug. 15, 2015

Bishop Hill Heritage Association, Ill.
Aug. 16, 2015, 4:00 p.m.

The Swedish American Museum, Chicago Ill.
Aug. 17, 2015, 7:00 p.m.

For more info on Åkervinda, visit www.akervinda.com

This article originally appeared in the July 24, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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