Most likely, the earliest musical traditions stemmed from the Vikings. There have been a few artifacts that led anthropologists to piece together their musical traditions. However, the music of Norway can generally be divided into two parts: traditional and modern.
Instrumental folk music pretty much doubles as dance music. There are two different kinds of form you’ll find in dance music: two-beat (halling, gangar, or rull) and three-beat (springar or springleik). Quite a few dances from other areas of Europe made its way to Norway such as the fandango, mazurka, waltz, and polka. Music and dance go hand-in-hand, and since much of Norway’s folk music is dance music, many of the dances were named after the particular style of music. One dance is the halling. Although it’s mainly danced in the rural areas of Norway, the halling dance is also found in areas of Sweden as well. This dance, typically performed by men at weddings and parties, is a fast dance with rhythmic and acrobatics moves.
Probably one of the most dominant, if not iconic, instruments in Norwegian music is the Hardanger fiddle. It’s generally played just like a regular violin, except that the performer plays on two strings at the same time. There are other smaller differences between the two, but the most notable one is the highly decorated outside, sometimes inlaid with goldleaf or other materials. I showed photos of the Hardanger fiddle to my daughter who plays violin, and we agreed it’s one of the most beautiful instruments ever. It’s a key instrument in most of the dance music. Other instruments you’ll hear in folk music include the lur (an older horn instrument similar to a trumpet), the bukkehorn (a goat horn), the langeleik (a box dulcimer), the harpeleik (chorded zither), the tungehorn (type of clarinet), the Melhus (another type of clarinet), and the seljefløyte (a willow flute).
While Norway has produced a number of very talented classical composers, the most well known one is probably Edvard Grieg. He was one of the more prominent composers of the Romantic era, and like Dvorak in the Czech Republic or Sibelius in Finland, Grieg often worked traditional folk tunes into his works. Grieg’s most famous work, at least in my opinion, is his Peer Gynt suite. (Peer Gynt was originally written as a play by Henrik Ibsen.) If you’ve ever watched cartoons, you’ll know this suite. Look up the songs “Morning Mood” and “In the Hall of the Mountain King.”
I feel like I only sampled a little off the top when it comes to modern Norwegian music. I mean, I didn’t even get to some whole genres like metal rock. However, I listened to the blues musician Bjørn Berge. I’m already a fan of blues, and I know that sometimes the term “blues” gets thrown around to mean a wide variety of styles, but this really didn’t disappoint. Sung in English, it sometimes reminds me a little of Celtic/Irish music and sometimes a little country. I think his song “Zebra” put him on the map.
So, I listened to the band Röyksopp. They are the quintessential 1980s electronic band. I imagine they were what Shiny Toy Guns listened to for inspiration. It also makes me think of video game music or cheesy movie soundtracks. However, I kind of like it in a way.
The group Side Brok is a rap group that has no problem with stretching the genre. They create a completely different feel between songs by use of string instruments, changing up the instumentation, and even bringing in other genes like reggae. Of course, they rap in Norwegian, so I’m not sure what they’re saying.
Another hip-hop group I came across is Karpe Diem. They represent the minority hip-hop groups that have started popping up in Norway. One member is of Egyptian-Norwegian origin and the other is of Indian origin. I liked what I heard from them. It seems genuine.
Stella Mwangi is a Kenyan-Norwegian musician whose had hits all over the world and featured in a number of TV shows and movies. Her music is kind of mix of pop, dance, and hip-hop. I think it’s fairly catchy.
Tommy Tee has been in on the rap scene for a while and has his own radio show about the rap scene. Ok, so I took a listen to his newest album Bonds, Beats and Beliefs Vol. 2 that came out last year. I actually really like what I’ve heard. The first track “The Plague” is my favorite—it starts off with a sound bite of Bernie Sanders.
Of course, I had no idea the group a-ha was Norwegian. If you don’t know who they are, you’re probably young. They formed in 1982 and have played off and on ever since. Their most famous song “Take On Me” is one of the most iconic songs from the canon of 1980s pop music.
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