Mission Folk Music Festival promises a nordic good time
According to Habadekuk saxophonist Rasmus Fribo, traditional music in Denmark has risen from its sickbed and is making a miraculous recovery. “It had almost reached the point of extinction before it was revived,” says the jazz-trained musician, checking in with the Straight from Copenhagen.
If this is true, it would be a situation familiar from other European countries, where urbanization, electrification, and the lingering effects of war have marginalized a variety of acoustic traditions, some of which date back to the Middle Ages. One of Fribo’s compatriots begs to differ with the saxophonist’s analysis, however. Danish music has never been threatened, says Himmerland guitarist Morten Alfred Høirup, in a separate telephone chat.
“Absolutely not,” he stresses. “We still have some islands where the traditional music never stopped, or if it stopped it was not for a long time. So I never saw Danish folk music as endangered, because it’s carried by everybody.”
The two musicians agree on one thing, though: when it comes to sparking a party, Danish folk music is one of the world’s great traditions.
“All these amazing melodies that have been perfected over hundreds of years are designed to do just one thing: to make the best dancing situations,” says Fribo. “Contrary to a lot of other Scandinavian music, Danish music is a tradition of lightness and happiness. There are no huge, dark woods in Denmark, and you can hear that in the music. It’s very light and simple in that way.”
“We used to say that Norwegian music, for instance, is enthralled, while the Danish sound is more enchanted,” Høirup comments. “It’s happy music made when young people meet and want to dance.”
Part of the difference is that while Norwegian and Swedish musicians practised their art amid lonely fjords and vast forests. Denmark has long been a cosmopolitan environment. That’s reflected in traditional dances such as the schottische, originally from Scotland, and the polka, from Bohemia, but also in the more recent influences that have coloured both performers’ bands. Himmerland skews toward worldbeat, thanks to the presence of Ghanaian drummer Ayi Solomon, while the nine members of Habadekuk got their start emulating the Québécois folk-music big band La Bottine Souriante.
“Habadekuk has evolved from sort of a Danish La Bottine into something completely of its own,” Fribo explains. “We’re more influenced by Caribbean music and jazz and rock, in different ways.…So we sort of went from being the Danish La Bottine to being convinced that we were the ones that were meant to transform this old amazing Danish music, the dance music, and make it relevant for the new millennium.”
A similar process of cultural collision is at work in Himmerland, which blends Høirup’s guitar and Ditte Fromseier Hockings’s fiddle with Solomon’s drums, Eskil Romme’s saxophone, and Polish-born jazz musician Andrzej Krejniuk’s bass.
“In Denmark now, a lot of cultures are meeting up,” says Høirup. “And instead of fighting we are starting to work together, adding what we have to this big melting pot.”
As an example of this happy integration, the guitarist cites the way he learned how to play in 7/8 time—a rhythm common in Balkan and Middle Eastern music, but a relatively recent arrival in Scandinavia.
“It was always interesting to me, because it has a special drive that we don’t have in Denmark,” he says. “And 7/8 is also fun because it’s not hard to remember how to play it. You just have to sing a sentence that has the accent in the same place—like, for example, ‘Now I would like a whisky.’ I always remember that one!
“It’s very easy, also, to remember 9/8, if you want to,” he adds. “You just have to say ‘Now I would like another whisky.’ This is the kind of learning we like in Denmark!”
Not surprisingly, both Himmerland and Habadekuk plan on partying during their respective Canadian tours—and you’re invited to join in when both bands play the small but impeccably programmed Mission Folk Music Festival this weekend. With Greenland troubadour Rasmus Lyberth, the elegant Swedish quintet Lyy, and the Epic Swedish All Stars also in attendance, the stage is set for a very Nordic good time.
“For us, it’s unique that we can come and introduce you to a whole cultural style,” says Høirup. “And we all know each other, so I’m sure there are going to be some pretty hot sessions!”