Väsen: Acoustic Neo-Traditional Folk Music

Tuesday / February 21, 2012 / 12:00 p.m.
David Friend Recital Hall
921 Boylston Street
Boston
MA
United States
02115

 

Väsen

Väsen is a Swedish folk music band composed of Olov Johansson and Mikael Marin. The duo started playing together as teenagers around 1980. During the early 1980s they would regularly visit Curt and Ivar Tallroth and Eric Sahlström, older musicians who lived nearby in the Uppland region, where they would play and learn traditional music from them. In this way they became a link in the living tradition that Swedish folk music has enjoyed through the centuries.

In 1989, at a music gathering in Røros, Norway, Johansson met Roger Tallroth and asked if he would like to try to jam on nyckelharpa and guitar for a bit. Tallroth declined, intent at that moment on taking a shower. Fortunately, the shower was occupied, so he returned with his guitar, and they played for the rest of the day and far into the night. Among the witnesses to this fateful jam session was Olle Paulsson, who thought it was the best music he had ever heard, and made a promise to start a record label if they were willing to be recorded for a CD (and thus Drone Music was born).

The following summer Johansson became world champion of both the modern chromatic and older historical nyckelharpas at the first-ever Nyckelharpa World Championships at Österbybruk, Sweden. The added momentum for the first CD recording, which was entitled Olov Johansson: Väsen. Väsen is a Swedish word with many meanings: spirit, noise, a living being, and essence among the most prominent. It was originally meant to just be an album title, but soon people were calling to book the band "Väsen" and the name stuck.

Initially some traditionalists (or something else, it wasn't many at all) in the Swedish folk music community showed some resistance to Väsen. While Johansson and Marin were playing fairly straightforward folk music duets, Tallroth's guitar definitely provided a different twist on Swedish traditional music. Yet it's exactly the guitar chordings and rhythms that also attracted an entirely new audience, and the band's popularity gradually grew, along with their international reputation.

In 1994, with two more studio albums under their belt (Vilda Väsen on Drone and Essence on the French Auvidis/Ethnic label), Väsen were asked to participate on a project of Swedish rock musician Mats Wester called Nordman, which featured rock music and lyrics but with arrangements and playing by Väsen. The first Nordman CD was a huge hit in Sweden, and the band embarked on two tours and recorded a second Nordman CD, playing in front of audiences of up to 25,000 people. On the first Nordman tour they meet drummer André Ferrari and eventually experiment with a drums-and-bass version of Väsen. Ultimately, they settled on Ferrari playing hand percussion, and the band officially becomes a quartet in 1996.

In 1997 the quartet went into the studio and recorded Varldens Väsen (Whirled in North America). Tours of Norway, Denmark, Finland, Italy, France, the United States and Canada followed, as did a Swedish Grammy and two appearances on the national radio program A Prairie Home Companion in the U.S. In 1999 the band released its sixth CD, Gront.

A widespread U.S. tour in September 2001 had to be scrapped after 9/11. Although the tour was rescheduled for 2002, Ferrari's reluctance to tour and economics forced the band to decide to come over as the original trio. Ever since, Väsen has toured the U.S. as a trio, playing concerts and festivals from coast to coast, including the prestigious Savannah Music Festival, Telluride Bluegrass Festival, Vancouver and Calgary folk festivals, and the Skirball Cultural Center, to name only a few.

 

Olov Johansson - nyckelharpa

In 1990, Johansson became the first world champion of the nyckelharpa. He began to play the nyckelharpa in 1980 as a 14-year old, and was named a "riksspelman" (master musician) in 1984. He has studied with the legendary Curt Tallroth and Erik Sahlström. He is regarded as one of Sweden's most prominent nyckelharpa players, and is an inspiration for numerous young performers on the instrument. He is teaching regularly at the Eric Sahlström Institutet.

Apart from his association with Väsen, Johansson has also played with groups such as Kronos Quartet, the Nyckelharpa Orchestra, as well as solo performances. He has also recorded and toured with the chart-topping Swedish rock group Nordman, and has played on the albums Early Music (with Kronos Quartet) and his solo project, Storsvarten (released on NorthSide).

Mikael Marin - viola

Mikael is a violist who isn't satisfied with merely playing "second fiddle." His influences are literally unlimited in their scope, and oscillate between Schöenberg and the Beatles. He became a national fiddler in 1983, and was chosen to play in a world orchestra under the direction of Leonard Bernstein in 1989.

When not performing with Väsen, he composes, produces, and arranges music for artists such as Mikael Samuelsson, Nordman, and Kronos Quartet. He composed (together with Mats Wester) the opening music to the World Police and Fire Games in Stockholm, 1999.

Marin can be heard on several recordings, for example Nordman (with Nordman), Barfota (with Mikael Samuelsson), Ånon (with Ånon Egeland, released on NorthSide), and Flow my Tears (with The Forge Players).

Roger Tallroth - 12-string guitar

With his specially tuned guitar (A-D-A-D-A-D), Roger Tallroth has developed a distinctive sound of his own. In addition to the guitar, he plays the Swedish bouzouki and octave mandolin. He received his first guitar when he was 13. Since then, he has studied at Sjövik Folkhögskola and Örebro. He has about 50 followers throughout the world using his tuning, a number still growing. He has given numerous seminars around Europe and the US. Roger has performed together with Nordman, Annbjørg Lien, and the Gunnel Mauritzson Group, among other artists, and has also participated in several stage and theater productions.

Tallroth's discography includes Nordman (with Nordman), Felefeber, Prisme, Baba Yaga, and Aliens Alive (with Annbjørg Lien), Siluette and Raisu Äut (with the Gunnel Mauritzson Group), The Horse and the Crane by Ale Möller (on NorthSide), and Kat Kombat (Kombat). He also produced the self-titled début album of the group Draupner (on Caprice).

 

 

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