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Opinion/Editorial

Music from Norway: Just How Important Is It, Really?

By Published: November 10, 2013
Certainly, there is a preponderance of Norwegian music finding its way into many jazz festivals around the world, the result of tour funding that would otherwise make such touring impossible. But can Norwegian artists be blamed for taking advantage of their country's clear agenda to export its music abroad, something achieved with great success in recent years with programs like JazzNorway in a Nutshell, Silver City Sounds and Jazz Expo, where presenters, club owners and journalists from abroad are invited to Norway for a few days of Norwegian music—usually through an existing festival like Molde, Kongsberg or Bergen's Nattjazz, but also including special showcase performances, arranged specifically for attendees—with the hopes that Norwegian artists will be booked at festivals and clubs around the world, and that journalists will be encouraged to write about them?



Clearly, based on articles like this one—and writings from notable authors like Peter Margasak and Joe Woodard—it's working, and in ways that go even beyond simply exporting Norway's music. A recent roundtable discussion, during the 2011 Penang Island Jazz Festival, revealed that its five participants—including participants from Italy, Norway, Japan, China and Canada (yours truly)—had all met through Norwegian events. What these Norwegian programs have done is to create lasting and, more importantly, growing partnerships with people from around the globe that, in addition to successfully working to promote Norwegian music in whatever capacities their respective job entail, regularly collaborate in other ways—one example being my collaboration with British radio host and series curator Fiona Talkington on the liner notes to Arve Henriksen's career-spanning 7-LP Solidification vinyl box, released in 2012 by Rune Grammofon.

That there is some jealousy abroad for the opportunities made possible to Norwegian musicians is something that should be quickly dispensed with. Is it fair that Norwegians have the advantage of both funds and infrastructure to more successfully promote their work to their country and to the world? Perhaps not, but then again: is life fair?

Norway's inimitable programs have succeeded in ways even their organizers might never have foreseen, and the funds for recording, writing and touring have certainly appeared to be more than successful. But can the availability of so much arts funding also result in substandard music gaining exposure it doesn't deserve; can it result in complacency, of artists creating music that ultimately succeeds based on names so established that fans will buy in, irrespective of whether or not the music is actually any good?

Of course it can—and does. But that's not anything specifically endemic to the Norwegian scene, it's only that, with so much touring and recording support, it's more visible than in other countries, simply because if a disproportionately greater amount of superlative music is being made, it stands to reason there's also a larger number of average or even substandard projects also finding their way out into the world—and even garnering critical and popular acclaim; some, it seems, will accept anything from Norway as good, simply because It comes from Norway—a dangerous mindset, indeed, especially if we're talking media. But one look at the American jazz scene and it becomes clear that, while the cream usually rises to the top, so, too—and against all logic- does the occasional bit of sour milk manage to find its way there, too.

Is there anything the Norwegian scene should or could be doing differently? Beyond perhaps instituting some kinds of metric (and this may already be in place) that measures the success of groups receiving support—and success is not necessarily reflected fiscally; it can be measured In other ways: the number of gigs; the number of people attending; the number of records sold off the stage (at least a partial reflection of how well the audience was won over); the overall critical response. While implementing empirical measurements can seem antithetical to the very idea of art, there are, nevertheless, ways of determining whether or not money spent on an artist has been well-spent.


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