Home » Jazz Articles » Live Review » Northern Expo 2024

12

Northern Expo 2024

Northern Expo 2024

Courtesy Budapest Music Center

By

View read count
Through the prism of music Northern Expo also helps advance the cause of Norway’s ethnic minorities, thus promoting a cultural heritage to be valued by all Norwegians.
Northern Expo 2024
Various venues
Bodö, Norway
June 13-15, 2024

The organizers of Northern Expo, a showcase for musical talent from Northern Norway, do not do things by halves. Why stop at Oslo, the logical meeting point for the 50 music industry delegates flown in from various points on the globe, when you can transport them 100 kilometers above the Arctic Circle to Bodö?

With a population of just over 50,000, the capital city of Nordland county is compact in size but given the stunning scenery—an archipelago of hundreds of islands, forest-caped mountains and fjords—Bodö is major destination for tourists, thousands of whom arrive en masse via massive cruise ships.

One such behemoth, about as attractive as a block of flats, was anchored by the city centre. Nearby, a stone-grey Norwegian Coast Guard patrol vessel (and ice breaker) rested silently. Tourism is increasing in these parts, which is good for business, but so too is Norwegian naval activity, a reminder that Norway's Russian neighbor seems much closer now than at any time since the Cold War.

As at Northern Expo 2018 in Svalbard, an archipelago halfway between Norway and the North Pole, the showcased music at Northern Expo 2024 was extremely diverse. The six artists/bands on the program ranged from small ensemble acoustic jazz and psychedelic rock to folk, and from electronic dance music and pop-inflected joiking (traditional Sámi chanting) to larger jazz-cum-folk ensemble.

For the participating musicians Northern Expo 2024 offered an opportunity to develop their careers and expand their audiences, both at home and abroad. For the Indigenous Sámi artists, who equally share these goals, there is another concern, an existential one—nothing less than the preservation of endangered languages and cultures is at stake. This sobering reality resulted in some moving words and acts across the three days, from both Sámi musicians and delegates alike.

But two things set Northern Expo apart from most other showcase programs. Firstly, the role of the natural environment as a backdrop to the music; just as in Northern Expo 2018 in Svalbard, the stunning Northern Norwegian scenery took one's breath away. The dramatic landscape was seen in the best possible light, quite literally, as June's midnight sun ensured never-ending days of sunshine. Great for tanning, if not for sleeping.

Secondly, the dissolving of boundaries between musicians and delegates—communal meals, travel and social activities—was conducive to conversations that were fairly constant, fluid and warm. This has been a key component of Northern Expo's strategy, ensuring that invited festival directors, booking agents, record label managers/A&R people, promoters and radio/print journalists could get to know the musicians personally, and vice versa. So much business, the organizers understand, flows from the building of personal relationships.

Opening Night: Susanne Lundeng & Nils-Olav Johansen

What better way to welcome delegates to Northern Expo 2024 than with a meal fit for kings and queens in Scandic Havet Hotel's Roast restaurant? With music, of course. Prior to the sharpening of knives and forks, fiddler Susanne Lundeng and guitarist Nils-Olav Johansen held centre stage. Bodö native Lundeng has championed the traditional folk music of Northern Norway since the early '90s. This music is her blood. And her bloodline; in 1840 her great-great-great grandmother died in a shipwreck when returning from a gig playing fiddle at a wedding on the island of Røst. Johansen, for his part, is arguably best known for his tenure in the brilliantly genre-elusive Farmers Market.

In their short but captivating restaurant set the duo wrestled playfully with hypnotic folk airs charged with improvised dialogue. For those looking for an entrance point to the music of these excellent musicians, Lundeng's 4-CD album 111 Nordlandsslåtter (Havella, 2015)—fine interpretations of old fiddle songs—and the wonderfully eclectic Slav to the Rhythm (Division Records, 2012) by Farmers Market are recommended.

Svømmehallen Scene: A Musical Tasting

Fed and watered, the delegates boarded buses bound for Svømmehallen Scene, a former swimming pool repurposed as a live music venue. The concept to present all the showcase musicians in a continual carousel of evolving music had worked exceptionally well at Northern Expo 2018, so it was no surprise that the creative team opted to repeat the formula. The event was open to the public, a respectable number of whom turned out on this evening of musical adventure.

The lively babble of pre-concert chatter was silenced by a spotlight that suddenly tore through the gloom to illuminate a Sámi man in traditional costume, standing on a raised platform in the center of the room. Viktor Bomstad's explosive joik, delivered with open arms and clenched fists lasted less than a minute, but the effect was disproportionally powerful. His passionate cry harbored defiance, anger, or perhaps a warning. A dramatic overture, to be sure. The meaning of the joik would become clear the next day when Bomstad was one of three Sámi on a panel discussing Sámi culture.

The joik delivered, darkness enveloped Bomstad as another spotlight turned all eyes to the far side of the room where a grand piano perched on a platform halfway up tiered seating that was off-limits to the public. Pianist, composer and singer Liv Andrea Haug then cast a spell of quiet yearning. Just one song, but the talons went deep. Over the three days Haug would pop up in very different settings, demonstrating an uncommon musical breadth. To the main stage then, and two synth-pop/electronic songs from singer Maud (Kristine Hoff), with drummer Tibor Teskeredzic and keyboardist Birk Lindsjørn bringing real-time beats—and heart—to the singer's anthemic club vibe.

Ambient soundscapes afforded the stage crew a couple of minutes to wheel out one set-up and whisk in another, this time for Ume Sámi singer Katarina Barruk's band, which featured Arnljot Lindsjørn Nordvik (guitar), Christo Stangness (bass), Vegard Bjerkan (keyboards), Martin Lien (drums) and Amalia Sjönneby (backing vocals, trumpet).

A physically dynamic presence, Barruk's opening joik blended tradition and her personal, non-syllabic improvisational language to ethereal effect. "Daille (Now)" a celebration of living in the moment, featured fine trumpet work from Sjönneby and highlighted Barruk's intuitive feel for uplifting textures. As the applause faded, the light switched to a high walkway at the back of the room where Estonian-born, Norway-based fiddler Johanna-Adele Jüssi sculpted dreamy folk, rhythmically lithe and melancholy in turn, backed by Christo Stangness on double bass and Bendik Kund Haanshus on guitar.

Stage-front, Sámi singer Emile Kárlsen, backed by Eskil Løkstad Hansen (keyboards), Espen Mortensen (bass) and Joakim Åsmund Hansen (drums) played two compositions of melodically catchy, rhythmically driving character. Strumming an acoustic guitar, Kárlsen's infectious energy was hard to resist. The room darkened once more. An ambient drone of industrial hue reverberated around the hall for two minutes while the technicians readied the stage for Nonne, the duo of drummer Erlend Skotnes and singer/guitarist Gustav Peder Eidsvik Repetitive, whose insistent beats, mantra-like guitar riffs and vocal hooks made for a stripped-down but potent aesthetic. Psych-rock music to dance to.

The final act saw Emile Kárlsen intone, first in Norwegian and then in English: "And when everything is past, nothing is to be heard anymore. Nothing. And just that nothing is loud and clear." It was a poetic ending to 50 minutes of striking musical choreography—artfully conceived, impressively guided by the sound, lights and stage crew and delivered with passion by the revolving cast of musicians.

Day Two: Fleinvær

The overworked sun was up early on Friday morning. The day ahead promised two concerts, each on separate islands about an hour's ferry journey from Bodö. Hundreds of low islands and rocky islets populate the sea, many of the larger ones inhabited. The ferry stopped at Fleinvær, (population 10) where disembarking delegates were met by a man holding a crudely fashioned sign bearing the legend "Local Guy (de)." It was no word of a lie.

The local in question was Håvard Lund, musician and creator of The Arctic Hideaway, an artists' retreat that offers, well, almost nothing. And that is the selling point. There are no shops, no roads and no cars here. Just a collection of thirteen wooden houses of simple rustic charm that provide a place to sleep and work. Writers, people writing Ph.D.s, and all manner of creatives come here to embrace the serenity and knuckle down to work without distractions. A communal house serves as the social and dining space.

"Lack of choices is one of the nicest things out here," Lund explained. "You don't have auditive disturbances..." he continued, as a small drone buzzed overhead with perfect comic timing. "We offer only this nature. Swimming temperature is quite stable all the year round," he said with a straight face, having already alluded to winter temperatures of minus 10 degrees Farenheit.

The setting is idyllic. The Northern Lights, when they come out to play, are spectacular, but for Lund the real treat is the star-laden sky at night. "The stars are something unbelievable," Lund enthused. "Really, the Northern Lights get in the way."

Doubtless more than one of the delegates was wondering whether they had a book, an epic poem or a concerto in them—any excuse to decamp to Fleinvær for a blissful retreat from their respective madding crowds.

Johanna-Adele Jüssi

After some most welcome bread, cheese, chocolate sponge cake and coffee in the communal house—as ever, the Norwegian hosts were kind and hospitable to a fault—Estonian-born, Norway-based fiddler Johanna-Adele Jüssi presented a 45-minute set of original compositions that drew from the albums Slåtter fra Gaupdalen III (Ta:lik 2021) and Slåtter fra Gaupdalen IV ( Ta:lik, 2024). Accompanying the fiddler were double bassist Christo Stangness and guitarist Bendik Lund Haanshus.

Jüssi has journeyed far and wide, dropping anchor in Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Scotland, and absorbing a broad musical vocabulary along the way. Stangness and Haanshus are also musical polyglots whose respective musical travels have embraced folk, jazz and classical. Little wonder then that myriad colors seeped into Jüssi's musical quilt. By her own admission Jüssi has found it a challenge to place her compositions within a clearly identifiable frame. Yes, there were elements of Estonian and Norwegian folk music, but strains of Scottish airs also filtered through at times.

For Jüssi, the answer to the question "but what does she play?" was to wrap her music in a concept, The Lynx Valley. This imaginary realm, born of a dream, is where Jüssi lives when she composes or performs. Throughout the set she recalled the dream as it had returned to her—praising the values of this land of milk and honey, a place where gender equality is a reality, where the economy is circular, and where food is organic. Above all, it is a home where her hybrid music makes perfect sense.

Storytelling is a stage craft that can draw in an audience before a note is played, and Jüssi fully demonstrated her charms in this regard. It was interesting to hear and observe afterwards just how impressed—howseduced—delegates had been by the stories that framed the music. Still, the most arresting stories were in the music itself, which spanned folksy reel, graceful waltz and, on "Salmetone," ethereally cinematic soundscapes. On this latter tune, Jüssi's spare lyricism glided over fuzz-toned bowed bass and guitar atmospherics.

Handsome heads and pretty melodic contours were the norm, though looser, improvised passages arose here and there, as on "Plan B." Curiously, a Scottish-tinged ode to a departed friend that brought tears to more than one set of eyes in the audience was more graceful ballad than lament. A darker, more melancholy lyricism pervaded "Russia on the Other Side," which invited a compelling solo from Stangness of brooding character, and fiery intensity from both fiddle and guitar.

The musicians received a standing ovation, and once the applause had faded, the trio offered the gentle "Alt blir bra," where gentle strum and tip-toeing pizzicato made for the softest of landings.

Panel Discussion: Sami Music And The High North

It is not possible to understand the culture, politics and history of Northern Norway, the High North, without knowing the history of the Sámi people. Those best placed to tell the story are the Sámi themselves. Katarina Barruk, Viktor Bomstad and Emile Kárlsen, Sámi artists who lit up the opening night of Northern Expo, made up the panel, moderated by Arctic journalist and editor of the newspaper High North News, Arne O. Holm.

By way of introduction Holm painted a modern-day picture of the geopolitics of the High North, comprising the Arctic states of Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, Denmark (Greenland), Russia, Canada and the USA (Alaska). Norway contributes the highest number of people in the Arctic, with 9% of Norwegians living above the Arctic Circle. Holm cautioned against believing that the serenity and beauty of this part of the world means that all is well. Norway, he stated, has been on a heightened state of alert since Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022, with a significant increase in naval/military activity as a result. "We really feel that we have an aggressive neighbor on the other side of the border," Holm said, adding that the very concept of borders is strange to many people in a region where populations have traditionally straddled huge areas, trading and moving freely. He then asked the panelists to introduce themselves.

Katarina Barruk described herself as from the Swedish part of Sábmie—the cultural region of the Sámi, divided between Russia, Finland, Sweden and Norway. She spoke of the "colonization" of the Sámi's traditional lands by these states. It is a matter of personal pride for Barruk that she grew up with the Ume Sámi language, but she added that the language is on UNESCO's red list of critically endangered languages. Barruk spoke of her family as culturally "activist," noting that her father wrote the Ume Sámi dictionary. She struck an optimistic note, acknowledging a cultural revival whereby young children are learning the Ume Sámi language.

Viktor Bomstad, joiker, guitarist and improvisational musician, combines traditional and experimental music. He grew up on a goat farm on the Norwegian side of the border near the coast. He related that the Sámi language was not his mother tongue as a child. In fact, his grandmother was the last generation who spoke the Sámi language before it was suppressed by church and state. Bomstad, who only learned Sámi in later years, is dedicated to "revitalizing" the language and the joik tradition, which had almost disappeared as a result of the bans.

Bomstad described as "brutal" the suppression of their language and culture within the education system and alluded to the sense of inferiority foisted upon Sámi people by the dominant culture.

Hailing from the same area as Bomstad, Emile Kárlsen hailed as historic the fact two Sámi artists practicing traditional joiks should emerge from the same place and time—it signalled, he said, a bright future. A musician, actor and producer, Kárlsen learned Sámi in school as a second language. His ancestors were reindeer herders who came from both the Swedish and Finnish side. "Borders for our people are a strange concept..." he said wistfully.

The three artists were invited to discuss the differences and similarities between their respective music, and the relative meaning of terms such as "traditional" and "modern" where joiking is concerned. Kárlsen and Barruk agreed that a traditional joik instantly becomes modern when music is added. Barruk opined that the music that Sámi artists like herself and Kárlsen are making is as experimental, in a way, as much Western music accorded the same tag. Bomstad observed that the experimentation has been going on for decades, with traditional Sámi artists combining joik with other genres, including jazz, since the '60s. "The Sámi music scene has always been quite progressive," he noted.

For all three artists, what defines Sámi music is not so easy to verbalize, but certainly Sámi language, they agreed, is an important marker—though not the only one. Bomstad spoke of more abstract elements, describing joiking as a manifestation of ideas or emotions. "Joik, in a way, is a language itself," said Kárlsen, taking up the thread. "You don't need words. You use your dynamics in your voice, and that speaks to something inside of us ... in that way I hope we are speaking to your hearts."

With traditional songs, Bomstad added, the lyrics are not set in stone—they can be played with. Some joiks have no words. The joik Bomstad had sung at the opening concert contained just one word, which translates as "complaint" or "to rebel."

The lyrics of the three artists address many topics: history; the existential; daily life; nature; love; and the immediate environment. "I visit my home area a lot when I sing and joik," explained Barruk.

Bomstad's crossover songs, he explained, are built on short phrases that are more concerned with atmosphere than storytelling. When Holm asked if their songs were political Barruk spoke of her right to be artistically free to express herself as she wishes, without being placed in a box by critics. Hers was not a defensive answer, but an eloquent statement that nevertheless rejected reductive understandings of Sámi artists. While not overtly identifying as activists or as writing political songs, all three concurred that the very act of singing and joiking on stage in a Sámi language, in Sámi attire, is a form of political act, or as Bomstad put it, "a tiny act of rebellion."

Karlsen put their status as Sámi artists who joik on stage into greater perspective when he shared the story that his mother, who like many of her generation was bullied at school, only began to wear Sámi clothes in 2020.

A brief Q&A session followed which revealed the extent of Sámi languages and the similarities/differences between them. Karlsen related how if you started in the east, on the Russian side, and a Sámi there sent a message that passed through each Sámi language, then it would be understood by every linguistic group, east to west and north to south. But if the same message were passed directly from the northern Sámi to the southern Sámi the message would not be understood.

To the question as to how the Sámi elders feel about what they do as Sámi artists—the same elders who suffered bullying at school and linguistic persecution, and who fought for their rights—Bomstad provided some important context. He spoke of the very particular strand of Christian conservatism in the area he grew up in, whereby only religious singing is permitted. "Dancing and singing was considered a sin," he stated simply. As for his own grandmother, Bomstad reflected honestly that she would likely have disapproved of his career choice initially, but hopes, he added—were she alive—that she would be proud of his wholehearted embrace and promotion of Sámi identity.

Karlsen hailed the activism of his grandmother for Sámi rights at a difficult time, saying how her struggle had made the way easier for him: "I think about that a lot..." he acknowledged. "She worked hard and now we see the results of what she was working for. I am pretty sure, that both our grandmothers would be proud."

Nordnorsk Jazzensemble with Liv Andrea Hauge

From Fleinvær, a boat ferried delegates to the island of Arnøy Brygge, situated in an area of deep-sea fishing. Halibut is plentiful here. Big halibut. Photos of proud fisherfolk with their catches, most weighing in excess of 100 lbs., adorn the walls to the entrance of the island's restaurant. Food was once again looming large, but first there was more music to digest.

By way of introduction, Ulla Stina Wiland of Nordnorsk Jazzsenter explained the raison d'etre behind Nordnorsk Jazz ensemble. Founded in 2020, this revolving cast of some of Northern Norway's most prominent jazz/improvising musicians aspires to highlight the musical diversity of the region. "It has been important to us that our productions should reflect the northern Norwegian cultural heritage," Wiland told the audience.

Previously, Nordnorsk Jazzensemble had performed music that responded to climate, nature and the Sámi. For this Northern Expo gig, the ensemble welcomed trumpeter Arve Henriksen into its ranks for a new work entitled "Kaipu," based on kvääni history. The kvääni (or Kveni) is an ethnic minority in Norway that migrated here from Northern Finland and Northern Sweden over the course of several hundred years, the largest migrations taking place in the 18th and 19th centuries. Norwegian state policy repressed the kvääni language and culture, a similar policy of acculturation that was also perpetrated against the Sámi.

"A culture's wealth has been made invisible," Wiland continued, "and we want to contribute to lifting it up and making it visible." The task, she said, should be a national one, as the preservation of the kvääni culture is also a question of national cultural heritage. "Kaipu"—the title of Nordnorsk Jazzensemble's third project—means "longing" and reflects what has been lost, and the experiences of the kvääni people.

But first, pianist/vocalist Liv Andrea Hauge introduced two of her original compositions. "Red," a hypnotic slice of art-pop written in December 2023 in response to the war in Gaza, featured mantra-like vocals and a repetitive groove, suggestive of the relentless assault on the Palestinians. "Again" offered striking contrast, with Hauge's introspective anatomy of a breakup steering a dreamy course, uplifted by Hauge's and Frida Lydia Hansen's bewitching vocal harmonizing, and crowned by an aching solo from guitarist Viktor Wilhelmsen.

Eight musicians comprised Nordnorsk Jazzensemble: Mariann Torse (harmonium); Louisa Danielsson (electronics); Arve Henriksen (trumpet); Frida Lydia Hansen (vocals}; Adrian Danielsen (keyboards}; Svein Schultz (electric bass); Aleksander Kostopoulos (drums/percussion); and Viktor Wilhelmsen (guitar). The group occupied the centre of the restaurant in circular formation with the audience seated around the musicians, with a small number of delegates occupying chairs in the middle of the circle, an in-the-trenches vantage point for sure, but one that required a little neck stretching.

Though broken up into song-like segments inviting applause, Nordnorsk Jazzensemble's set had the feel of a suite, with elements such as electronically filtered trumpet, drone, trumpet-cum-vocal unison melodies and traditional folk song—vibrantly reimagined—recurring throughout. At times, the music simmered restlessly, steered by abstract electronic soundscaping. At others, a strong rhythmic current carried the ensemble as one, the swell punctuated by jazz-inflected solos from trumpet, keyboards and bass.

A quasi carnivalesque gaiety colored the reworked folk songs, and humor was a fairly constant vein in the music. At the core, however, and despite pockets of experimentalism, the music displayed great lyricism, particularly from Henriksen. With electronic manipulation, his trumpet took on the qualities of a ney flute at a certain juncture. Harmonizing with Hansen or soloing freely, he left an indelible mark on the music.

Torse steered her harmonium from somber church-like sonorities at one pole and circus-romp at the other. In the terrain between she lent subtle textures throughout. By turn, dreamy and slow burning, then rhythmically charged, the octet's music spanned traditional folk, spoken word, jazz, electronic, rock and a splash of reggae. A short encore featured Hansen in a spare rendition of a folk song with soft harmonium textures for companionship.

Nordnorsk Jazzensemble's endlessly engaging musical performance earned a rousing ovation. The kvääni musical industry is still very much in its infancy; minority status was only granted to the kvääni in 1995, while official linguistic status was only recognized in 2005. It will be interesting to see in the years to what extent kvääni culture flourishes, and whether kvääni musicians might participate in any future editions of Northern Expo.

A seafood feast ensued, with platters, stacked trays and bowls of a bewildering variety of finned, clawed and shelled meat, all washed down with Italian white. The ferry journey back to Bodö was memorable for the captain's to-the-point safety instructions. "Your life jacket is under your seat," he informed everyone before retiring. If only airlines followed such a less-is-more policy.

Day Three: Liv Andrea Hauge Trio

Saturday morning was blissfully free from scheduled programming, with the first official engagement being a buffet lunch courtesy of Music Norway. Some used the free time to check out the local sauna. A few opted for an excursion along the spectacular road coast and a walk through a cool forest leading to a tranquil crescent beach. Others, perhaps having kept the sun company beyond midnight, did not surface.

Post-lunch, a long day of showcase concerts unfolded. First up, was the Liv Andrea Hauge Trio. The venue was the Store Studio. Built by BBC engineers in the '60s, the studio is referred to in these parts as Nordland's Abbey Road.

Hauge had already demonstrated her singular talent as a songwriter on both the opening night concert and with the Nordnorsk Jazzensemble the following day. With double bassist Georgia Wartel Collins and drummer August Glännestrand, Hauge has come a long way in a short time, making her studio bow with Ville Blomster (Hubro, 2024) and winning the Zenith Award 2024—the Europe Jazz Network's award (in conjunction with 12 Points Festival) for emerging talent.

Beginning with the pretty "Gullregn," the trio's 45-minute set highlighted Hauge's effortless way with melody, her fluid improvisational flair and the trio's close-knit chemistry. Greater introspection colored the brushes-steered "Det Vokser ville blomster på månen," the song's gentle rhythm framing a fine solo from Collins—an intuitive musician. Strong compositions marked by handsome heads, sure rhythmic footing and solos of logical flow were the norm, but this trio also displayed its affinity with impressionism and a little free improvisation—in one passage embarking on an open-ended excursion that swelled grandly before Hauge sat out to allow bass and drums free rein.

A classically trained pianist, strands of both Hauge's classical technique and vocabulary filtered through here and there, but such incursions were fleeting and subtle. The lasting impression, however, was of a pianist with a distinctive, highly melodious voice and of a trio confident in the language of its discourse.

Emile Kárlsen

Not many public libraries can boast a dedicated concert room, but Bodö's Stormen library can, and it was here in the Littertursalen that Emile Kárlsen led his band of Eskil Løkstad Hansen (keyboards), Espen Mortensen (electric bass), Hallvard Braaten Steinhovden (cello) and Joakim Åsmund Hansen (drums). Wall-sized video projections of the mountains and forests of Omasvuotna that Kárlsen calls home wrapped around three sides of the room—not quite the Las Vegas Sphere, but atmospheric, nevertheless.

With acoustic guitar in hand, Kárlsen opened with a joik of his hometown, his voice soaring over a head-bobbing rhythm that gathered impetus as drums kicked in. A traditional joik of the drums—once a forbidden instrument—followed, with Kárlsen looping a droning tone that underpinned his haunting chant. In this example of stripped-back, unadorned joik there were echoes of some North American Indian chanting. The love and respect shone through in a joik of Kárlsen's grandfather, accompanied by gently keening cello, and in a sunny song celebrating the precious knowledge of elders.

A composer of well-crafted songs, Kárlsen peppered his set with more contemporary, pop-flavored material, the common denominators being instantly hummable melodies and strong rhythms. Upbeat, infectious fare contrasted with folksy lament for a war-ravaged world. The Sámi have 300 words for snow, but the most common name, "Moutha" inspired another driving pop anthem.

Kárlsen wrapped up his 45-minute set—which seemed to fly by—with "Viehkkin Erjan," a lively tune that sounded an optimistic adieu.

Maud

Singer, producer, composer and singer Kristine Hoff, professionally known as Maud, brought some high-class EDM to Northern Expo 2024. Accompanied by drummer Tibor Teskeredzic and keyboard player Birk Lindsjørn, Maud mostly delivered songs from her album The Love That Remains (2024). The singer set out her stall with "Wherever I Go," the slick production values and dynamic light play an intrinsic part of her show.

Lyrically, Maud addressed themes of nostalgia, love, loss and longing. "Stay Back" from her eponymous debut album (2021), "Forever" and "See Right Through U" walked a line between radio-friendly accessibility and club-trance chic. Lindsjørn 's ambient textures deeply colored the music, while Teskeredzic's in-the-pocket grooves brought visceral energy to the mix.

It was hard to resist "Everything I Do" or "Stranger," with their melodic hooks and insistent beats, while Maud's pure-toned voice—processed electronically intermittently—was a seductive weapon. The singer kept the club-floor bangers to the end, rounding out a highly polished performance with the pulsating "Hell of a Ride" and, without pausing for breath, the bass drum-driven, electronically swirling "Remind Me."

Maud has the talent and the tunes to light up stages and fill dance floors wherever people like their hyper-pop and electronic dance music. The Bodö native could yet go big.

Katarina Barruk

Ume Sámi singer and joiker Katarina Barruk followed her musicians onto the stage to enthusiastic applause. Her short but electrifying performance on the opening night had whetted the appetite. A sense of excitement and anticipation had been brewing all day. She did not disappoint.

An ethereal ambient soundtrack provided the canvas for Barruk's non-syllabic, improvised vocals on the opening number, "Miärralándda"—a homage to her ancestral coastal lands. The set highlighted songs from her second album, Ruhttuo (Gajhtohke Records, 2022), which translates as "boreal forest" in reference to the forest of her childhood.

Nature and Ume Sámi identity are central components of Barruk's music. Though there was beauty and celebration in her music, particularly on "Gïjđđa (Spring)" and the synth-pop flavored "Die buots die (Goodbye)," this went hand-in-hand with the fierce passion and steely, defiant edge of her more outré vocalizations and bodily gyrations. Artful lighting, courtesy of Mats Ellingsen, heightened the sense of theatre, while sound technician Håkon Pettersen also deserves mention for the excellent mix.

Before singing the power ballad "Jimmatje," Barruk expressed her pride that this song about female intuition became the first song sung in Ume Sámi to be played on Norway's popular P3 Radio, a milestone that she described as "huge" for her personally, but also in the history of the Sámis' struggle for their rights. "It has been a long journey to reach that," she told the audience.

Activism is in the Barruk family bloodline. Caressing her multicolored hair adornment, the baarkaldahke, Barruk recalled that her great-grandmother wore one very similar. Her great-great grandmother's sister, Elsa Laula, was an activist in the late 19th century and early 20th century, "the greatest champion of Sámi rights," Barruk said in an emotive discourse on the struggle of her people, then and now, simply to be free. It was the prelude to "Ij gåssieke," a song of longing for the old customs, the old ways, and a warning to never let go.

It was apt that Barruk closed with a traditional joik, "Ubmejen jiännuo (Ume River)." The river has been tamed by design, but Barruk recalled seeing it as a child, in full flow. Her joik, as wild and free as the old river she described, felt like a battle cry. A powerful pop anthem closed the set before Barruk encored with a haunting solo piece in memory of her mother.

Beforehand, Barruk had thanked the audience, making special mention of the Sámi—all in traditional clothes—that were in attendance. Sámi husband and wife, Hans-Arne and Marion, had traveled seven hours to see the concerts of Emile Kárlsen and Katrina Barruk. Since the early '90s they have been supporting the wonderfully named Riddu Riđđu (Small Storm At The Coast), a festival originally founded to promote Sámi music and culture that has since developed to include Indigenous/minority cultures from around the world. Held in Olmmáivággi in July, the 2024 edition features, among others, Russia's Pussy Riot and Sámi legend Mari Boine. Storytellers ...

Nonne

The final act of Northern Expo was Tromsø psych-electric rock duo Nonne. Drummer Erlend Skotnes and guitarist/vocalist Gustav Peder Eidsvik entered wearing dark sunglasses, positioned themselves at opposite ends of the stage, and without preamble launched into "Due," whose burrowing four-note riff and metronomic beat set the tone for the next 45 minutes.

Singing in Northern Norwegian, Eidsvik used loops sparingly to effect dark synth drones or to maintain a riff during his short, spiky solos. From one song to the next, the guitarist's killer riffs varied in small but telling ways—one or two notes more, one note less. Skotnes' unwavering rhythms, spiced by tension-releasing cymbal splashes, exerted a similarly hypnotic effect. Eidsvik's six-note riff on "Ikke normal" could almost have come from Hawkwind's early '70s heyday, his strings growling like Lemmy Kilmister's bass.

Nonne cite Krautrock and '90s Manchester rock bands as influences, but they perhaps have more in common with the stripped-back, relentlessly grooving vibe of '70s Turkish psych-rockers Erkin Koray or Hülya Süer. Whatever seeps into their music, consciously or otherwise, Nonne's booty-shaking grooves provoked some serious dancing.

The slower groove of "Kun en passasjer" brought an effective change of pace, if not style. In a moment of spontaneity, Eidsvik threw some water over the dancers. He got some back with interest, wrapped in a plastic bottle. Now that was Madchester. The duo took the music up a gear or two in the home stretch, their deep reservoir of mighty riffs, danceable grooves and vocal melodies holding the audience transfixed until the final note.

Wrap-up

The takeaways from Northern Expo 2024 were numerous. First and foremost, however, was the music, which was uniformly of an excellent standard. The three Sámi artists, Viktor Bomstad, Katarina Barruk and Emile Kárlsen reminded everyone of the beauty of their respective cultures, but also of the precarity of the Sámi languages and practices that run the risk of disappearing unless actively promoted and cared for. In various ways and to various degrees, these Sámi musicians—and others like them—are both cultural guardians and activists, in addition to being highly individual artists. Journalist Arne O. Holm was right when he said at the end of the panel talk that he thought their elders, past and present, must be proud of them.

As recently as the 1990s Sámi signposts in Norway were defaced and even shot at in modern-day hate crimes that echoed the systematic persecution of Sámi peoples and the process of acculturation suffered by them over the last couple of centuries. The fact that national radio has only recently played Ume Sámi music for the first time must give pause for thought about how far Norway still has to travel. Through the prism of music, Northern Expo also helps advance the cause of Norway's ethnic minorities, thus promoting a cultural heritage to be valued by all Norwegians.

Early in Katarina Barruk's set on Saturday evening she told the audience: "The Ume Sámi language is on UNESCO's red list of critically endangered languages but many Ume Sámis are taking the language back. So, we have a bright future, I must believe." Northern Expo is playing its part in helping create this bright future. The organisations behind Northern Expo (Scene Nord, Musikkontoret Nord, Nordnorsk Jazzsenter and Folkemusikk Nord) deserve plaudits for their dedication in promoting the music and culture of Northern Norway in all its diversity.

Comments

Tags


Support All About Jazz

Get the Jazz Near You newsletter All About Jazz has been a pillar of jazz since 1995, championing it as an art form and, more importantly, supporting the musicians who create it. Our enduring commitment has made "AAJ" one of the most culturally important websites of its kind, read by hundreds of thousands of fans, musicians and industry figures every month.

How You Can Help

To expand our coverage even further and develop new means to foster jazz discovery and connectivity we need your help. You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky ads plus provide access to future articles for a full year. This winning combination will vastly improve your AAJ experience and allow us to vigorously build on the pioneering work we first started in 1995. So enjoy an ad-free AAJ experience and help us remain a positive beacon for jazz by making a donation today.

Near

More

Jazz article: 45th Annual Tri-C JazzFest
Jazz article: Budapest Ritmo 2024
Live Review
Budapest Ritmo 2024
Jazz article: Whiplash In Concert At Barbican Hall

Popular

Get more of a good thing!

Our weekly newsletter highlights our top stories, our special offers, and upcoming jazz events near you.