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World Tracks

Førde fest rocks fjords

Audio 22:55
Knut Utler

In the land of fjords, elks, and endless summer days, there is a festival which has been celebrating world music cultures for the past two decades. Indeed, each July since 1990, the 11,000 people in Fjorde have seen their town transformed by music.


The imagination and hard work of Førde Folk Music Festival director Hilde Bjorkum and her dedicated team have made Førde a hub of exchange between local folk music, and sounds from round the world.

“Each year, you get that brrrrrrrm, that extra bounce thanks to this festival.” Young journalist Kamilla Mygland-Storaker has a hard time containing her enthusiasm over a four-day gathering that invites hundreds of seasoned music travellers to exchange with a rather hermetic local population.

Traditionally, Førde dwellers are more used to swinging to the trademark hardanger fiddles than bopping to the likes of Honduran Aurelio Martinez or Orchestra Chekara Flamenco from Spain/Morocco. But 21 editions of the Førde Festival is beginning to change that.

Knut Utler

“Norwegian people are normally shy, closed up,” explains a regular of the annual event, as she queues up for the concert by Mauritanian singing diva Malouma. “But when the festival gets going we just open up.” And she bursts out with laughter.

Yet the theme for the 21st edition in July was anything but a laughing matter. “Freedom and Oppression” was the topic Bjorkum decided to focus on in 2010.

Bjorkum, a hardanger fiddler herself, invited 250 artists from 25 countries to illustrate the human rights challenges music faces worldwide.

“We have a long history in Norway of musical and ethnic censorship,” she told journalist Evangeline Kim (see her detailed three-part series on the festival in National Geographic).

“The hardanger fiddle had been looked upon as the "devil’s instrument", so traditional hardanger music was marginalised. Yet today we have made progress.”

The 2010 festival poster sums up the organisers’ approach to this delicate theme. It shows a bird’s cage with a winged oriental lute, the oud, and a djembe flying out through the open door.

It reflects the defiance Bjorkum and her crew have put forward in the face of widespread music censorship.

Knut Utler

“Freedom of speech is not only about the ability to say something,” Anders Heger of Norway’s PEN organisation explained in the festival programme notes. “It is also a matter of creating a basis so that what is said can be heard by anyone.”

The organisers coupled music with debates and exchanges orchestrated by Freemuse.

This Copenhagen-based NGO is devoted to freedom of expression for all those involved in music worldwide.

Each discussion was attended by dozens of festival-goers curious to understand what motivated artists to speak out.

“This festival has given me a lot of power and space,” admitted Amal Murkus. This stunning Palestinian singer from Israel’s Galilee region has devoted her career to her people’s strong musical heritage and the strength it gives to their calls for nationhood.

Norway’s state symbol is engraved on many of the hardanger fiddles played in Førde. Can you tell us what that symbol is?

The answer is in the programme. So listen and send your answers to Prizes and albums are sent for the first correct answers.

“In my country, musicians don’t have the same chance as Western musicians. I’m happy to be here because the festival is not afraid to talk about political issues and say, ‘Let’s sing for freedom’,” Murkus says.

To sing against censorship, the 90 programmed events at the Førde Folk Festival featured the likes of Swedish Sami artist Lars-Ante Kuhmenen; the Hungarian Roma group Parno Graszt, a Polish klezmer trio Kroke; exiled Uyghur musicians gathered in the London Uyghur Ensemble; the riveting Colombian joropo band Cimarron; and the Kamkars from Iran’s Kurdish minority.

It was an intriguing mixture of international stars and relatively unknown groups who flourished in the incessant July rain that fell on Førde.

Becaye Aw, a Pular from Senegal, has been enjoying a cross-cultural music career in Norway for 19 years now.

He was at the festival to sell world music albums including his own adventurous crossover release Seven Winds.

“It’s a festival of discovery for me. You can’t go wrong. Any door you open will give you quality, no matter how demanding you are,” he says.

So, Førde might win the crown as Norway’s least attractive city year in, year out. But, by general concensus, its July festival leads the world music festival circuit in audacity and imagination.

The next edition takes place between 7 and 10 July.

Albums picked by Daniel Brown for World Tracks on Radio France Internationale

Here is Daniel Brown's choice of albums played on World Tracks this month:

1) World Massala, Terrakota (Ojo! Records), Angola/Portugal. 
2) Asmara’s got soul, Asmara All Stars (Outhere), Eritrea/France. 
3) Mahmoud Ahmed & Imperial Bodyguard Band 1972-74, Ethiopiques 26, Mahmoud Ahmed (Buda Musique), Ethiopia.
4) Hinterland, An Pierlé & White Velvet (PIAS), Belgium.
5) Live in Amsterdam, ">Ceumar & Trio (Mendes-Coelho Productions)
6) Kwegne, Kareyce Fotso (Contre-Jour), Cameroon.
7) The Unlimiters, The Unlimiters (HScore Publishing), Germany. 
8) Wolf Love, OMNIA (PaganScum Records), The Netherlands. 
9) Helsinki-Shangri-La, Paleface (XO Records), Finland. 
10) For the Next Generation, Maxxo (Echo Productions), France.

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