A Scandinavian musical state of mind

The band of SVER.| Photo by Tom Gustavsen.

Hailing from Røros, Norway, SVER seeks to bring fresh perspective and energy to traditional Scandinavian folk music.

The quintet brings their bold energetic brand of Norwegian Folk Music to the Rogue Folk Club on Jan. 16.

A rich history and sound

Nearly every region of the world has its own kind of folk music. Some characteristics are similar between regions, such as the presence of stories that tell of local history and legend. But each region tends to have its own essence, or some kind of signifier that distinguishes it, like a particular instrument, rhythm, or recurring theme.

Olav Mjelva, one of the founding members of SVER, a Norwegian Folk Rock group hailing from the small town of Røros, got into music at an early age. In addition to taking up the violin at the young age of six, he and the other band members grew up with no shortage of traditional Norwegian music. Røros’ particularly “rich and living” folk scene immersed its inhabitants in story, music and sound.

Mjelva and the rest of band are no stranger to the features of the folk music of their region. The sound and use of the Hardanger fiddle, he says, can be an important characteristic. But even with their background, the essence of the “Scandi Sound” can sometimes be difficult to describe. It is more than just a story or a melody.

“Nordic Music can be many things, but the music we play, based on Norwegian and Swedish folk, has a special sound,” says Mjelva. “It’s hard to describe, but it is something with that underlying intensity and the way of harmonizing and playing second voices.”

For Mjelva and the band, it’s been a challenging but engaging journey to pin down the “essence” of traditional Scandinavian folk music. But in more recent years, the goal has been to not only recreate the regional traditional music, but also to also build upon it and make it the band’s own.

“The idea behind it was originally to play the music from Røros with a new approach,” says Mjelva. “We love the old, traditional way of playing, but the thing was that nearly nobody had done anything else with the music, and we knew it would be possible.”

Indeed, Mjelva says that when the band started incorporating the guitar, rock elements, and the Hardanger fiddle, it opened up a new realm of creativity and musical expression. The Hardanger fiddle has four to five more strings than the standard violin, which resonate from the playing of the other four.

“We started making tunes ourselves, partly because it was easier to arrange, but also because [the Hardanger fiddle] gave us new possibilities in keys, tempos and so on,” says Mjelva. “Nowadays, I think we have found our sound. We make most of the music ourselves, but it’s of course in the Scandinavian style.”

Tradition and innovation

For Mjelva and the band, having the freedom to build upon their traditional music is key. While the original material carries meaning for the band, what’s most exciting is moving in a new direction.

“I wouldn’t say that our mission is to share traditional music or inspire people to learn about Nordic culture, but the traditional music is what we know and what we love to play. If we can inspire people on the way, that’s a great bonus,” says Mjelva.

So while the band enjoys sharing their music and heritage with other audiences, this comes second to achieving what many folk songs from across the globe were made for: creating an danceable, energetic, and fun space to enjoy the moment.

“We aim to get the groove going and [getting into] to a musical state of mind when everything just flows, when the energy is just right and you don’t have to think very much,” he says. “Also, when the crowd gets going; dancing, cheering; that is very rewarding. Most of all, we just love making and playing music together.”

For more information, please visit www.roguefolk.bc.ca

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