Gjallarhorn, Ranarop -- Call of the Sea Witch (Warner Finlandia, 1997)
Gjallarhorn is a foursome from Ostrobothnia, the Swedish speaking area of Finland. They are tightly bound to both folk music traditions, and ancient mythology. Musically, the band is a mixture of fiddle, mandola, didgeridoo, and percussion, with vocals provided by Jenny Wilhelms. Ranarop is an amazing album, with a singular sound which makes the band appear to be larger than it is. The songs deal with magical events, witches, gods, and the not always kind forces of the sea. The old ballads and waltzes of the region that straddles Sweden and Swedish speaking Finland is given a fresh turn by this band. The drone of the didgeridoo is used as their bass sound on most of the songs. Wilhelms' voice is cool and crisp, but with the usual rolling sound that Nordic women singers seem to be born with. The four members of Gjallarhorn are Finnish by nationality, but they sing in their native language of Swedish, and their music is Swedish in character. The members of Gjallarhorn are Finlands-Svenskar; that is, they're Swedes of Finland.
Gjallarhorn's songs include a fire-charming song, a Norwegian stev (improvised, short verse), and the striking high-pitched Swedish kulning (originally, literally cow calls), but the majority are Finnish-Swedish ballads, primarily those concerning the twins of natural and magical forces rather than the more traditional bloody heroic tales. Don't worry about not understanding Swedish -- Warner Finlandia has done a smashing job of providing comprehensive liner notes that are in English and Swedish!
Kristen Haaland, on her Web site, complicates the nationality question a bit more: 'If one compares Sweden and Norway, one will find that the vocal Swedish folk music tradition in many cases is younger than the Norwegian. One may also find that some of the tunes exist in both countries. One example of this is 'Jeg gikk meg ut i lunden grønn,' which the Norwegian singer Kirsten Bråten Berg describes as 'a rather young song with strong Swedish influence,' and the Swedish singer Eva Tjörnebo calls a genuine Norwegian song, that described the typical Norse way of being. For once, with one foot planted firmly in both camps, I must admit that it is nearly impossible to tell. Even the lyrics are impossible to define as either Norwegian or Swedish.'
For cold winter night wehere I have not a palce to be, this recording and a pint of Finlandia Sahti will do just fine.
[Ian Nicholas Mackenzie]