Swedish band Garmarna creates contemporary folk firmly rooted in Nordic folk music traditions. They have developed their own sound, influenced by the rock tradition they’ve all grown up with.
Garmarna ignores the unwritten laws of how traditional music should be performed; the musicians know no boundaries. The music is half new – and newly-written – and half traditional with ancient instrumentation next to sampled drum-loops, suggestive mouth harps, tender violins and distorted guitars.
Garmarna started in January 1990, just a week after a performance of Hamlet that featured very strong, old Swedish music. Stefan, Gotte, and Rickard were inspired by the show, and they began searching for old tunes and instruments. After a year of playing together, just before their appearance at Sweden’s biggest rock festival, Jens Höglin joined the band on drums.
In autumn 1992, the band recorded an EP. They realized that female vocals would provide a light contrast to the naturally dark moods of the music. Emma Härdelin (a longtime friend of the band) guested on that record, then joined the band in early 1993, completing the lineup. The debut EP sold well in Sweden, and helped the band tour in Scandinavia.
The following year, the band decided to add samples and sequencers to the mix, giving the old tunes a modern musical foundation. Still, the heart of the music remains the harsh Swedish harmonies created by acoustic instruments, topped off by Emma’s intense vocals. The album Vittrad (“crumbling away”) was immediately hailed by the press, calling Garmarna “probably the best folkmusic band in Scandinavia.” In the deep winter of 1994, Omnium released Vittrad in the US, with full English translations of the dark old songs and an extra track Kleveberg’s Fire, pointing the way towards a new style of retro-futurist folk music (including samples from prehistoric Scandinavia.) The band made the cover of Billboard and the CMJ World chart.
1996 started with a long German tour closely followed by the album Gods Musicians / Guds Spelemän (named after a poem by Swedish poet Nils Ferlin.) The Swedish press went wild over it, the album made it to the Swedish sales charts, and it was released by Omnium in September 1996. Again, the band appeared on the cover of Billboard with rave reviews in Wired and Playboy.
Garmarna did a series of concerts in churches in the North of Sweden presenting their interpretation of the medieval works of 12th century German abbess Hildegard von Bingen, together with actress Felicia Konrad. It was Garmarna’s interpretation of her work placed in a 21st century environment. The reviews were great, the shows sold out and the audience was very enthusiastic.
In 2003, Garmarna re-released its first EP as a full album with six bonus tracks.
In 2016, the band released its sixth album titled 6.
Some of Garmarna’s album were released in the United States under Northside and Omnium.
Band members include:
Stefan Brisland-Ferner – violin, hurdy-gurdy, sampler, jews harp, viola
Emma Härdelin – vocals, violin
Jens Höglin – drums, percussion, death grunts
Gotte Ringqvist – guitar, violin, backing vocal, lute guitar, jews harp
Rickard Westman – guitar, bass, e-bow, bouzouki, lute guitar
Garmarna (1993, EP)
Vittrad (Withered) (1994)
Guds spelemän (The fiddlers of God) (1996)
Vedergällningen (Vengeance) (1999)
Hildegard von Bingen (2001)
Garmarna (2003, re-release of the 1993 EP with 6 bonus tracks)
Author: Angel Romero
Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music and progressive music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel produced several specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music and electronic music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World, Lektronic Soundscapes, and Mindchild Records. Angel is currently based in Durham, North Carolina.