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  • David Bentley

Norway – National Memorial Day Concert

This post is over a week after the event but finding footage of it was difficult so thanks to Norwegian musician Hanne Mari Karlsen for locating this recording and sending it on. You should be able to access it in the UK and in most countries.

On 22nd July a number of Norway's greatest artists gathered in Oslo’s Spektrum venue to honour the victims of the terrorism 10 years ago in the government quarter of the capital and on Utøya Island. Theevent featured speeches by the King of Norway, and Prime Minister Erna Solberg amongst others. There was also an artistic programme with a number of leading Norwegian musicians from varying backgrounds and we’ll focus on them here. You may recall that in the immediate aftermath of the terrorism in 2011 there was almost a spontaneous, impromptu musical remembrance festival held that involved Norwegian and international artists.

As in that case this was an emotional and sombre event as it should be. We have long grown accustomed to murderous terrorism in the UK but you get the impression that it will take many decades in Norway before this date in the calendar no longer hurts. But at the same time it is not one without hope. There were in total 22 sections to it, including speeches, statements and literary readings in addition to the musical performances. Each one can easily be identified at the bottom of the screen.

Those musical performances were led by Highasakite, with ‘Too Early’ from their ‘Uranium Heart’ album. I’ve heard this song several times before but I’d never suspected it might be connected to the events of 22nd July 2011. Several lines in it do hint at that possibility. The performance is notable for what looks like the Terracotta Warriors coming to life, exactly the sort of tasteful just so extravaganza that Ingrid Håvik is renowned for, and one that works remarkably well. It’s difficult to count the dancers but I suspect there are 77 of them; one for each person who died.

This is the first time I’d encountered Marja Mortensson, a young South Saami yoiker (a traditional form of song in Sámi music performed by the Sámi people of Sapmi in Northern Europe, which crosses Norway, Sweden and Finland) from the Svahken Sïjte reindeer herding district, in Hedmark County. Hers is the sort of language where it looks like your fingers got caught up in a typewriter keyboard to paraphrase Tom Wolfe, but her voice, the accompaniment and what I assume is ‘national dress’ are superb.

Stig Brenner is a well-known rapper in Norway but I’ve never heard rap delivered like this.

Marthe Haaland Wang is a folk singer-songwriter from Bergen, who’s only been recording and performing since 2017. Again, another discerning song and performance.

Dagny’s style can be quite brash and in your face and I wondered what she would perform here. It turns out to be an anti-war ballad, skilfully delivered and with the return of the dancers.

Odd Nordstoga is one of Norway’s most famous musicians, having become the country’s biggest selling artist with his debut solo album in 2004. Since then he’s become known as crossover artist, working in a panoply of styles, everything from electronica to hip hop, and he appeared here with numerous ‘friends’ – I count nine of them on stage, plus backing singers – collectively performing in different vocal styles. One of them is our old friend Sol Heilo. When I discovered she was performing here I wondered if it might have been a solo spot with her song ‘When my country died’, which I’ve long suspected might be at least partly concerned with 22nd July 2011, and which would have been incredibly apt on the title alone,but it wasn’t to be.

After that there are two separate rap songs, one by 19-year old Somalian-Norwegian Musti (‘Gro Harlem Brundtland’, after the politician and first female prime minister of Norway) and another by Hkeem (‘Ghetto Parasite’), which I guess is his take on ‘Gangsta’s Paradise’ and which won him the Spellemanprisen 2018 [Norwegian Grammy] for best video.

In a way I get it. Both are immigrants to Norway (in the case of Musti via the UK) and the organisers want to celebrate diversity, which is what the young folk who died on Utøya doubtless stood for as well, as socialist activists. And Musti’s song is quite good. But Hkeem’s seems too violent both musically and in its performance for a memorial concert. Those government workers and passers-by who were killedand injured in the centre of Oslo probably had no connection whatsoever to rap and “warring 24/7 ghetto parasites.” Perhaps I’m just old school, but for me it isn’t an appropriate song.

The concert plays out with the highly respected Fay Wildhagen, performing ‘When I let go’ with orchestral backing and which is much more like it and especially in the way it plays out. A fitting finale.

The entire event is well worth watching, including the prose parts.

You can find the concert here.


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