Sirens You Can Trust
Listening Post 206. The title track of Kom (Come), Kongero’s fourth album, is a siren song—traditional, to be sure, but meant to beguile listeners in real time: “Come, come…/You young, enticed, dazzled, wounded…/You cannot escape/Hear the bells of temptation.” The motives of the four women who offer the a cappella chant are benevolent—thankfully, because their magic actually works. To say that Kongero occupies the top of the folk-vocal pyramid in Sweden, where a cappella singing is deeply rooted and broadly popular, is both true and an understatement. Not only are they in a class by themselves, they created their own genre: “Swedish folk’appella.” Uniting traditional songs and their own 21st-century compositions and arrangements, applying tight harmonies to both lyric-based and lilting songs (with captivating vocables that transcend verbal communication), they give new meaning to the concept of human-voice-as-ultimate-musical-instrument. In the dance melody Gökpolska (Cuckoo Bird Polska), you can let the sound—yam-ta-dididi-dam—carry you to your own blissful understanding (video 1). The enchanting Förste maj (First of May) is an ode to spring that advises, “Banish tears and clouded minds/Banish yammer of all kinds” (video 2). Two traditional herding songs—one Swedish, one Finnish—meet seamlessly in Kling klang (Tinkle Tinkle, video 3); and TV-vals (TV Waltz) got its name when one group member saw a fiddle tune played on television, after which the women substituted vocal syllables for strings (video 4). Another key track: Din tanke i min (Your Thought in Mine) is a tender love song by Prince Wilhelm Bernadotte, a Swedish royal renowned as a writer and poet. The word kongero means “spider,” chosen, perhaps, because the ensemble weaves an intricate web of harmonies. Or is it spells? Not to worry—in the near certain probability of surrender to this extraordinary music, your life is safe. But they will take your breath away. (Dimma Sweden)
Kongero – the voices:
Lotta Andersson, Emma Björling, Anna Larsson, Anna Wikenius
Gökpolska/Cuckoo Bird Polska
Music: Traditional from Värmland (west-central Sweden)/Arrangement: Kongero/ Lead: Emma Björling & Anna Larsson
from the album notes: A groovy dance tune, that our former member, Lovisa, introduced to the band. It’s been with us for a long time, and by now the tune has made living rooms, pubs, churches, festivals, and concert halls rock and sway all over the world.
Förste maj/First of May
Lyrics: SHL , adapted by Emma Björling/Music, Arrangement and Lead: Emma Björling
A song filled with the energy of spring, with lyrics by one of Emma’s favorite poets. She found this poem in a book of poetry in her family’s home
(from the Swedish lyrics)
Sing and cheer for the spring, it is the 1st of May today!/Banish tears and clouded minds, banish yammer of all kinds
Embrace your true friend and gaze into his eyes/If you may kiss your girl, do so, joyfully, and empty your glass of wine
O! When the morning mist descends from the sky dark and gray/and toward us, the sun glistens, we can’t help but smile too
Let the hazy darkness of the heart fall, the sun, the spark of eternity/will then shine for all of us in its full glory
Brooks roar, bird song cheering from every tree/Billow playing, no longer captive, fantasy playing along
When the day has past, the shadow of night will fall like a veil/still transparent with its dimmed light
Kling klang/Tinkle Tinkle
Lyrics & Music: Traditional from Värmland & Traditional from Finland/Arrangement: Anna Wikenius/ Lead: Anna Larsson & Anna Wikenius
Two herding songs put together.
(from the Swedish lyrics):
Tinkle, tinkle, the bell is singing, the calf is dancing and its rump is swinging/This song was not long
Tinkle, tinkle, the bell is ringing, get up and pick some moss
The day is long, my belly is empty and there is not enough food in the pouch?Stjärna, my cow, is lost in the mountains
If I cannot find her/I will get a taste of the birch later this evening
The aspen tree asked me to search/The linden tree asked me to rest
The birch tree promised me chastisement when evening came
Music: Traditional from Jämtland (central Sweden)/Arrangement: Anna Wikenius/ Lead: Lotta Andersson & Anna Larsson
From the album notes: Anna Wikenius fell in love with this cheerful waltz one day when the fiddle oracle Kjell-Erik Eriksson played it for her. The fiddler Olle Falk once played it on TV and that’s how it got its name. We all adore this smile-evoking tune!
4 thoughts on “Kongero: Kom”
Ain’t they wonderful?
Tip of the hat to you.
My greatest concern was going over the top: I was inclined to say something like, “If Bach didn’t have instruments, this is what he would have sounded like.”
I LOVE Kongero, but they didn’t exactly create Swedish folk a cappella. Kraja started a few years before them in 2002, and Irmelin in 1999. Over here in Norway, my friends in Smyr started in 1997, and Eplemøya Songlag in the same year as Kongero, 2005. The youngest I know of is the Swedish Åkervinda from 2013. All these are all-women, small a cappella groups who sing traditional secular and religious songs as well as own original works.
There are probably a lot of smaller similar groups who have never made an album, connected to Norway and Sweden’s rich choral tradition.
Thanks for your comment. Thanks also for the insight on the other folk a cappella groups from Norway and Sweden.
I didn’t mean to suggest that Kongero created folk a cappella; in fact, my review pointed out that it is deeply rooted in Sweden. What I tried to convey — and maybe I could have said it better — was that Kongero has created their own brand, by combining modern touches with traditional a cappella and (especially) by coining the term “folk’appella.” If you google the term, only Kongero comes up.
Best wishes, Alan