FolkWorld article by Michael Moll:

Ranarim - new Swedish trad

About folk music education, generously state-sponsored recordings, and of course a great band

Ranarim, Press photo A lot is going on these days in the Swedish folk music scene. Stockholm has benefited in particular by the introduction of Folk Music Studies at the Royal Academie for Music, bringing a fresh wind of young and innovative musicians into the scene. One of the discoveries of this new wave of Swedish Folk Music is without doubt the young four piece band Ranarim. They stay close to Swedish tradition, yet they breath a fresh new life into the old music. Rather unusual is their line-up of directly two female singers, joined by a nyckelharpa player and a guitarist.

Their life performance is exceptionally good, very powerful with a lot of communication with the audience, especially of the two singers. The singers, Sofia Sandén and Ulrika Bodén, offer passionate and expressive singing, working a lot with gestures and mimic. They give fresh introductions to the songs, with both fun and "cultural background". The rhythm section Jens Engelbrecht and Niklas Roswall on guitar and nyckelharpa offer a powerful and exciting backing. The fact that the musicians stand during the concerts makes the presentation much livelier.
I could catch the musicians for an interview just before they were off to the States, to join a tour organised by the Swedish State Organisation for Folk Music, RfoD, starting with a prestigious gig at the Folk Alliance. Before going on this journey, they played the new Stockholm venue Stallet, and this is where I met them for the interview.

Ulrika, Sofia and Niklas met when studying Folk Music at the Royal Academie for Music, a place that has become a smithy for folk bands during the last few years. Studying folk music in Sweden is not typical and does not have a long tradition, explains Niklas. "10 or 12 years ago, it has been different, there were no folk music performance educations like there are now. There was only one way to study folk music in Stockholm, and that was if you were already a fiddler, then you could do a teachers' education." Now you can also study just to be a folk musician, and not only to become a teacher. Today, about 40 to 50 students in Sweden study folk music, while ten years ago it was maybe three.

Ranarim, Press photo There is a lot of discussion in the folk music circles if a folk music education is good for the music tradition. Says Ulrika: "There are many people who criticise this education at the Royal Academy. And we had some bad reviews from these people, they think folk music has to be as it always has been, passed on just like a tradition. I think if this school would be situated somewhere else, in the deep woods, it would be different, I think the critics would not be so hard against the education." She herself thinks that times have changed, and believes that the education is very good for the music. "It gave a new status to the music, folk music has come up."

I wonder if Ranarim then think if the traditional music changes by studying it, maybe getting more academic, more artificial? Niklas does not think so, "maybe just in some way; and some people do it like that. Still most people study and then play not academic anyway I think." For Ulrika, it is most of all an opportunity to learn and play folk music full time. "It does not mean that you play it in an academic way, but you can do it full time, and then there might happen a lot with the music in a very positive way. That is the point that you can study it full time. Maybe it changes because of that, I don't know."

Jens adds: "Most of the people who do that education have a folk music background. They are playing folk music several years before they trying to discourse. Almost as a criteria to play in the folk music courses."
This is actually true for two of Ranarim: Sofia and Niklas have grown up with traditional music, starting in the family to play fiddle, and joining later on a "Spelmansslag" (kind of folk music orchestra, which is very traditional in Sweden). Sofia then later on moved to singing, while Niklas went over to the Nyckelharpa. Ulrika meanwhile studied also folk music at the Academy, yet she only came to folk music in the age of 16, after having bought an LP of Folk och Rackare in library sales, and directly falling in love with the ballads, so she started to sing herself. Jens himself is the "black lamb" in Ranarim, not having studies music, and not having the typical folk musician background. He has played Jazz and Rock, before he also started to play folk 10 years ago. He thinks that he has therefor a slightly different approach to the music.

During the study programme at the Academy, the students are educated basically in the real traditional way the music has been played. Still the school has also become a melting pot for new and exciting fusions between folk and other music styles. Sofia: "You get a lot of influences when you are going to the school, as you meet the students of other music styles which are taught at the school, Jazz, Rock and Classical. I think it is like a melting pot."

Ranarim, Press photo While Sofia is still doing her last term at the Academy, Niklas and Ulrika are today full time folk musicians, and Jens works additionally part time in a bank. On the question if it is difficult to make a living out of folk music, they answer: "I don't think it is so difficult, but it is difficult to make money out of it. You can make your living, but not money."

To keep the folk music alive, and to make it possible for folk musicians to make a living, the Swedish state supports generously folk music recordings. "Almost all folk music CDs are sponsored by the Statens Kulturråd (National Cultural Council), a governmental body, because it is so small editions." This sponsoring applies not only to folk music, but to any not very commercial music. Classical Music, Jazz and even uncommercial pop music can get this funding, yet it is mainly Folk and Jazz getting the support. To apply for funding, you would send in a tape with three or four tunes. You need to have a record company to applies with you as a band for the funding. And if the application goes well, you get generous support - about four out of five of the budget, which is between 50 and 90.000 Swedish Kronor (which is ca. 6.000 to 8.000 EURO).

The joys of the Swedish welfare system, even coping very much for the folk music traditions. It is a good thing that the Swedish state is interested in preserving and bringing forward folk music traditions. Hearing and watching Ranarim, the Swedish state is even supporting music which might well be exported - obviously in a much smaller scale then Abba or Roxette, yet with a much higher cultural and particularly Swedish background.

Latest published CD: "Till ljusan dag", on Drone Records. No. 10 in the editors' Top 10 2000. Reviewed in this issue!
Further infos/contact: Ranarim's homepage.

Photo Credit: Press Photos

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