Issue 4 5/98

FolkWorld Live Review

Norwegian Traditions meet Africa

From Senegal to Setesdal with the Kirsten Bråten Berg Ensemble

WDR Concert - From Senegal to Setesdal

Bochum, Bahnhof Langendreer, 1.2.98

By Michael Moll

Kirsten Braten Berg Ensemble This one has been an experience, a very special moment for everybody in the audience - something they have never saw before. This WDR radio concert has been the first time that this very special project was seen outside Scandinavia. The audience who just listened to the music in the radio missed something, as there was a magic feeling about seeing this live.

On the stage, there are sitting two black Africans and two Norwegians. The Africans play - for the European eye - strange instruments like Kora, Do-Do (mouth bow), djembe. The Norwegian woman sings and sometimes plays mouth harp - also a strange instrument, the man plays mouth harp, does foot percussion and sings.
Sometimes you have such projects: Two cultures meet, and they find out to their own amazement that their cultures have some communities in their music. The story behind this project is that all four musicians once had solo concerts in the same venue the same evening. Before the concert on backstage, all four played or sang for themselves in the same room to warm up, and suddenly there was a kind of magic feeling in the air: They suddenly felt that the music worked together, that there are communities in the two cultures which was a total surprise for all of them. From then on they started to work together.

The musicians are all very experienced musicians. Kirsten Bråten Berg from Setesdal - a Norwegian region 300 km west of Oslo - is a well known and respected musician in the Norwegian scene; she is one of the main revivalists of the Norwegian folk scene. She has a beautiful voice singing traditional Norwegian songs. Bjørgulv Straume is one of the best mouth harpers in Norway, and he also builds mouth harps; at the moment there is a huge mouth harp revival in Norway. While mouth harping, he always stomps his feet, so that his mouth harping has some percussion as accompaniment. Sometimes both Kirsten and Bjørgulv play the mouth harp,it really looks funny - two adults sitting there on chairs and having their hands 'in' the mouth....

On the African side, we have Solo Cissokho from Senegal on Kora (an African lute) and vocals. Kouame Sereba comes from the Ivory Coast; and plays Do-do (mouth bow) and djembe, and sings. He lives in Norway since 15 years, after a long odyssey through the (mainly African) world. He then decided he wanted to move to 'the place where nobody could survive' - to Norway. He works there today as musician, music teacher and lecturer - but he never imagined before that he would be playing in a band like this.

Kirsten Braten Berg Ensemble It is amazing to watch this project. The music is by no means a fusion, not a mixture where both cultures are united to a new music style. Both traditions stay in their pure form; just similar songs and tunes are put together. You hear for example a traditional African song; and without any change in melody, just a change of the singer, the piece ends up in a Norwegian song. It is unbelievable. Take for example the set of lullabies they sing: All lullabies have exactly the same feeling and the same melody in it; and as one who does not know neither the Norwegian nor the African language, I would never have thought that this set contains songs of two different cultures - it all sounds so similar!

The instruments also make up a good ensemble; the traditional Norwegian mouth harping seems to be closely connected to the African instruments. In fact, the mouth bow for example is an instrument that was a long time ago also a common instrument in Europe; another connection that is hard to believe.

In the end, there was a reflective fascination in the audience. We have experienced a meeting of cultures that we would have thought would never be possible. We have experienced that the connections of traditional music must be much wider than we normally think - that it does not matter where anybody comes from, the music has everywhere some same Roots, that folk music is created by something deep inside the human soul, beyond language and culture. Absolutely stunning this thought!

The CD of this special project is available from Grappa Records, Oslo.

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© The Mollis - Editors of FolkWorld; Published 5/98

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