In April this year (2003), the Norwegian record label Kirkelig Kulturverksted released an EP titled "Voggesanger fra ondskapens akse" ("Lullabies from the Axis of Evil") which featured female vocalists from Iran, Iraq and Palestine singing lullabies in their native language. On the first three songs of this EP, female vocalists from Sweden, Norway and Denmark also sang some passages in their native language. As strange as this combination might sound at first, it does work.
About the end of September/beginning of October I heard thereīd be a concert in Oslo during the Oslo World Music Festival in November under the same heading featuring five of the vocalists who appeared on the aforementioned EP. Among these five were Mahsa Vahdat, one of my favourite singers from Iran, and Kari Bremnes, who is together with Mari Boine and Monika Edvardsen my favourite singer from Norway.
The date of the concert was November 8th. As I didnīt want to make this long trip only to see the concert and then return back again and as I didnīt want to stay in Oslo in a hotel for about a week, either (because this would have become quite expensive), I decided to travel to Gothenburg first to see my relatives and spend a few days there before continuing my trip to Oslo.
So I left Duisburg by train at about 9.45 a.m. on November 3rd and arrived (after changing the train in Hamburg and Copenhagen) in Gothenburg at 10.30 p.m.
Travelling with me was Miss Loona. Who she is? Well, thereīs this song by/about her "Miss Loonaīs Speech" on the Tactile Gemma debut album. From the beginning I felt a lot of sympathy for her. At first, she existed only in my imagination (well, actually in Monika Edvardsenīs imagination, because she had written the lyrics), but then she became reality. What she is? An amiable little creature with an inventive mind. I mean, youīve got to have an inventive mind to grow teapots in your garden and try to cross them with rucksacks. As she hadnīt been abroad anywhere so far (at least not in the real world) and as she loves the music I like, too, she had told me she wanted to come with me. So she did...
"Me! Me! Me!"
What the heck...?
"I want to tell! I want to tell the story of our trip!"
Ouch! Hey, stop kicking me!
"I want! Go away from the keyboard, you human. I want to type it down on my own."
Ok, ok, Iīm going. Now itīs your turn.
"Hi, itīs me, Miss Loona. I will tell you about the trip. I think we just skip the first three days in Gothenburg and jump directly to Thursday evening. More or less by accident, Burkhard had read an announcement in the papers that the Swedish band Groupa would perform that night in a club in Gothenburg. As he had already enjoyed their concert last year in Bochum (Germany) at least he had told me so , he decided to go to this concert, too. Other than at their concert in Bochum, Groupa didnīt have a female singer with them this time, but nevertheless we both enjoyed the concert very much. I think the music was some kind of mixture of Swedish folk music with some jazz-like influences. I think the Norwegian percussionist Terje Isungset, who is probably one of the most original of his kind, was really amazing. (Last year he released an album with music played by instruments made of ice!) He did have two drums, if I remember correctly, a somewhat strange looking hi-hat, a large cymbal, several lines of bells of all kinds of sizes, lines of wooden sticks of different sizes bound together with cords and some stones it looked really strange compared to usual drumkits, but it sounded very interesting. By the way, Terje is also an excellent Jewīs harp player! The other three musicians also knew to play their instruments keyboards, different flutes, violin and accordion very well. Groupaīs concert didnīt last much longer than an hour, but for 50.00 SKr (about 6.00 ) that was OK well, I didnīt have to pay anyway :-).
On Friday, we finally went to Oslo. The train took about 4 hours and from the central railway station we then took the bus to get to the SAS Radisson Park Hotel, which was situated several kilometres from the city center at Fornebuparken directly by the Oslofjord.
In front of our hotel
Me studying the time table of the bus
When we checked in, there was already a message for Burkhard from Mahsa Vahdat. Burkhard and Mahsa had already planned before to meet in Oslo. When he called her back, she told him that she and her sister Marjan hadnīt planned anything for the evening, so he could come to their hotel and meet them there. I was pretty excited, but I guess Burkhard was even more. He picked up the gifts he had brought along (mostly CDs you probably wonīt get in Iran) and then it was back into the city, having some fast food (not for me though, beings like me donīt have to eat and drink - we feed on imagination) and then to the SAS Radisson Plaza Hotel, allegedly Scandinaviaīs biggest hotel. There we first met Mahsa and then also her sister Marjan in the hotel lobby. Both are very kind, sympathetic and amiable young women! Burkhard and Mahsa exchanged their gifts she had brought some CDs and tapes with music from Iran and they and Marjan talked about 1 ― hours, mostly about music. Communication was no problem, because both Mahsa and Marjan speak English very well. Burkhard and Marjan even had a little conversation in French. Considering that Burkhard hadnīt practiced his French for about 12 years, it seemed to work pretty well, I must say! When Burkhard took a picture of Mahsa and Marjan, Marjan irnonically threw in: "The Axis of Evil!". Before we said good-bye to each other, Mahsa was so sweet to allow me to sit on her shoulder so Burkhard could take a picture of her and me. I think it was a memorable and unforgettable evening. Iīm still not sure if Burkhard has already realized that all this actually did happen.
"The Axis Of Evil"
Me and Mahsa
Saturday morning we (well, actually just Burkhard) had breakfast at nine and then Burkhard took me to the Oslofjord to take some pictures of me in the morning sun. The water was very calm, some seabirds were swimming in it, the sun was shining in our faces from a clear blue sky it was so beautiful, one of those perfect moments which you wish could last forever!
A sunny November morning at the Oslofjord
Looking into the rising sun
As Burkhard hadnīt planned anything special, we went into the city to Kulturkirken Jakob, the place where the concert would take place.
After that, we decided to visit the Munch museum, where Burkhard took quite a lot of pictures.
In front of the Munch museum
We also saw some of the paintings which Burkhard already knew from the CD-booklet of his favourite Kari Bremnes-album, "Løsrivelse", among them Munchīs most famous, namely "Skrik" ("Scream").
Many Munch posters
Admiring the art of Munch
Can you see me?
The Oslo-package which Burkhard had booked, included not only the hotel room (+ breakfast), but also the Oslo-pass. It was valid for 96 hours and it allowed to use all public transportation systems in Oslo for free as well as free entrance to many museums very practical! After the Munch museum we also visited the zoological museum, where you find all kinds of stuffed animals. They also had some dinosaur skeletons there and some cartoons with dinosaurs. At about 3 p.m. we went back to the hotel.
A stuffed lynx
A cartoon with dinosaurs
The Oslofjord on a clear November afternoon
In the evening, we already arrived at Kulturkirken Jakob at 6.25 p.m., though the doors didnīt open before 7.00 p.m. As we were among the first to get in, Burkhard managed to get a seat right in the middle of the first row. Absolutely perfect! Finally, the concert started at about 8.00 p.m. and the first one to enter the stage was Kari Bremnes. Burkhard later told me it had been hard for him to concentrate on the music, because Kari had looked absolutely breathtaking. Those males! Along comes a good-looking woman and immediately they canīt think clearly anymore! Perhaps he should wear blindfolds on her upcoming concerts in Germany in January, hehehe! Ok, I admit that she was indeed very good-looking. But thereīs definitely more about her. I donīt know how to put it, but this woman has some special kind of mesmerizing aura. Charisma? I guess thatīs what you could call it. She began with one of Burkhardīs favourite songs from her album "Svarta Bjørn", namely "Byssan lull". It is you already guessed it a lullaby, which doesnīt come as a surprise considering the heading of this concert.
After this beautiful opening, Halla Bassam from Iraq entered the stage to perform the song "Sov mitt barn Dilelol" together with Kari Bremnes. On the Voggesanger-EP, Halla Bassam sang this song together with Amel Kthyer, another vocalist from Iraq, and Eva Dahlgren from Sweden. At this concert, the voice from Amel Kthyer was added from tape and Kari Bremnes sang the parts of Eva Dahlgren. A really beautiful song! In addition to singing, Halla Bassam also played santoor (actually itīs the same instrument which former Dead Can Dance vocalist Lisa Gerrard plays, though she had a different name for it). Following the duett with Kari Bremnes was a piece on which Halla Bassam was accompanied by her music teacher Hisham Sharaf on clarinet. She then performed two more pieces alone. Well, not entirely alone, because there was an entire band who accompanied her and the other vocalists: Knut Reiersrud on guitar (he had also done all the arrangements on the Voggesanger-EP except for the song by Marjan and Mahsa Vahdat), Audun Erlien on bass, Per Oddvar Johansen on percussion and David Wallumrød on piano.
Marjan and Mahsa Vahdat (somewhat blurry)
When Halla Bassam had finished her set, Mahsa and Marjan Vahdat appearad on stage and they started with their song from the Voggesanger-EP, "Lalalala gohle laleh". Other than on the EP, they didnīt perform it acapalla, but Mahsa also played setar. Iīm not a specialist in Persian singing techniques, but I think they delivered an excellent job as well as the other vocalists did. They performed two more duets, on which Marjan also played daf, a drum which somewhat reminds me of a very big tambourine. The first of these songs, "Khosh kharaman", was, as Mahsa told me, inspired by a folk tune from Khorasan. The second one, another lullaby titled "Golelale", was performed on the Voggesanger-EP by Iranian vocalist Pari Zanganeh. Finally, Kari Bremnes entered the stage again to sing a song together with them. On this song, "Gole baghe behesht", which is not on the EP, Kari Bremnes sang the the English translation of the Persian lyrics, which Mahsa and Marjan Vahdat had sung before.
Next, Rim Banna from Palestine came on stage. She performed three songs as a soloist, among them also the song "Nami Ya La`aubi", which she had performed on the Voggesanger-EP together with The Savage Rose-vocalist Anisette from Denmark. Another of her songs which she sang solo was dedicated to a young Palestinian girl, a baby, who had been killed by an Israeli sniper he had shot a bullet right into her head. To my great delight, Rim Banna also sang our favourite song from the Voggesanger-EP together with Kari Bremnes, the deeply melancholic and touching "Du endeløse natt Ya Lel Ma Atwalak". Beauty in perfection!
After Rim Banna had left the stage, Kari Bremnes held a short speech. Unfortunately, due to my and Burkhardīs poor knowledge of Norwegian we didnīt understand very much apart from the fact that it was (also) about George W. Bush and (probably) his policy. I guess Burkhard would have understood a little more if he had been able to read what Kari said. Judging by some occasional laughs from the audience, Kari obviously also made some ironical remarks. After her short speech, Kari sang a song from her solo debut "Mitt ville hjerte", released way back in 1987. It was of course "Vuggevise". Again a beautifully melancholic song! By the way, the lyrics of this song are (as well as all other lyrics on the debut album) by Tove Ditlevsen, a Danish poet.
Mahsa Vahdat, Rim Banna, Kari Bremnes
The final song was some kind of medley. Alternatingly, Kari Bremnes sang one verse from "Byssan lull" and then one of the other vocalists sang a part of one of the songs she had performed before.
Halla Bassam, Marjan + Mahsa Vahdat, Rim Banna
After this last song there was a lot of applause and standing ovations, but unfortunately no encore. When all the vocalists were standing on the stage side by side, I think it was Rim Banna who said "We are not the axis of evil!" No, they definitely arenīt, rather the "axis of musical beauty"! All in all, it was a very, very special and memorable event and we were really happy we have been among the lucky ones (perhaps a few hundred) to witness it. Who knows if it will ever happen again?
Rim Banna and Kari Bremnes
So the concert had been absolutely perfect. As our entire trip had been perfect in each and every regard until then, you would expect that something just had to go wrong and so it did! A chapter from the popular series "How to screw up the most beautiful moment in my life!": Burkhard had planned to have the CD-booklet of his copy of the Voggesanger-EP signed by all the vocalists after the concert (ok, he had already got the autographs by Mahsa and Marjan Vahdat the evening before). In addition to this, he had also brought along a little gift for all the vocalists and a floppy-disk for Kari containing his German translations of the lyrics of her soloalbums. Assuming that it was polite, he didnīt rush backstage immediately after the concert, but had decided to wait. Unfortunately, someone whom he had asked if there was a chance to get autographs of the vocalists backstage had told him the vocalists were just changing and he should wait. So Burkhard waited and waited obviously he was too polite! Because after he had finally asked someone of the bandmembers who had then told him he should just go backstage and downstairs (why hadnīt he asked him first?), he had to find out that the vocalists had already left for the hotel through another exit some time ago. Now thatīs what I call a promising nominee for the "fool of the year"-competition! Oh, itīs a little bit mean of me to say this, I know. Well, one mustnīt let this "flaw" overshadow all the beautiful moments. We had the pleasure to meet Mahsa and Marjan Vahdat in person and to talk to them, we saw two great concerts, the weather couldnīt have been better for this time of year, the trip to Gothenburg and Oslo as well as back home again went perfect so what more can you expect? In my opinion it was a perfect week and perhaps Burkhard simply hasnīt realized yet how lucky he has actually been!"
- Miss Loona (and Burkhard) - November '03
P.S.: In December, Kari Bremnes and Rim Banna will play several concerts at Kulturkirken Jakob in Oslo under the heading "Finn veien, engel", and in January, Kari Bremnes will be on tour in Germany.