Nordicana: The Genre You Wish You Knew

The Norwegian band, Darling West, plays songs that bring together Americana country music and Nordic folk

The Norwegian band, Darling West, plays songs that bring together Americana country music and Nordic folk. American music has influenced Norway, which in turn adopted it as its own, but with a new twist. The result is Nordicana. Darling West share their insights in this interview.

Before 2018, my understanding of Scandinavian music was limited to death metal and hip-hop. But the region, especially Norway, has provided eager listeners around  the world an abundance of artists in a whole range of other genres. Like many places in the world, Norway has its own traditional folk music. Today, there is a new form of folk that is serenading the ears of not only Norwegians, but also of the international community. It is known as Nordicana.

Nordicana was created by musicians in Norway who were influenced by Americana— a style of music from the United States, comprising of country music, classic rock, bluegrass, and blues. The Americana Music Association was formed in the United States in 1990 which gave the genre more recognition. In 1993, just three years after its creation, the genre’s introduction can be traced to the Oleblues Festival held in Bergen, now known as Bergenfest.

But in Norway, it was a film which popularized the Americana music style. Just as hip-hop’s popularity grew in the region as a result of the 1984 movie, “Beat Street”,  Americana’s acclaim grew after the release of the movie, “Oh Brother Where Art Thou”. It was then slowly adopted by Norwegian artists and over the years, redefined into what is now known as Nordicana.

While I’d like to claim responsibility for finding this genre, I believe it found me through the musical gifts of Darling West in September of 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia. The Oslo-based Spelleman Award (Norwegian Grammy) winning band, Darling West, is one of Norway’s leading groups in the Nordicana genre. The primary band members are wife and husband Mari and Tor Egil. I caught up with them when they were playing in their hometown amongst a lineup of artists from the same music scene. The popularity of the music was apparent by the size of the audience. The room was so full you could barely lift your drink.

I spoke to Darling West to get their insights into Nordicana and its growing popularity, which they attribute greatly to “Oh Brother Where Art Thou.”  Since then, both artists and audiences have evolved from associating Nordicana with “hillbilly” music, and Norwegian artists have adopted the music as their own, incorporating their Scandinavian roots to create, what I deem to be, the sweetest tunes.

 “We’re just trying to tap into a beautiful songwriting tradition that has given us so much, and maybe add a little of our own landscape to it.”

Darling West

What is the influence of American culture and music in Norway?

“In Norway, there has always been somewhat of an interest in country/folk and Americana, and a general attraction to music hailing from the States. The reason behind that is, we’ve never really gotten to the bottom of it, but it might have to do with the fact that we’re a small country and we’ve felt connected to the bigger world by getting many of our influences and pop culture from overseas.

The way we see it, the real wave of interest hit when everyone discovered the movie “Oh Brother Where Art Thou?” at the same time around 15 years ago. Bluegrass bands popped up everywhere, and there were a lot of suspenders, hats, and banjos going around. Still it was seen as a small niche, since again, we’re a small country, and it’s hard for any underground culture to take the step up to a bigger scene.”

How has the Nordicana genre developed over the past five years?

“What has happened in the last five years, it seems, is that a lot of these songwriters and musicians have had time to get really good at what they do—finding their own voices and not trying to sound exactly like their American influences, while also including the younger musicians who are hungry to contribute. All these bands have started coming together building a solid scene with something to say, and the result is that the audience and press now find it hard to overlook the quality of the folk/Americana music made within our own country, and are no longer only looking to the States. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not up there with singer-songwriters performing in Norwegian, or pop music, but there’s definitely a bigger acceptance for liking this kind of music without being seen as a hillbilly. Maybe also because the genre has grown wider and does not only consist of twangy guitars and howling vocals anymore.

We’ve even started to export our Nordic twist of this genre to other markets, like the U.S., Britain, and Holland. This is a development we had never foreseen when we started out as an obscure folk band eight years ago, but we feel very fortunate to have been at the front line of this movement over the last few years.”

How does Nordicana differ from Americana? 

 “It’s hard to be objective about our own music and analyze the difference between what we do and what comes out of the States. But of course, there are very clear differences between the countries in general, in our history or even our nature. The US being so big and Norway being so small, there are cultural differences that naturally come out of that. When we travel over there, we have more than once received comments on how the Nordic sound comes through (without it being due to anything concerning the accent, as one might think). We’ve even heard on a few occasions that people have connected it to the songs of ABBA, the Swedish sensation from the 70’s, which is crazy to us since we’ve never really listened to them that much.

Maybe there is some subconscious way we relate to writing songs up here that brings out a little different melodic tone which becomes the Nordic sound. I also feel there’s a melancholic side to Scandinavians that might seep through in our music. We do try to pass the term Nordicana around as much as we can, since we don’t want to steal anyone else’s sound. We’re just trying to tap into a beautiful songwriting tradition that has given us so much, and maybe add a little of our own landscape to it.”

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