Tag Archives: harp

2020m05 – Myrkur – Harpes Kraft

Myrkur - Folkesange (2020)

The Power of the Harp

New month, new monthly marker!

Many songs tell us about the magical beauty of harp play and the powers a skilled player can wield under the right circumstances. Previously I was captured myself by Kati Rán‘s Harpa Toner which upon investigation turned out to be one of many renditions of the same tale that has been traveling throughout Europe, shapeshifting and scope-creeping, evolving in time to well-known versions like Binnorie, The Twa Sisters, The Bonnie Swans and Harp of Death. Now, once more I am mesmerized by a harp-related song (or should I say ‘sange’? ) and this time as well, I simply had to know what was behind the softly sang lyrics brought across by the tempting voice of none other than Amalie Bruun, a.k.a Myrkur.

Though mostly known for her Metal albums, Amalie has been diving deeper and deeper into the richness of Scandinavian traditional songs and clearly she came up with some pure Danish gold. As early as January of 2018, some of you may have been lucky enough to witness performances of Myrkur having struck new ground, touring together with other great artists of our scene, like Christopher Juul ( Heilung, Euzen ) and… you guessed it: Kati Rán. Fortunately her collaboration with Christopher did not end when the tour did. In fact, she stepped into his famous Lava Studios and recently proudly released her latest album Folkesange.

This work of art is a 100% match with our station’s format, which means we will be able to play each individual track and what’s more: we have chosen Harpens Kraft as our new Monthly Marker, meaning we will be playing it 5 to 6 times a day for the month of May!



And this brings me back to the story: Harpens Kraft dates as far back as (at least) 1570 and is a ballade about Villemann and Magnhild. Whilst playing a game, the bride is clearly distraught and Villemann inquires about the reasons for her distress, offering up several possibilities, which all are refuted by Magnhild. Instead, she reveals a premonition that she will fall (to her death) into the river Blide, like her two sisters did before her. Although the lyrics of Harpens Kraft end here, the story does not. Despite Villemann’s reassurances promising her the protection of many of his men and the building of a very strong stone bridge, she is not comforted and as it turns out, rightfully so. When Magnhild crosses the bridge, her horse rears up on its hind legs and she falls off into the river. The moment Villemann hears of this, is where Myrkur picks up lamenting in the song Villemann og Magnhild, the Norwegian part of this tale, which is also part of the repertoire of bands like (amongst others) SKÁLD and Datura:



After her fierce Kulning singing, Amalie continues to tell how Villemann took his golden harp to enchant the troll that was holding Magnhild, by draining the power from his arm with his harp play. As is often the case with Nordic tales, the (here unsung) ending isn’t a happy one, as she doesn’t come back to life, but he can at least provide a proper burial.

Epilogue:
The story of this tale actually doesn’t end here and so, I will finish with the beginning. In the variations that could be heard in Denmark, Sweden and Norway, the troll was the villain, yet in Iceland, there was none but fate itself. Something happened halfway on the Norwegian Sea and clues can be found exactly there: on the Shetland Islands, wherein Unst the Scandinavian versions were predated by a very similar song from the 14th century:



This song has a happier ending, the Celtic influences are clearly recognizable in the character of the Elven King and the clue to the last part of this trip, lies in the naming of the hero of it all: Villemann is called King (or Sir) Orfeo. This is where my wonderings went full circle for me: Orfeo was one of the first Balfolk bands I danced to, back when the scene was just sprouting in the Netherlands and it was the personal CD collection of Erica, the flutist of that very band, that laid the foundation for CeltCast’s musical arsenal not much later.

But wait! There’s even more to this story:
Let me offer you the chance to go even further back in time and have a listen to AmmA‘s King Orfeo, a rendition of the late 13th century version of the Westminster-Middlesex area. This version was introduced via Breton poets in Medieval times and it contains a mixture of Celtic mythology, such as the faeries, the Greek myth of Orpheus.



Yes, you read that correctly: this tale brings you all the way back to Greek mythology when in 438 B.C. Euripides wrote the first known version of this love story of Orpheus and Eurydice in his Alcestis. And that to me is the true power of the harp: this instrument once again welcomed me to travel far beyond the confinement of my home and through 25 centuries to show how we are all connected, supported by the tales that travel through time, preferably put to beautiful music.

– Alex


EMIAN – Khymeia (2016)



Six years ago on December the 21th 2011, the day of the winter solstice, EMIAN was formed. To celebrate that moment, we have decided to write an introduction for their latest album Khymeia. Way overdue of course, but better late then never.

From the moment I put Khymeia, the second album from the Italian Pagan Folk band EMIAN, in my CD-player, it started to grab me. At first it surprised me, then their music started pulling me in… note by note. By the time the 5th song La Cama Nupcial was playing there was no turning back. I was hooked! The musicality, the originality, the talent. This is a CD well worth buying… But now I’m getting wàààày ahead of myself, so first things first.


EMIAN is a 4 person Pagan Folk band from Italy. As it was formed at the winter solstice 2011, it’s no big surprise the band get its inspiration from their own southern Italy Pagan roots, Mother earth, nature and ancient cultures. They do so with songs by their own hand, inspired by Celtic, North-European and Mediterranean folklore, and songs they collected from those periods, be it in Italian, Finnish, French, English or Gaelic (Both Scottish and Irish Gaelic), taking influences from shamanistic chants to medieval ballads.

The band members are:
Aianna Egan (Anna Cefalo) on vocals, celtic harp and castanets (those are fun).
Emian Druma (Emilio Antonio Cozza) on vocals, hurdy gurdy, nyckelharpa, fiddle, flute, percussion, medieval bagpipe and the Persian santur, an instrument that looks a lot like a hammered dulcimer.
Rohan (Danilo Lupi) on acoustic bass, Irish bouzouki, the tin and low whistle and backing vocals.
Mártín Killian (Martino D’Amico) on drums, percussion, guitar and backing vocals.



The intro song Tribus Hirpeis is followed by a vocal piece written by themselves. Hyria starts with an enchanting harp melody supported by the Persian santur, giving the song a Greek feel. Anna quickly joins in. She has a beautiful warm yet strong voice. A pleasure to listen too. After this ballad-esque start the acoustic bass joins in, giving the song a surprising modern feel. This in contrast to the use of the tribal bass sound from the didgeridoo, well-known from other Pagan Folk bands. Surprising at first, but it actually fits perfectly. With the violin joining in with the harp melody, the band captivates you. Without warning you drift into Khymeia‘s musical world. One you will enjoy.

La giga del lupo starts with a Celtic harp jig that takes me back to the Pagan folklore days of OMNIA, but a loud ‘yehaa’ brings in Emilio’s violin. Playing a lovely Irish folk melody and making it into a perfect instrumental Balfolk dance song. Short, but therefore more powerful.

Rebys is a strong, cheerful and up-tempo song with Spanish Sephardic lyrics, driven by the rhythm of the drums. The Italian language just works wonders in this style of music. Again Anna Cefalo shows she is a really good singer, but she is not alone. It becomes clear that all the band members are talented musicians. A lot of things are happening in the music: harp, Irish bouzouki, hurdy gurdy, percussion, castanets, but also musical breaks, sudden twists in the rhythm, it’s all there. This is really a CD you want to listen to with headphones, just to be able to hear everything that’s hidden in the music (or play it very loud in the living room… when the neighbours are not at home). Midway through this song there is a sudden break in the music, taking it back to only Anna Cefalo’s voice and harp, before the band kicks in again. This build-up is repeated at the end of Rebys.

The next song La Cama Nupcial starts off as if it’s another break, with only Anna’s harp again. If you wouldn’t look at your display at that point, you would certainly think you were still listening to Rebys. Brilliantly done. It clearly shows EMIAN’s compositional skills.

La Cama Nupcial itself is a beautiful duet between harp and flute, a bit like the instrumental duets Sowulo are known for. I always make notes while listening to an album for a review, and at this point I wrote: “I’m now officially hooked!”.

Khymeia is a beautiful album that fits well in the realm of OMNIA, Faun, Sowulo and Rastaban. Not that EMIAN is a copy of any of those bands. They have their own unique style. It’s just to give you, the listener, an idea of what to expect.

The first song not written by EMIAN themselves, and the 6th on the album, is El Viaja de Maria. To show how diversely skilled the members of EMIAN are, it starts with a bit of overtone singing by Emilio Cozza. This is a singing technique where you sing a low tone while making an ‘oe-oo-eu’ sound. When a singer is skilled and has had a lot of practise, his or her vocal chords can make a second tone, higher then the first. The song itself is a well-known traditional (In Extremo recorded a nice version), but EMIAN re-arranged it so it fits their style perfectly. The long instrumental intro will draw you into the song.

Níl Sé’N Lá is actually a Scottish Gaelic song but in the arrangement of EMIAN it becomes a Greek traditional, driven by the percussion. Weird in a way, but it works. It works really well actually. It’s something that EMIAN does so well: they blend their influences together, not only in their song choice alone but also within the songs themselves, making them way more interesting.



I’ll stop here because I don’t want to give away every song on this album. It’s much more fun to get Khymeia yourself and start discovering EMIAN’s musical world . Just listen to the instrumental song La Gavotte for instance. A fun French Balfolk song that, again, finds itself somewhere between the music of Omnia and Faun. Chêne blanc is another up tempo, instrumental dance song. My personal favourite. Kuulin Äänenn is a Finnish (!) ballad, beautifully sung by Anna and Martino D’Amico, but then, halfway, turned into a cheerful Balfolk song. Listen to that flute solo in the end! Surely this song is the high-light of every concert they play. My last personal tip is Le Due Sorelle, an Italian translation by Anna Cefalo of the famous song The Twa Sisters. I have to say the Italian language is very suitable for a ballad like this.

With Khymeia, EMIAN has put themselves right in the top of the pagan folk scene. In my eyes a must have album for everyone who loves this particular style of music.

Cliff

Concert photos taken at Castlefest 2017, courtesy of:
Mariëlle Groot Obbink


Helisir – Spin (2017)


The latest (and last) Helisir CD ‘SPIN’ came out this September and it’s a gem!

But first let’s introduce Helisir a bit more.

Helisir is the musical project and brainchild of Jacqueline Stempher. It started out as an idea for a book based around the fictive Nordic land Helisir, a Nordic equivalent of Avalon where the old Gods in ancient times met.

Over time their stories were set into music by Jacqueline and they ended up on the first Helisir album ‘Ravn’. It was produced by Jacqueline herself and could best be described as Nordic influenced ambient Pagan music. All instruments recorded were played by Jacqueline herself.

In 2016, a mini CD came out called ‘Sårbare’. It was recorded at the Dear World studio by Fieke van der Hurk and featured Jacqueline on harp and vocals in an all acoustic setting.

Now the third album ‘SPIN’ is finally here to conclude the Helisir story.

This time Jacqueline visited the Lava Studios in Copenhagen to have Christopher Juul record ‘SPIN’. The album picks up on the sound of ‘Ravn’ and is musically best described as a crossover between Dido and Euzen. (So not the voice/harp sound we have come to know through her ‘live ploink‘ streaming concerts on Facebook or the mini CD ‘Sårbare’.)


Jacqueline’s last Facebook livestream from the Netherlands, just before moving up North.


From the first seconds of ‘The Tide’ it’s clear this album is all about Jacqueline’s beautiful voice. A crossover between the laid back, fragile way of singing of Dido, the strong sound of Anneke van Giersbergen (ex-The Gathering, Ayreon) and a touch of Sara Weeda (SeeD, ANÚNA).

In her lyrics Jacqueline stayed close to her heart, making this her most personal album. She has put the feelings and fears she went through the past years in beautiful musical poems, partly in English, but also some in Dutch. Listen to ‘Done’, ‘Lighthouse’, ‘Ashes’ or the Dutch title song ‘Spin’ and you’ll hear how personal her lyrics have become.

Jacqueline composed all the music and Christopher Juul arranged all the songs and took care of the instruments, so Jacqueline could focus on the vocals. He managed to make the music work as a supportive partner to Jacqueline’s voice, enhancing the lyrics instead of the instruments taking over. Those who love Euzen will recognize his style with those subtle touches making the music interesting and ‘SPIN’ a CD well worth buying!


I am now left with two wishes:

1. That somewhere in the future, Jacqueline will team up again with Christopher to make more music. It would be such a shame if that would never happen again.

and

2. That Castlefest will book Euzen for their Winter Edition 2017 and they will ask them to support Jacqueline Stempher there on stage as well, so we can hear her songs live in the way they were intended to sound. Mark… Jacqueline… Christopher… pretty please??? 🙂


– Cliff


– Live concert pictures courtesy of:

Kees Stravers
https://www.flickr.com/photos/case_s








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