Whoever encounters Fjarill and her music is drawn as if by a silken thread to a wondrous place. Everything is made to sound and vibrate in her songs. Depth and sadness. Search and hope. Secrets and intricacies. Wit and open-mindedness. Exuberance and love. An extremely contemporary music. Precisely because it seems to have fallen out of time. Music to take a breath. To connect slowly and delicately with the world.
The Swedish pianist and singer Aino Löwenmark and the South African violinist Hanmari Spiegel met in Hamburg in 2004 to delight people with their very own sound between folk, pop, jazz and classical music. Two powerfully luminous and delicately drifting voices, using different languages – in English, German, Swedish and Afrikaans – create a universal warmth. A poetic crossing of borders.
When with “Midsommar” the now more eighth album of Fjarill is released, it shows the constant magic with which this heart-warming singer-songwriter duo knows how to capture its audience. The artistic success of the two musicians is sustainable in the best sense of the word: year after year and concert after concert, Aino and Hanmari earn and sing their way to a growing community of fans. Be it in clubs or in churches, in front of Queen Silvia of Sweden or in front of children in South African townships, be it in the midst of passers-by in a Hamburg shopping mall or soon in the Elbphilharmonie, the new landmark of their adopted country – with their empathetic and euphoric music, Fjarill touches soul after soul.
On “Midsommar” Aino travels deep into the essence of her Swedish homeland. Together with Hanmari she lets us look behind the Bullerbü facade and takes us into suspenseful stories that make the complex character of the country audible. The album consists of original compositions, poems set to music by Nobel Prize for Literature winner Pär Lagerkvist, and Swedish folk songs that Fjarill has rearranged with quiet intensity.
“These old songs have a mystical quality. As a non-Swedish, I was surprised to find that the pieces are not exclusively bouncy and joyful,” Hanmari says. Often, the lyrics, which have been passed down for centuries, reflect a longing for a better life. In the song “Kristallen,” for example, this wishful thinking appears in the form of a beautiful woman. And Fjarill breathes new spirit into traditional lyricism with shimmering violin playing, reduced piano and transparent vocals.
The album tells of the drama of midsummer as Aino has perceived it since childhood. Of the expectations that lie in the clear air. And of the special light in Dalarna, in the heart of Sweden. “The sun doesn’t set until half an hour before midnight. But it’s still not completely dark. This bright blue twilight releases something in me. At night I walk in the forest, it smells of moss and wildflowers. And in the valleys the mist gathers.” An atmosphere from which rise creatures such as Aino’s grandmother knew – not only delicate fairies and cheeky trolls, but also figures that kindle our innermost fears. “According to legend, for example, there exists a forest nymph with a black hole in her back who leads men to their doom,” says Aino.
The fact that the new songs were created in the band’s own Walden Studio, in the lush greenery on the outskirts of Hamburg with mighty trees within reach, suddenly no longer seems a coincidence, but inevitable. Under the high wooden roof, the songs have room to breathe. “Our music is created on an intuitive level. We hardly analyze, but rather pick up on each other’s melodies,” explains Hanmari, who also sets accents with the electric guitar for the first time on “Midsommar.”
The mutual trust in Fjarill results in an energy that is immediately transferred to the listener. The musicians also work with this dynamic when they invite people to their singer-songwriter workshops at Walden Studio, where they practice voice, breathing as well as mindfulness. “We improvise a lot. It’s important to us that there’s not an immediate right or wrong in music. It’s about not being so fixed, but in motion,” says Aino. A lightness and passion that characterizes the work of the two women.
Aino and Hanmari are such strong artistic personalities because they put all their experiences into their songs. They are friends, mothers, lovers and living, who remind us with their songs not to let our days just pass by. This is expressed particularly forcefully in the melancholy, soaring number “Lite efter du är död då ska liljor blomma” based on a poem by Pär Lagerkvist. “A man dares not confess his love to a woman until she is buried,” Aino explains the tragic story, which is at the same time a mandate to us not merely to wait, but to act.
This pragmatic philosophy is condensed more lively in the gently dancing title track “Midsommar”. The custom of binding flowers on Midsummer’s Eve becomes a symbol of weaving the entire diversity of our lives into a great whole. “Ideas alone don’t create a wreath,” Hanmari says, “but only actual doing.” It’s fortunate that Hanmari and Aino are so active. And that Fjarill lets us share in their creations.