“The light is blue and mystical, because even when the sun sets around midnight, it never really gets dark. The air is clear and fresh, it smells of moss, of forest and of flowers…. Buttercups and wild meadow flowers.” This is how Swedish Aino Löwenmark describes her home in Darlarna, Sweden’s cultural center. She has lived in Hamburg for many years and founded the duo Fjarill here over 15 years ago, together with the South African-born violinist Hanmari Spiegel. Now they have recorded a new album, on which you can hear their own compositions, as well as traditional Swedish music, which is played at the “Midsommar” festival. They have also set three texts by the Swedish poet Pär Lagerkvist to music and adapted them into the typical Fjarill sound: A mixture of two-part vocals, piano and violin. This makes the music of the duo an experience. And it doesn’t matter if they sing in Swedish, Afrikaans or English. Their music does not have to be understood, but felt. And if you close your eyes while listening to the music, you can see Lake “Siljan” glistening in the rising sun down in the misty valley, while the scent of freshly baked strawberry cake wafts from the house.
The Swedish singer and pianist 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 from then on. Fjarill have been part of the German music scene for more than 17 years, although they originally come from Sweden and South Africa. They have already sold out both the Fabrik and the Elbphilharmonie and tour every year (D / AT / SWE). Two powerfully luminous and delicately drifting voices, using different languages – in English, German, Swedish and Afrikaans – to create a universal warmth. A poetic border crossing.
Sometimes in life it just fits. Humanly, musically, atmospherically. “Aino’s singing touched something very deep inside me at the time,” Hanmari Spiegel recalls of her first encounter with the Swedish singer and pianist. “There was an honesty and clarity that rang through that I knew and loved from my native South Africa.” And when a few musicians were needed for a Christmas bazaar shortly thereafter, the fan and the artist suddenly became a duo. “That was really fun, we just improvised, and yet it was the same as in a big, familiar river…” Which is surprising at first: after all, one grew up on a farm near Dalarna in the far north, while the other spent her childhood 12,000 kilometers away on a small farm near Pretoria. Until one day, love took them both to the Elbe and they ran into each other at that Christmas bazaar… That was in 2004 – today, as the duo Fjarill, the smart and pretty women from Hamburg float together on a big, unreal, beautiful musical wave that has long since carried them beyond Germany’s borders: next February, even to South Africa. Because even if the two come from different ends of the world, “we are united by our love of beautiful harmonies and sincere feelings in our music”,
Since then, they have been musically inseparable. “We see Fjarill as a tree that has grown, becoming more stable every year” say the two. Perhaps because one intuitively knows where the other will go in terms of harmony and melody in the next moment – and so then the songs flow along as if in a great, long flow of sound, interrupted only by the listening moments of silence.
Yes, those who want to follow their poetic-melancholic sound paths need time and leisure. Because “especially when we play live, we have long moments of silence,” says Aino Löwenmark. And, small wonder, in an increasingly hectic and noisy world: the audience is also very quiet in these concert moments. “There is a tremendous longing for silence,” says her South African colleague. “We hear that from our audience again and again – which of course makes us very happy.”
This silence, or rather the courage to endure this silence, is one of the secrets of the fascination of Fjarill’s music: listening for the sounds of others, “listening very closely: What is she doing right now?” the violinist explains. “Where is the piece going? Who’s setting the next note?” It’s a game of silence as much as improvisation that continues to fascinate her concert audiences and grow her songs.
Wonderful sounds that move in timeless spheres between chamber music folk and world music pop with ethnic as well as jazz sprinkles – and yet take new sound paths at every concert. Especially when the duo embarks on a journey without a band, such as on their “Live in Hamburg” album released in 2012: “As a duo, we are completely free,” says Hanmari.
But the Fjarills have also made this boundless freedom sound on their other eight CD recordings to date, “Stark,” “Pilgrim,” “Livet,” “Tiden,” “Stilla Tyd,” “Kom Hem,” “Midsommar” and now “POËSI” – which earned them both the Global Ruth (2011) and the Creole World Music Prize (2013): Modern folk-pop of intense simplicity that flows along wonderfully relaxed, sometimes even as if breathed, lightly, almost floatingly accompanied by cello, trumpet, lap steel, horn, guitar or accordion alongside piano and violin. And even when they allow a drummer like Tingvall Trio drummer Jürgen Spiegel to take up his sticks, the rhythmic corset at no point restricts the poetic-melancholic sound paths: The duo simply takes the time to search for calm and quiet moments.
Whereby even their wistful moods always have a hopeful ray of sunshine. “I couldn’t make music any other way,” says Aino. After all, “music is like life”. And so not only her subtle play with major and minor (“that’s typically Swedish, this change of mood in one and the same piece”) can develop wonderfully anew again and again, but also that with Löwenmark’s chest and head voice, which brings with it a wonderfully warm and fragile sound. A singing that leaves no one untouched – and that, although hardly anyone in this country understands the lyrics about life and love, nature, transience or the Hamburg rain, but the Swede sings in her native language.
“If you don’t understand the lyrics, your heart opens much more to the music.” Fjarill is just not about being understood, but being felt. Or to put it with a line from their song “Luister”: “If you really want to listen you will discover the secret, you might even hear the beat of a butterfly’s wings also fitting to the band’s name Fjarill (butterfly in Swedish). After great demand for their songs, their songbook was released in 2013.
And no matter whether in Germany or Sweden, South Africa, Austria, Denmark, Luxembourg or Switzerland: when the two ask their audience to join in the eponymous refrain in the South African peace hymn “Ukuthula” in concert, an enchanting euphony arises from it that is simply one big happiness for all the driven ones of this music world. Because growing doesn’t always have to mean growth and certainly not growing up.
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.