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.