Photo: Terje Rakke
Fjord Tours Articles / 26 Nov 2019

The Ultimate Guide to Norwegian Folk Music

When people think of Norway, there are many things that likely come to mind including all of the incredible outdoor activities you can do here. However, something else that the country is well known for is its thriving music scene. And none have a richer history than Norwegian Folk Music.

The Norwegian music scene is modern, diverse and interesting in many ways, but one must not forget one of the most traditional forms of music in Norway; Norwegian folk music. Folk music in Norway has been around for centuries and is still very popular in many parts of the country. However, someone who has never gone on any Norwegian cruises or taken any other round trips to Norway has likely never experienced Norwegian folk music before. Therefore, here is a brief guide regarding the origins and current state of Norwegian folk music.

Photo: Terje Rakke

Types of Norwegian Folk Music

Despite what some people may think, there is more than one type of Norwegian folk music out there. Generally speaking, this genre can be split up into two different categories, North Germanic and Sami. North Germanic music tends to include a lot of improvised songs and ballads which are used as hymns and work songs. When it comes to Sami music, it uses a vocal style called joik which is fairly similar to the vocal style used in traditional Native American music.

Both of these categories can be broken up even further into two more categories, which are vocal and instrumental. Any folk song that is instrumental is usually meant to serve as dance music.

Photo: Terje Rakke

Hardanger Fiddle

There are a variety of instruments that can be used in Norwegian folk music, especially in modern renditions of it. However, one of the most prominent instruments that has been used since the 1700s is the Hardanger fiddle. This distinctive instrument bears a close resemblance to a traditional fiddle and is played in the exact same way. The only main differences are that the Hardanger fiddle is only played using two strings at a time, giving it a clear bourdon sound.

Some of the other fairly popular instruments that can be found being used in Norwegian folk music are the bukkehorn, which is made out of a goat horn, the langeleik, which is a box dulcimer, and a harpeleik, which is a chorded zither.

Photo: Calum Macaulay

Hilmar Festival

Norwegian folk music has grown to the point where it is so big that there are massive music festivals dedicated solely to it. The most well-known one is the Hilmar Festival, which involves around 150 artists performing in the folk music industry to a massive crowd of about 9,000 people. This festival has had some of the biggest up-and-coming names in the Norwegian folk music industry play on its stage during past years.

Photo: Tom Kjode

Modern Norwegian Folk Music

As proven by the presence of things like the Hilmar Festival, Norwegian folk music is still very much alive in the country. This is, in part, thanks to modern musical acts that have managed to modernize Norwegian folk music to make it more easily accessible to younger audiences.

One of the best examples of this is the Norwegian band G├ąte, that is widely known for their unique combination of folk and metal music. Lumsk is another band that has managed to do the same thing and has also found success in doing it.

Fans of History Channel's "Vikings" series will also be familiar with the sounds of Wardruna - a band that is inspired by ancient folk songs and instruments, as well as singing/chanting lyrics based on the Norse myths and historical writings.

Other musical acts decided to go the other way by infusing traditional Norwegian folk music with modern pop sounds. Perhaps the biggest example of this is the artist Odd Nordstoga who has managed to sell over 160,000 copies of his debut album in Norway.

However, there are some fairly big musical acts practicing traditional Sami folk music as well. By far the most popular example is Mari Boine who has found massive success with her unique combination of jazz and rock influences with her traditional joik sound. Today, there's also a wide array of artists combining joik with contemporary genres like hip-hop or electronica creating unique new expressions from the mix of ancient/modern.