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from  the album, Väsen Street


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They love Väsen so much in Bloomington, Indiana that they’ve named a street after them. The Swedish trio inspire such devotion through their updating of their native traditional music into a sound that’s a force of nature, at once delicate and intensely energetic, and the perfect marriage of three instrumental “voices”, the nyckelharpa, the viola and an alternatively-tuned 12-string guitar.

Olov Johansson’s nyckelharpa is central to the group. Dating back to at least the fourteenth century and unique to Sweden, its combination of fiddle-style bowing, keys that press against the strings and an underlying set of sympathetic strings, produces a singing sound like no other instrument. Johansson and violist Mikael Marin met as teenagers in 1980 and quickly began to develop an understanding that, fortified by studying and playing with elders of the Swedish tradition in Uppland, gives their music a richness through its connection with their roots and yet is thoroughly contemporary.

When they encountered guitarist Roger Tallroth in 1989, they found their ideal rhythmical partner, who also adds to the impression that Väsen are playing three separate melodies simultaneously. They played all that day and long into the night and in the early hours next morning they were offered a recording contract by Olle Paulsson, who thought it the best music he had ever heard and formed a record label, Drone, especially to release their first album.

The rest is history - and geography - as the trio have travelled the world, finding devotees as far afield as Japan and maintaining connections that have seen Väsen establish the nyckelharpa in the Swedish pop charts, collaborate with the Kronos Quartet, appear on Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion, and record with American fiddle and mandolin masters Darol Anger and Mike Marshall.

That Americans should take such a shine to Väsen is no surprise since their music has all the qualities of bluegrass – fleet-fingered invention, damned catchy tunes, brilliant musicianship – but with a Nordic tone that hits audiences straight in the pleasure zone.

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