Swedish Folk group Vasen made their return visit to The Queen’s Hall Edinburgh tonight after a gap of fifteen years to perform as part of the Tradfest 2018 programme (running at many venues across Edinburgh from 26th April to 6th May).
Vasen have been playing together for close on 30 years, and during that time, have delighted audiences across the world with their musical skills and infectiously popular music.
This was my first introduction to Vasen and their music tonight, so if like me you want to find out a lot more about the group, then here is a very brief introduction. Firstly, Vasen are the following musicians who have their musical roots firmly from their home – the Uppsala area of Sweden.
Olov Johansson – nyckelharpa
Mikael Marin – viola
Roger Tallroth – 12-string guitar
Secondly, What does Vasen mean, and why the name? Well, that question is answered in full on their website, and I quote:
“Väsen is a Swedish word with many meanings: spirit, noise, a living being, essence among the most prominent. It was originally meant to just be an album title, but soon people were calling to book the band "Väsen" and the name stuck”.
Vasen are nothing like I imagined them to sound. I don’t know what I actually expected from a Swedish folk band, but the mixture of traditional, rock, jazz, and classical influences was not that, and it was a special kind of musical magic that Vasen wove on stage tonight.
The two things that everyone in the band love though are Polkas and Waltzes and ¾ time is at the heart of so much of their music. There is a joy to life and dance here that was in total contrast to what I expected long dark Swedish nights to produce in musicians.
As well as discovering Vasen and their music tonight though, I also discovered the appearance and sounds of the wonderful traditional Swedish instrument - The Nyckelharpa. A simple explanation of this instrument is “a keyed fiddle”, but for a proper description and some photos (if you have never seen one), visit this Wikipedia page https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nyckelharpa.
Music is not only about songs and notes though, and we all too easily forget that inter-woven with all of this is the traditional skills of the musical instrument maker. It is heartwarming to hear from Olov that the traditional skills required to make an instrument like the nyckelharpa are still alive and well in the 21st century, or that Mikael in his search for the perfect viola bow over the years has finally found one from a bow maker. Perhaps there is a Swedish fairy story in the works here – “The Bow Maker and the nyckelharpa maker” – particularly as both Olav and Mikael have such different stories to tell about them (if you were at this show, you know what I mean).
A wonderful night of music played by three talented musicians who are at a level that only ever becomes possible after playing together for a very long time as each knows instinctively his part in the greater musical picture. Our trio though not only have an obvious love for their music and their traditions, but for their instruments too.
For more information on Vasen visit their website at
Many of the tracks played in these two sets came from the new album “Brewed” and as always interesting to hear the stories behind some of this music and the people that it was written for. All stories told with a lightness of humour too to prove that maybe stand up comedy is alive and well in Sweden too. Here is a track listing for the album.
BREWED TRACK LISTING
4.Ellis & Andrés bröllopssvit
8.Jungfrun av Norge
Review by Tom King