September 23, 2023

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International folk collaborators make new material

B.C. trio the Aerialists and Swedish duo Långbacka/Bådagård reached Breaking Point together.

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At folk festivals, the best music often plays out on second-stage workshops during the day rather than on the main stage at night. Artists from different locations, traditions and styles gather at the second-stage workshops, find common ground and showcase the magical language of sound.

These in-person moments are the stuff that memories are made of, often resulting in future pairings for performances and recordings.

With the pandemic putting stop to any such encounters except online, Folk Music Canada (FMC) launched its International Recording Collaboration Export Program to bring together 10 Canadian artists/bands with artists from Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden and Australia. The goal was to remotely produce new original collaborative songs that could be released and promoted internationally to export the selected Canadian folkies and the folk music sector.


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Those new tunes will be available for streaming on Folk Music Canada’s page June 11.

The pairings include, among others, Yellowknife throat-singing siblings PIQSIQ and Finland’s Vildá, and Prince Edward Island’s Irish Mythen and Iceland’s Svavar Knútur.

Folk Music Canada’s executive director, Karrnnel Sawitsky, says the results are impressive.

“The live showcase workshop is really a fixture of Canadian folk music festivals where relationships are built that have a direct impact on building touring opportunities and careers,” said Sawitsky. “With that not being possible at this time, we wanted a project that could provide that kind of creative connection between artists from across the globe. It was a way of getting money in musicians’ pockets, as well as coming up with something that could showcase, promote and expand the export market for Canadian artists.”

All the participants were paid, with production and promotion costs absorbed as well. The rights of each song are retained by the participating artists. Where export program monies might typically be used to facilitate touring and in-person collaborations, this new model presents intriguing opportunities. Asked if there is any plan to package the songs as an album, Sawitsky says that could be an option, as could combining a number of the collaborators into a touring performance package.

“Obviously, this is a different approach than we’ve taken in the past, which might take longer to realize the benefits from,” he said. “But there are already expressions of interest in having these artists appear at festivals both in Canada and elsewhere. It’s been a very rewarding process to be involved in that has built the kind of long-term connections for Canadian artists that can only be positive moving forward.”

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Among the artists who were happy to be involved in the program were the Juno-nominated B.C. neo-folk quintet, Aerialists, which paired up with Swedish progressive folk/pop duo Långbacka/Bådagård for the song Breaking Point. An atmospheric piece that perfectly showcases the combination of melancholy Scandinavian fiddle music, pining Celtic harp and crystalline vocals and harmonies, the tune is ready-made for regular airplay on CBC.

An algorithm couldn’t have tailored a better result to appeal to fans of folk from Northern climes. Both participating groups found the process extremely easy and totally rewarding.

“We listened to Aerialist’s albums before doing this and enjoyed what we heard, although me and Maya are more tending towards pop music with production and beats,” said Matilda Bådagård. “The melody was originally pretty close to a Swedish polska, but then they went and shifted it around to a 7/4 time and we just started working with that. The song kind of wrote itself and it was a very natural process to come up with the finished version. It was a very different experience from meeting someone at a festival, talking and jamming to get to know each other.”

In contrast to that standard greeting, Bådagård said Zoom meetings were much stiffer than a backstage chat and required more focus to stay relaxed. Ultimately, each act quickly identified common ground and then set about blending them together. Bådagård said that the digital realities of the experience might have contributed to a very high level of honesty in the sessions, with ideas being dropped quickly if they didn’t appeal to everyone.

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On the phone from Mayne Island, Aerialists’ harpist  Màiri Chaimbeul agreed that the common musical language spoken by both groups contributed to the success of this particular collaboration.

“I’ve attempted other online collaborations during the pandemic that have certainly not been as smooth, but this was a really great process of Zoom meetings, making little demos at home and sending files back and forth,” said Chaimbeul.

“It helped that Matilda and Maya could come together and Adam and Elise from our band could, too, so some of the ideas could be bounced around in person before going out to everyone. We are primarily an instrumental band and collaborate a lot with singers, so there was an instant familiarity with the process.”

She notes that the pop-orientation of their Swedish collaborators did give the final track more of an upbeat and cheery feel than what might normally be coming from Aerialists.

“It’s really fun to work with artists who have a similar grounding in fiddle music, as well as jazz education, to produce something that isn’t really fiddle music in the end,” she said. “I think that brought this great common ground for us both to be able to work with for the project. There seems to be a crossover in the jazz and pop scenes with the traditional music in the Nordic countries and in Glasgow, where I’m from, going on right now and it’s great.”

Chaimbeul said the pandemic has really driven home the need to master the skills required for recording at home and making such collaborations work. Her Swedish contemporaries agree this sort of process is probably here to stay. Besides new Aerialists’ material, Chaimbeul is working on a solo album of old Gaelic tunes, while Långbacka/Bådagård have been getting involved in film and TV projects. The duo’s soundtrack for the Swedish feature Glaciär was released on April 30.

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