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Rosensfole revisited

Birth of a legend

Jan Garbarek, Agnes Buen Garnås

Dutch music writer Eelco Schilder is still in love with the album Rosensfole, which originally appeared in 1989. This highly influential release remains a water shed in Norwegian traditional music, bringing together the talents of saxophone virtuoso Jan Garbarek and singer Agnes Buen Garnås.

By Eelco Schilder, Folkworld

I think we all have these records that we love from the first time we hear them. One of my all time favorites is the Norwegian Rosensfole by singer Agnes Buen Garnås and Jan Garbarek.

The combination of Buen Garnås’ crystal clear voice and Garbarek ‘s ice cold, but warm at the same time, musical arrangements create a unique, real Nordic sound. Together with Agnes Buen Garnås I look back and reconstruct the birth of this legendary album.  
The early start

‘In my home there was songs and music every day’.

That is how Buen Garnås starts her story. Her mother and sister were always singing while doing the household and her father and brothers were making music in the afternoon, when they were at home.

Buen Garnås: ‘We, the youngest in the house, slept really well on the music that came from the living room downstairs. Also at those occasions we gathered with neighbors and friends we used to sing songs, make music and danced. My father brought home some records by artists such as Sumac, Caruso, Italian opera and classical music.’

‘While my brothers and sister played the popular music of that time. I loved singing and I think I was only fifteen years old when my teacher asked me to sing on a tape which could be used in school for education. I liked that, and thought I might do more of this in future. A few years later I moved to Ås which is situated about thirty kilometer from Oslo. There I took lessons in singing and guitar but after a year I stopped as I was hundred percent sure I wanted to become a folk singer, not a classical skilled one. To be honest, I can’t explain why…Maybe I wanted to proof that this style was as good as any other style of music. I was very sure about that! ‘

‘We were quite many young people working to find older people in Norway, who still could sing the old songs in the traditional way. We made a lot of Kvedarseminars all around the country and in Sweden, every year a new place for ten years This was great to listen to, I was told that some of the ballads were no longer sung in Norway, but they were there! At that time I listened to all the folk songs I could put my hands on and after some years I felt sure enough to start singing them myself. I had found my voice, my style and the songs that I wanted to sing.’


Full passion about the traditional Norwegian songs and grew up in a house full of music, it is no more than logic that Buen Garnås became a well known singer. She has been part in over twenty five records and on ten she takes the leading vocals. But there is one that became an international highly respected album; Rosensfole.

Buen Garnås: ‘The first time I heard Jan Garbarek was in 1979. He played a concert in Oslo, in the Konserthus. I liked his compositions and loved the mixture of his saxophone and the organ he performed with at that particular concert. I felt that this was music of our time, modern but classical at the same time. I was deeply impressed.’

‘Only a few year later I was given some money to record Mediaeval ballads and I immediately thought about Garbarek. I called him and asked If he like to arrange some mediaeval Norwegian songs and he said yes. First we talked about it and then I recorded some songs and sent them to Garbarek. I explained what I thought the songs were telling about. This epic stories are full of symbols, a lots of enigmatic, with more than one answer. My idea was to giving these stories a new life.’

‘After a while he sent his music to me. I looked forward to hear his saxophone sound, a unique sound that nobody else has. I loved his arrangements but it wasn’t saxophone sound at all. We went to the studio where I sang with Jan Garbareks music on my ears.  Jan was producer,  Vigdis, his wife, and Ingar Helgesen were technicians. They too had four very good ears,  so we were a ”four-clover” which helped me go on when I didn’t dare or didn’t know what direction to take.’

‘After I sang them, Jan added more music, he played all the instruments you her by himself. I think that Garbarek have lifted the songs into the light –  given them dance feet and a lot of more and longer life! I mean, some of these songs I learned when I was a child and because of his music they got new songs to me. Jan gave me trust and believed in me, I got years older during this project in a good way I mean that.'

‘After the recordings, Jan arranged some of the songs for concerts and together with Mari Boine I was a guest at concerts of the Garbarek group on a five week tour through Norway and in later years at some international mini-tours. People loved the album, old and young and after ECM released the album internationally it sold quite well. I’m very thankful that I could have done this project. I feel like it was yesterday and maybe I would done it in the same way if I was asked to do it now, but to be honest…I think I wouldn’t dare.’
Post Rosensfole
Until today Buen Garnås is very active in all kinds of music related projects. After Rosensfole the Draumkvedet album is another highlight in her recorded career. But the songs from Rosenfole always kept turning up again in time.

In 1992 she worked with the Collage Dansekompani in Oslo which included songs of Rosenfole and after this she organized concerts with folk singers, first with Norwegian singers only but after two years singers from the other Nordic countries were added to the lineup and there were Scandinavian tours.

Besides recording and concerts she works in projects for young children until three years old where she integrates music, dance, paintings, textile and storytelling and many other projects came out of her creative mind.

Buen Garnås: ‘I think I had between 5-20 projects every year for the past ten years, I stopped doing that. It has been enough. Now I’m going to make recordings of the songs I have done in these projects together with Øystein Vesaas on guitar and other string instruments, and Per Anders Buen Garnås on Hardangerfele. We will add one musician, but we don’t know who that will be yet, but it needs one more. Besides this I’m one of seven in a program called Syngende I det nye Norden. In which we express the new sounds of the North. And I hope to get more concerts with our crossover band with early poems by Old Brage and texts from the Edda, dainas, joik, runesang and stev all in one concert.’
Agnes Buen Garnås continues telling about many other projects she is participating in, as far as I can see this great singer who, as I wrote before, is one of my all time favorites can’t be stopped. She will always be part of many unique projects.

My only wish is that one of these will bring her to Holland so I can see and hear her live on stage one day. For now, I’m just very happy that she was willing to tell a bit how one of the most beautiful record ever was born.

Eelco Schilder lives in Malden in the Netherlands, and is a regular contributor to the German music magazine Folkworld. He also writes for www.newfolksounds.nl, where this piece originally appeared. An English version of this article may also be read at this link. It is published by Folkmusic.no with the kind permission of Mr. Schilder.

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