Musician/producer Stian Carstensen and musician/arranger Ola Kvernberg join him in raising these old songs to a new level. With the addition of guest artists Anita Kleppe and Sara Wilhelmsen, three voices from three generations of Travellers meet one another. Together they have recorded their unique interpretations of nine Travellers’ songs, some known and some unfamiliar, with the aim of preserving and carrying on the rich, but partly hidden, cultural heritage of the Travellers, and of making it more widely accessible.
The musical tradition of the Travellers is vivid and complex, featuring elements from a variety of countries and cultures – from broadside ballads and folk songs to Russian folk tunes and Balkan rhythms. In many ways this music bears witness to the way the Travellers drew musical inspiration from their travels. In addition to the treasure trove of songs the Travellers have kept alive, they have also had a strong influence on Norwegian folk music. Many traditional fiddle tunes that are well known today can be traced back to the Traveller fiddler Fant-Karl, and one of Norway’s most famous fiddlers, Myllarguten, often learned tunes from Travellers passing by.
This is the Norwegian equivalent of blues and soul, and has at least as much authenticity as the American genres we know so well. But it belongs to us Norwegians, and to the Norwegian landscape, nature and people.
Travellers/Roma are groups who have lived outside of established, mainstream society for centuries, and have to a large extent had their own laws, norms and traditions as well as their own culture and way of life. Today these groups have the status of a national minority, and have been more or less assimilated into the wider Norwegian society. Little documentation exists of the period when they were travelling, but their tales, knowledge and culture have survived through oral transmission from generation to generation.
This was before the government began in earnest to tighten its grip and enforce systematic and destructive assimilation policies, revoking Travellers’ rights and taking control of their lives. This process left enduring scars on individuals and on the group as a whole.
Elias Akselsen suffered the effects of these assimilation policies. When he was five years old, he and his family were thrown out of their home two days before Christmas, and forced out on the road, at 25 degrees below zero, when their rural district initiated a petition to have the family of Travellers removed. After that, Elias went to Sweden, where he played with the famous musicians Cornelis Vreeswijk and Fred Åkerstrøm, among others. Elias spent 16 years as a street singer in Sweden, because Traveller children had no right to go to school.
Today Akselsen is the leading practitioner of the musical heritage of the Norwegian Travellers/Roma. He was born on the road, with genuine Travellers on both sides of his family; he was the great-grandchild of the “Traveller king” Stor-Johan on one side, and of “sea vagabonds” in Bergen on the other. Today he is the last remaining representative of the original song tradition, and also practises traditional handicrafts, making knives and whisks.
The album was produced by Skøyerstaten Teater, a voluntary organisation that works to present the cultural treasure trove of the Travellers/Roma in an artistic form.