At the end of May, far in the north of Iceland, musicians will gather to celebrate old songs shaped amid the fjords, forests, islands and towns of Northern Europe. A Danish clarinettist will teach traditional Icelandic dance songs; an Irish piper will serenade the crowd with reels and jigs; two Swedish sisters will tear it up on violin and cello. If you long to hear fiddles morning, noon and night, or if you find yourself dancing along to every Celtic and Scandinavian tune you hear, Akureyri ought to be your next stop.
Though Iceland is renowned the world over for its ambient rock bands and thumping festivals, the third annual Vaka Festival promises something different: its folk songs and ballads, many of them centuries old, stitch player and audience alike to a unique place and history. Its focus on intimate shows and collaborative playing means attendees may just as easily sing alongside master Scottish singers as listen to them.
“There’s a lack of traditional or roots-based music in Iceland, and I see that as a lack that needs to be addressed,” says Chris Foster, an English singer who lives in Reykjavík and also serves as Vaka’s programme coordinator. “We want to show people…that there are all these riches out there.”
And the riches are fine indeed, some hidden within Iceland’s own past: at Vaka, ancient rímur ballads—rarely sung today—take centre stage. In learning them, participants rekindle a vital aspect of Icelandic culture.
If you can’t make it all the way to Akureyri, don’t worry, because two shows that bookend the festival take place right here in Reykjavík. Duo Systrami, twin sisters from Sweden, will perform at the Nordic House on Sunday, May 21, while an Irish trio will take to Kex Hostel on Sunday the 28th.
Vaka Folk Arts Festival: Tradition for Tomorrow takes places from May 24-27 at the Hof Cultural Centre in Akureyri. Tickets will be available online shortly.
Getting there: Air Iceland operate daily flights to Akureyri from Reykjavík.