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Homegrown Plus Premiere: Kongero, Swedish Folk’appella

In this photo of Swedish singing group Kongero, four women stand in front of a red tile roof. Photo is accompanied by the Homegrown 2022 logo, which includes the words "Library of Congress American Folklife Center Homegrown 2022 Concert Series, "Homegrown at Home." Photo: Linda Rós Guðnadotter 

Anna Wikénius, Emma Björling, Sofia Hultqvist Kott, and Lotta Andersson are Kongero: Swedish Folk’appella.

The Homegrown Plus series presents Homegrown concerts that also had accompanying interviews with the performers, placing both together in an easy-to-find blog post. (Find the whole series here!)

This year, we’re premiering the Homegrown series right here in the blog (and also at YouTube), with the interviews alongside the concerts! We’re beginning the 2022 series with Kongero, a Swedish vocal group which consists of four women who sing folksongs: Lotta Andersson, Emma Björling, Sofia Hultqvist Kott, and Anna Wikénius. The women of Kongero like to say their music tells tales of life, with moving love songs, dramatic medieval ballads, witty ditties, and spirited dances, all sung in their native Swedish tongue. Traditionally, Swedish songs are usually sung solo. Kongero adds harmonies and arrangements created by the band members. Kongero’s polyphonic music is characterized by tight harmonies, stirring rhythms, and the clarity of their beautiful voices, which bring traditional Swedish folksongs into modern times.

Since 2005, Kongero has performed their polyphonic a cappella folk music (which they have dubbed Folk’appella) all over Europe, Asia, and the Americas, singing in concerts and leading workshops in traditional Swedish vocal music and vocal harmonies. (Find the Kongero website here.) Their path to performing in the Homegrown series began when Jennifer Cutting and I saw them perform in 2018 at the Folk Alliance International conference. We spoke to them about appearing in the Homegrown series, but it wasn’t possible at that time.

Head and shoulders portraits of four women with a backdrop of trees.

Clockwise from top left: Anna Wikénius, Emma Björling, Lotta Andersson, and Sofia Hultqvist Kott are Kongero: Swedish Folk’appella. Photo: Linda Rós Guðnadotter

In 2020, we were delighted that another of Emma Björling’s groups, the Skye Consort and Emma Björling, was performing at that year’s Folk Alliance International. We were also glad that two more of our colleagues, Theadocia Austen and John Fenn, were able to attend as well. On that trip, we discussed the idea of having both Kongero AND the Skye Consort in the series. But of course, soon after we got back to DC in January 2020, the pandemic put an end to the idea of any live music that year at the Library.

Within a few months we had retooled the series into Homegrown at Home, in which artists submitted videos of themselves instead of traveling to Washington and appearing in our auditorium. Since neither band could even get together at home during the early pandemic, we invited Emma to perform with Petrus Johansson in the 2020 series, and interviewed her as well. You can find those videos in the “Collection Connections” list below.  We never did give up on presenting Kongero, though! We really enjoy their take on traditional and original songs, so we decided to try again this year–and this time we succeeded. Watch their concert in the player below!

[Transcript of concert]

In the interview, I spoke with Emma, Lotta, and Sofia about the group’s music. We spoke about traditional music in Sweden, about how young people begin to learn folk music, and about how the education system fosters folk music alongside other styles. We talked about other institutions too, such as music camps, which got the members of Kongero started on their own love of folksong. We talked about their use of field recordings from archives, as well as their modern musical practice of arranging the songs. And, of course, we talked about the history of Kongero, from the band’s founding to the addition of Sofia, their newest member. Watch it in the player below!

[Transcript of interview]

You can find both of these videos with more bibliographic information on the Library of Congress website, with the concert here at this link and the interview at this link.

Collection Connections

If you’ve enjoyed Kongero’s concert and interview, there are other items from AFC’s collections and programs you’ll probably like too. Browse the links below, or come back and visit again!

Concert Videos

AFC’s concert and interview with Kongero singer Emma Björling and guitarist Petrus Johansson

AFC’s concert of Swedish and Norwegian fiddle music with Andrea Hoag and Loretta Kelley

AFC’s concert of Norwegian American dance music with the Berntsons

The Library of Congress concert of Music and Stories from Scandinavia with Spaelimenninir

Field Collections

Find documentation of Swedish culture, including recordings of folksongs, in AFC’s Chicago Ethnic Arts Collection

In the 1930s and 1940s, Sidney Robertson Cowell and Helene Stratman Thomas spearheaded collecting efforts in the Midwest. Copies of their recordings went to both the American Folklife Center and the University of Wisconsin. They are now online at this link on the UW website.  We recommend you use the browse feature to browse by language.  You’ll find over 50 Scandinavian folksongs and tunes, including Swedish, Norwegian, and Danish material.

Folklorist Jim Leary’s lecture on AFC’s Midwestern field collections includes commentary on Scandinavian music.

Essays and Guides

Find guides to Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, and Icelandic collections at AFC’s Research Guides Headquarters.

Find an essay with embedded audio of Swedish American Song at the Performing Arts Encyclopedia.

Thanks for watching, listening, and reading! The American Folklife Center’s Homegrown Concert Series brings music, dance, and spoken arts from across the country, and some from further afield, to the Library of Congress. For information on current concerts, visit the Folklife Concerts page at Concerts from the Library of Congress. For past concerts, including links to webcasts and other information, visit the Homegrown Concerts Online Archive.

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