By Leslie Bricker
The dark days of February were brightened this year with a visit from the Swedish a cappella group, “Kongero.” Bringing Swedish folk music to life with an exciting blend of rich tone colour, rhythmic vitality and powerful harmonies, Kongero shared their innovative arrangements and compositions in a workshop and concert on February 20, 2016, sponsored by the Cantiamo Girls Choir of Ottawa.
Singing together since 2005, the quartet performs a potpourri of traditional Swedish folk music and original compositions, brilliantly arranged by members of the group. The beauty of their voices, combined with an innovative approach to harmony and rhythm, enables Kongero to link traditional music to contemporary sounds. The women of Kongero have named their music “Swedish Folk’apella!” Three albums, international tours, and appearances at conferences and folk festivals speak to the effect of their music on listeners.
In 2015, Kongero visited Ottawa, led a workshop with the Cantiamo Girls Choir, and performed a concert for the public. The Cantiamo choristers were pleased to have the opportunity to sing with the women of Kongero at their concert.
Building on last year’s success, Kongero offered a day-long workshop for choirs and individual singers. Some 150 choristers gathered in Dominion-Chalmers United Church to learn two beautiful songs – an Estonian lullaby and a haunting Swedish melody. Members of Kongero shared tips and techniques for learning folk music in other languages, and participants learned to sing with a “Swedish smile”! The afternoon concluded with a concert. In addition to performing a fascinating mix of traditional and contemporary pieces, Kongero graciously shared their performance with workshop participants; Dominion-Chalmers resonated with the harmonies of the traditional melodies sung by the massed choir.
Folk music is an oral tradition, passed from generation to generation in community. The Estonian lullaby taught by Kongero (“Laula”) has already made its way to the Senior Girls’ Choir at Broadview Public School (directed by Leslie Bricker). Choristers reflect that the Estonian lullaby is “calm and peaceful, and even though you don’t know the translation of each and every word, you can create the meaning for yourself. It can become what you want it to be.” These same girls have gone on to teach the piece to the Nepean High School Chamber Choir (directed by Lee Carter), and to the William Aberhardt High School Chorus (directed by Erica Phare-Bergh), and will open their upcoming concert with this beautiful piece in three-part harmony.
Making music and sharing culture and community with Kongero was a highlight for all in attendance!
Leslie Bricker is a choral director and music specialist at Broadview Avenue Public School, in Westboro, where she leads 4 children’s choirs, and directs musical theatre and integrated arts events.