Swedish Ethno Groove


I’m a big fan of Swedish-Finnish ethno band Hedningarna (“the Pagans”). Centred around three musicians working with a series of very fine singers, the band released five albums from 1989 to 1999. Their method was to go for the most primitive acoustic instruments known to Swedish ethnic music and plug them into various exotic electronics, producing a sound heavily influenced by Jimi Hendrix yet unmistakeably rural and Scandinavian. Most aficionados count the second and third albums (Kaksi and Trä), where two amazing Finnish traditional female singers dominate the sound, as the band’s creative peak. But I really like the fourth one too.

1997’s Hippjokk is the only Hedningarna album without any female vocals. The songs are either instrumentals or sung by men, including Sami guest vocalist Wimme Sarri who puts in some really badass yoik. Another thing that really sets this disc apart is its focus on groove, repetitive string figures, harvandet as the band put it in interviews. It’s not really riffing, more basic, more monotonous. And hugely groovy.

One funny and rocking track on the fourth Hedningarna disc is “Drafur och Gildur”, a song they picked up from live roleplayer darlings Sorkar & Strängar. This is a testosterone-drenched song telling a gory tale of woodland trolls who mess with the wrong pair of dwarves. I translate from the Swedish original:

Drafur and Gildur
By Martin Ahlman

Heavy-booted footsteps ring
Dwarven singing rides the wind
Down into a little clearing
Where wily trolls are waiting

Trolls have set an ambush here
To test the mettle of the dwarves
Drafur enters the woods
Keeping his axe handy

The trolls have waited long enough
Sneaking out from the forest eaves
Drafur stands listening
The birds are strangely quiet

Suddenly roaring and screeching
Trolls come running from the woods
Drafur muses to himself
“Time for some axercise!”

The first troll is hoping
To bash Drafur’s legs to pulp
This ambition is thwarted
When his head takes leave of his neck

More and more trolls appear
Drafur wishes they would just go away
Trolls have tiny brains
But there are too many of them

Suddenly the trolls’ luck turns
And hope springs in Drafur’s heart
Through a scarlet mist
He spies Gildur kicking troll ass

Trolls in hordes advance
Drafur and Gildur join forces
Back to back the dwarves
Paint the ground with blood of trolls

Drafur, grinning like a wolf
Swings his double axe
Stiff-necked trolls he chops
Dispatching them unfalteringly

The wrath of the dwarves has awakened
Any troll in range gets its skull cracked open
They start backing away
As Gildur beheads the stragglers

Few trolls are left now
Soon the dwarves will get some rest
Their blood boiling
They slay the last attacker

If you haven’t understood our song
Let us sing it once again:
The best fighters around
Are dwarves, no doubt about it

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26 thoughts on “Swedish Ethno Groove

  1. I love this album. Haven’t heard any of the others… I should probably fix that. Seems to me, though, that on this version of “Drafur och Gildur”, they don’t sing the last verse (I had to listen along just now while trying to read the Swedish lyrics). Is there another version out there where they do?


  2. Well done! Hedningarna do omit the last verse. I don’t know of any other version of theirs than the album one, but Sorkar & Strängar have of course recorded it themselves.

    Hedningarna also modified verse 3: they mention an owl instead of general birdsong, which introduces the idea that the ambush takes place at night. This is reasonable since trolls generally don’t like sunlight much.


  3. (Kaksi and Trä),
    Damn – I’ve only just seen the pun on Trä (for those who don’t know, kaksi means “two” in Finnish). It’s a great album, I agree.



  4. Drafur muses to himself

    “Time for some axercise!”

    I don’t speak Swedish, so I’m curious — is that pun present in the original, or is it a translator’s flourish?

    Either way, nice touch.


  5. Thanks! The original has a funny and very strained rhyme there, so I felt I had to put something similar in. As for Gildur kicking troll ass, that is pretty much the sense and stylistic flavour of the Swedish expression in that spot.


  6. No, dwarves belong to Viking Period mythology and trolls to a much later stratum of folklore. But the song lyrics are inspired by tolkienesque 20th-century fantasy literature.


  7. Having just put together virtually an entire house of Ikea flat packed furniture this last week I’m not too keen on the Swedes at the moment.


  8. But the song lyrics are inspired by tolkienesque 20th-century fantasy literature.

    And Tolkien used Norse dwarf names for his own Dwarves:

    Bifurr (“trembler”)
    Bomburr (“tubby”)
    Dáinn (“dead”)
    Durinn (“sleepy”)
    Dori (“borer”)
    Dvalinn (“dawdler”)
    Fili (“file”)

    Recycling is good! 😉


  9. My wife and I are huge fans of Hedningarna, Gjallarhorn and Garmana. I’ve been saving up for a Nyckelharpa myself. Thanks for posting on such an awesome band and fantastic album!


  10. “I see you baby,
    Kicking troll ass!
    Kicking troll ass!
    Kicking troll ass!
    I see you shorty,
    Kicking troll ass!
    Kicking troll ass!
    Kicking troll ass!
    Hi ho, mothergriever!”


  11. I think this is my favorite Hedningarna CD.

    But, hazy memory here, isn’t the first Hedingarna record without any vocals? I’d go look for it but it’s buried somewhere in the basement.


  12. Martin R — If you are a big fan of Hippjokk, you probably won’t like it too much. It sounds fairly traditional (I realize it may not actually be fairly traditional), and almost wan, in comparison with Kaksi!, Trä, and Hippjokk. I bought it after all their other records had appeared, and I was disappointed. However, once I find it, I will listen to it again.


  13. I remember reading a record review where the guy said that Hedningarna started out as a standard “sinewy” (!) folk band but blossomed into something truly wonderful with the second album.


  14. Hm, it appears that I have missed this post originally. Oh well: Martin, when my family and I make it out to Stockholm, we simply must all have a drink together, hopefully with live music as abackdrop. Your taste in music and branches of human knowledge is absolutely admirable, even if I say so.

    And Hedningarna had a compilation out in USA and Japan at least, after Trä but before Hippjokk. It was called Fire, of course…

    And yes, the first album is vocal-less and largely acoustic.


  15. Many thanks for the excellent translation. I’ve listened to the song hundreds of times, often stomping around a fire pit. Understanding the lyrics only adds to my enjoyment.


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