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Album Review: Huldufólk
Cover image of the album Huldufólk by Skáld
2023 / Decca Records
43 minutes
Review by Steve Yip
Huldufólk by SKÁLD is fairly intriguing, hypnotic, and some numbers are “creepy” yet beautiful. It was a driving curiosity as I examined the many selections of new music sent via Crossover Music as I looked for jazz-influenced releases. However I settled on this number when my eye caught the subject title of the email, “France's World-Famous Nordic Collective SKÁLD Returns...” Vikings and Thor of Asgard came immediately to mind! Okay, let’s check this...

SKÁLD is a collection of French musicians and singers who promote the mythologies of Scandinavia through music and vocalizations and yodeling in Old Norse (and also in Swedish, Norwegian, Icelandic, Danish, and Faroese). This album is dedicated to the Huldufólk or “hidden people,” elves who are memorialized by poets and singers from Icelandic and Faroe Island folklore of old. The history lesson from the press release informs that the album honors this mythical peoples many Scandinavians supposedly still believe.

Obviously I don’t speak any of those Scandinavian languages, but the pull of the music was irresistible. Several numbers begin with muscular tribal male voices chanting with relentless pounding of drums that may remind one of eerie background music for some fantasy movie. Other numbers like “Hinn Mikli Dreki” feature a singular female solo. Another number like “Då Månen Sken” is like a round with male and female voices overlapping with violin and drums and guttural chanting. The violins in several numbers are Celtic reminders. Hey, there’s chanting in English in the number “A Forest.”

Just doing the basic background research for this review of these traditional cultures -- Nordic, Norwegian Sápmi, and Māori -- and finding some intersecting commonality was expansive, fascinating and enlightening. And here’s a possible point of reference: if you watch the Playing For Change music video of “When The Levee Breaks,” the opening sounds carried from Norwegian Sápmi joik artist Elle Márjá Eira with an very Arctic setting, and later the solo by traditional Māori performer Mihirangi, may help give one a musical baseline. Some may find this disparate association improbable and I apologize.

So curiosity about the Vikings helped open a door to visit these ancient musical traditions and appreciate this very rich music. More interesting narratives from the press release: “Plunging listeners into the myths and legends of Scandinavia... Accompanied by the sounds of the drums, we are cradled by hypnotic voices that let us escape into an ‘elsewhere’ made of fantasy, a land inhabited by weird and wonderful creatures, and mysteries created in strange landscapes.”

I can’t but help to quote again from the press release, “What SKÁLD proposes here is not so much the reconstitution of a bygone era, but rather an adventure, an experience that smacks of History, its mythologies and legends, an adventure that makes us dream of Nature, the forests, rivers and mysteries found in the folklore of the Far North.”

Check it out, I’ve resolved this music will be in my trusted catalog of relaxing yet galvanizing music for studying and writing. And another opportunity to elevate one’s ethnomusical literacy. So there you have it...
February 1, 2023