Chart-topping Nordic musician Einar Selvik to take part in That Jorvik Viking Thing’s most ambitious online event on Saturday UPDATED 20/2/2021

Einar Selvik: Discussing Norse music, demonstrating instruments and playing songs at That Jorvik Viking Thing online event on Saturday

OUT goes Europe’s largest Viking festival, the Jorvik Viking Festival, banished from York by Lockdown 3 restrictions. In comes That Jorvik Viking Thing, the world’s largest online Viking festival, organised by York Archaeological Trust.

So named as a nod to “Thing” being “a Viking public assembly”, the half-term remote event adds up to six days of new online content and live broadcasts, climaxing in An Evening With Einar Selvik, chart-topping Nordic musician and Jorvik Viking Centre enthusiast, on Saturday.

At 7.30pm that night, the Wardruna front-man will be in conversation with producer, filmmaker and journalist Alexander Milas, discussing Norse music, demonstrating instruments such as the taglharpa, and performing songs, buoyed by his band’s latest album, Kvitravn (White Raven), topping the iTunes chart in late-January.

Ticket holders are invited to send questions for a live question-and-answer session too, and such questions may even stretch to asking Einar about providing the soundtrack for the History Channel’s Vikings series and composing the music for the latest Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla game, released last November.

“As I’m an enthusiast for the festival, it feels great to be able to contribute, especially in these strange times,” says Einar Selvik

Einar is no stranger to the Jorvik Viking Festival. “I’ve performed there and done lectures there,” he says, recalling his sold-out events in “maybe 2017 and 2018”. “I really enjoy York as a city and I love the atmosphere during the festival,” he says.

“I do enjoy the ride at Jorvik Viking Centre – I’ve been there a few times – and maybe it’s best that the famous odour is confined to one space!”

Now comes his Jorvik Viking Festival online debut. “I was contacted, I guess it was a few months ago, by the organisers, asking if I’d be up for doing something: some sort of performance, if I’d be open to that idea.

“As I’m an enthusiast for the festival, it feels great to be able to contribute, especially in these strange times.”

Chart-toppers: Einar Selvik’s band, Wardruna. Picture: Kim Ohrling

Saturday’s online event can be viewed from all four corners of the globe, one of the changes that the pandemic has brought to arts and culture. “Absolutely that’s a good thing,” says Einar.

“Once all this started happening last year, first there was a lot of disappointment, but it’s up to us to think differently, to find a constructive and positive focus and look at the possibilities of what we can do. That’s the only way of coping and surviving.”

Einar’s band, Wardruna, last performed to a live audience in December 2019. “We were supposed to be doing our tour right after the first lockdown, when we were supposed to be playing the UK,” he says.

“The album was originally going to be released in early June last year, doing the tour of the UK in the following weeks, which has since been pushed to this spring, but that’s not likely now, and we’ll probably have to rearrange again, when Manchester will be the nearest place to York we’ll be playing.”

Artwork for Wardruna’s January album, Kvitravn

Kvitravn was completed in mid-March, before lockdown restrictions were imposed in Scandinavia, and the album release was delayed subsequently by the production plant being closed, but Einar believes that delay has turned out to be serendipitous. “I often get that question, leading up to a release, about ‘don’t you think the timing is risky?’, when you want to support it with concerts,” he says.

“But people have now adapted to new ways over the past year, they’re spending more time at home, and judging by the responses we’ve had people are really grateful to have something new for these times.”

What’s more, Einar’s songs on Kvitravn address both human nature and nature against the backdrop of the Coronavirus pandemic and climate change. “I do feel the album is on the brink of being almost prophetic,” he says. “Even though it addresses themes that were relevant pre-Covid, everything is amplified by what’s happening now.

“If you go back and make connections with various cultures, and you connect with wild animals and white ravens, like I do, when you look at the prophecies connected with them, you find that those prophecies are very often connected to renewal or great change, so there’s great hope in that album title.”

Einar Selvik: Wardruna front-man plays lyre, taglharpa, flute, goat horn, lur, drums and percussion

Einar continues: “The raven is an animal I have a totemic relationship with, which is why I chose that for myself. But although this album is in a sense more personal and more down to earth than before, it’s also quite obscure.

“I delve into the philosophical, the esoteric, the Nordic myths and how these old traditions define human nature and nature itself. So, the white raven was not chosen as the title because of my name, but more due to the ideas which inspired me to take that name in the first place.”

Einar, whose lyrics combine Norwegian with Old Norse, describes Kvitravn as being “a visual landscape”. “I do think that the music speaks on its own, even though it’s in this Norse and Nordic wrapping. The instruments, the themes, are timeless, so I think that’s one of the reasons people react to it very personally,” he says.

“But the lyrical side is a very important ingredient too, which is why, at least on the physical versions, we do include an English translation if you want to connect on that level.”

“The raven is such a central creature in Nordic traditions, being seen as a message between here and beyond,” says Einar

“The raven is such a central creature in Nordic traditions, being seen as a message between here and beyond, and as the animal embodiment of the human mind and body, so almost human within nature, I guess, on many levels.”

Einar has had experiences with ravens, both in his waking hours and in the world of dreams. “They are such strong symbols, representing nature and how it speaks through you in your own symbolic language that’s connected to your intuition, whether in actual encounters with ravens or in dreams,” he says.   

Einar, whose lyrics combine Norwegian with Old Norse, describes Kvitravn as being “a visual landscape”. “I do think that the music speaks on its own, even though it’s in this Norse and Nordic wrapping. The instruments, the themes, are timeless, so I think that’s one of the reasons people react to it very personally,” he says.

“But, for me, the poetry and lyrical side is a very important ingredient too, which is why, at least on the physical versions, we do include an English translation if you want to connect on that level.

Alexander Milas: Producer, filmmaker and journalist hosting Einar Selvik’s online event at That Jorvik Viking Thing

“In terms of language, I have quite a playful approach to it, where I combine Norwegian with Old Norse and Proto Norse, a language from before the Viking age. It’s almost Germanic.”

Einar grew up steeped in traditional music, Norse music and metal music. “For several years I played in metal bands, but I would say I was quite done with metal on a personal level in my mid-teens,” he says. “From then, it was more of a job and the desire to do something that was more in keeping with my passions grew stronger and stronger.”

Does he see any common ground between metal music and Wardruna’s music? “Metal has always drawn a lot from Nordic culture and ideology, but I really wanted to do something where they were treated more in their own right, not just playing with it for an album cover or lyrics, but for the tonality too,” says Einar.

“I guess there are connections between metal and Norse music in that lots of melodies in Scandinavian traditional music are quite dark, like in metal.”

Einar’s childhood days were spent on the Norwegian island of Osteroy. “It’s a fairly large inland island with a fjord surrounding it, and I guess your surroundings will always affect you. Growing up amid this postcard imagery, it definitely cultivated a profound sense of appreciation of nature,” he says.

“‘Nature’ instruments have a will of their own as they’re a living thing,” says Einar Selvik of the taglharpa, a bowed instrument made with horse hair

“I also grew up with lots of stories from the past, where you can connect them with the landscapes and what happened there 1,500 years ago. In hindsight, it gave me a sense of place and a place in time.”

Looking forward to Saturday’s streamed show, Einar says: “Alexander Milas will host the event, where I’ll talk with him a little about the context of each song and about the tools I use, the instrumentation, what we know and what we think we know about them. And, of course, the best way of demonstrating an instrument is to put it to use in a song.”

Einar will find time for questions from the online audience too, but here is one in advance: what is the taglharpa instrument? “It’s basically a bowed lyre, and in Scandinavia it’s the oldest bowed instrument we know of,” he says.

“Taglharpa means ‘horse hair’, which is what it’s made out of, though when I perform, I sometimes use metal strings for practical reasons because horse hair is really weather sensitive when you’re playing outside, which is the case with a lot of ‘nature’ instruments. They have a will of their own as they’re a living thing.”

An Evening With Einar Selvik, That Jorvik Festival Thing online, Saturday, 7.30pm. For £15 tickets, go to: jorvikthing.com. Wardruna’s album, Kvitravn, is available on Sony Music/Columbia Germany.

Story copyright of The Press, York

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