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Swedish music

As a tribute to ABBA's success in the Europeworldunited eurovision, here is a special article which documents the history of Swedish music, from accordians to Ace of Base.




Little is known about the music of the pre-christian Norse - the Vikings. However, thanks to old Viking instruments recently discovered, we can have a good guess at what the music might have sounded like. Instruments found include the lur - a kind of big trumpet - and some string instruments, flutes and drums.

The lur

Traditional Folk music

There are many traditional folk songs in Sweden. In most of these songs is the fiddle, a bowed string instrument that is also prominent in many traditional Irish songs. Another instrument that plays a key part in the old traditional folk songs is the Nyckelharpa. This is an impressive looking string instrument with keys that when pressed down, change the pitch of the string.                                                            Other common instruments in swedish folk include the Swedish bagpipes, the accordion and the harmonica.

File:Nyckelharpa built by Eric Sahlstrom.jpg

The nyckelharpa


There are many folk songs in Sweden that are ballads (stories set to music). Also common in swedish folk songs is 'kulning'. Kulning was originally used as a herding call to livestock - usually a woman called in this way, but men have also been known to. However, later on it was incorporated into many folk songs.

Up north, the Samis in Sweden had their own style of song - the yoik. Yoiking is a traditional form of Sami music that is usually sung to reflect a specific person or place. Yoik songs try to capture the very essence of someone or something, rather than just sing about it. Despite this, Yoik songs usually have either short lyrics or no lyrics at all, so the emphasis is clearly put on the music. This makes the songs very atmospheric and moving. However, it is very hard for an outsider to properly yoik - the technique is so unusual, they have to practise patiently and thoroughly. If they do that, the technique for yoiking will come, but only very slowly.


Sami yoikers performing


 The earliest recorded folk music was thanks to an organisation called the Gothic League, a society interested in swedish culture, who published a transcription of a swedish song in their magazine, Iduna, in 1813.

The 1890s saw the first public performances of the folk music by actual spelmän (folk musicians) in Stockholm's open air museum of Swedish folklife. The first folk music contests were held in the first decade of the 20th century. However, over time these contests became less popular, and swedish folk musicians instead met each other at smaller gatherings. The most well-known of these musicians were the fiddlers from the province of Hälsingland, in central sweden.

Folk Dresses

Swedish dress in 1907


For a while after that, Swedish folk music became less and less common. However, in the early 1960s, it experienced a revival, boosted by musicians such as jazz artist Jan Johansson. The revival gained momentum at the arrival of Gärdesfesten, an alternative music festival in Stockholm, where folk music was played regularly. Many new instruments were introduced into modern Swedish folk music, such as the saxophone, flute and mandola.


 Gärdesfesten, 1971


Since its peak in the late 1970s, folk music has returned to an alternative subculture, but that does not mean that the revival has been forgotten. On the contrary, children at Swedish schools often learn the instruments and the Swedish folk songs.

There are also many modern successful traditional swedish musicians, such as Per Gudmundson, Emma Härdelin and Lena Willemark, and bands such as Frifot and Garmarna.


Traditional dance music

Much of the Nordic traditional dance music did not actually originate in Scandinavia, but was the preferred hobby of the great and good aristocrats across Europe. However, the dances caught on to common people and quickly spread to Scandinavia. Even when the rich grew bored of them and moved on to newer dances, the ordinary people still performed them, and do so today.

Here are some of the main dances:



The polska is a dance that originated in Poland (hence the name) hundreds of years ago, but spread to Sweden. It is a turning dance in 3/4 time (3 main beats, like a waltz) that is usually danced by couples, who grasp each other firmly and pivot around and around with a smooth, carefully coordinated step. The polska is slower than the waltz, though in some variations the music to the polska gets faster and faster as the dance progresses. In the polska dance, the three beats have different sounds - beats 1 and 3 are heavy and downward, and beat 2 is light and upward, so the overall sound made is 'bom-bip-bom'.



The polka, is, unlike the fellow dance of a similar name, lively and bright. The name comes from the czech word půlka, meaning little half, as a reference to the half steps the dancers take. The dance is in 2/4 time (two main beats) and the dancers move in a way which can be expressed as 'hop-step-close-step'. The polka is performed in countries acrossed the world, not just Sweden. Typical intsruments found in a polka song include the tuba, accordion, clarinet, tumpet and drums.




Similar to the polka, but slower, the Schottische is another dance that originated in central Europe but spread to Sweden. The dance involves a series of two runs and a hop coupled with four turning steps. The main instrument in a Schottische is the accordion.

Modern Music

It is widely considered that in the pop world, Sweden is the third most successful musical country, after the USA and UK.

The most well-known Swedish export in the music world is without a doubt ABBA. Since winning the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974 with their song 'Waterloo', they grew to be the second most-successful band of all time, after the Beatles. After achieving countless hits, they split up in 1982, but even after they ceased to exist as a group, their CDs and records still get bought in immensely large quantities.  This peaked in 2008 after the release of the ABBA musical film 'Mamma Mia'.

However, it must not be forgotten that there are many other swedish artists that have acheived big hits in the west. Here is a complete list of hits by swedish singers and bands:

Blue Swede: Hooked on a Feeling, Never my love

Abba: Ring Ring, Waterloo, Honey, Honey, I do, I do, I do, I do, I do, SOS,  Mamma Mia, Fernando, Dancing Queen, Money, Money, Money,  Knowing me, knowing you, The Name of the Game, Take a Chance on Me, Summer Night City, Chiquitita, Does Your Mother Know, Voulez-Vous, Angeleyes, Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight), I have a dream, The Winner Takes It All, On and On and On, Lay all your Love on me, One of Us, When All is Said and Done, Head Over Heels, The Visitors, The Day Before you Came, Under Attack, Thank you for the Music.

Europe: The Final Countdown, Carrie, Superstitious

Roxette: Dressed For Success, Listen to your Heart, The Look, Dangerous, It Must Have Been Love, Joyride, Fading Like a Flower (Every Time you Leave), The Big L, Spending My Time, Church of your Heart, How do you Do, Queen of Rain, Almost Unreal, Sleeping in my Car, Crash! Boom! Bang!, Fireworks, Run to You, Vulnerable, You Don't Understand You, The Look '95', June Afternoon, Wish I could Fly, Stars, Milk and Toast and Honey, A Thing about You.

Ace of Base: All That She Wants, Happy Nation, The Sign, Don't Turn Around, Living in Danger, Lucky Love, Beautiful Life.

The Cardigans: Rise and Shine, Sick and Tired, Carnival, Lovefool, Been it, Your New Cuckoo, My Favourite Game, Erase/Rewind, Burning Down the House, For What it's worth,  You're the Storm, 'I Need some Fine Wine, and You, You Need to be Nicer',

Dr. Alban: It's My Life, One Love, Sing Hallelujah, Look Who's Talking, Away From Home, Sweet Dreams, Colour the World,

Leila K: Got to Get, Rok the Nation, Open Sesame, Ca Plane Pour Moi.

Army of Lovers: Crucified, Obsession, Ride the Bullet.

Stakka Bo: Here We Go

Rednex: Cotton Eye Joe, Old Pop in an Oak, Wild 'N Free.

Robyn: You've Got That Something, Do You Really Want Me (Some Respect), Do You Know (What it Takes),  Show Me Love, Be Mine, Who's That Girl, Handle Me, Dream On, With Every Heartbeat, Cobrastyle.

Eagle-Eye Cherry: Save Tonight, Falling in Love Again, Permanent Tears, Are You Still Having Fun, Long Way Around.

Emilia Rydberg: Big Big World

Meja: I'm Missing You, All 'Bout the Money, Private Emotion, How Crazy Are You?.

Alcazar: Crying At The Discoteque, Sexual Guarantee, Don't You Want Me, This IS The World We Live In, Physical.

The A*Teens: Mamma Mia, Dancing Queen, Upside Down.

A Camp: I can Buy You.

 Jose Gonzalez: Heartbeats, Hand on Your Heart.

The Concretes: Say Something New, You Can't Hurry Love.

 Peter, Bjorn and John: Young Folks.

Eric Prydz: Call on me, Proper Education, Pjanoo.

Basshunter: Jingle Bells, Now You're Gone, All I ever Wanted, Angel in the Night, I Miss You.

September: Satellites, Cry For you, Can't get over.


 Hip hop

There is also a relatively large hip hop movement in Sweden. It first emerged in the 1980s in Stockholm and Malmö, two of the biggest cities in the country. In those days, the lyrics were rapped in english, but as the genre advanced in Sweden, more and more songs were rapped in Swedish, and now that is the language most commonly used. The form of Swedish that is used is what is known as 'Rinkeby Swedish'. This is the term for the dialect used in suburbs of Swedish cities like Stockholm, where there are many immigrants. Some of the most popular Swedish hip hop artists include Petter, Et Öga Rött, and The Latin Kings, a group that arguably made Swedish hip-hop more popular.