I was already an adult when I started with traditional music,” says Boksasp, one of the newest bright voices on the Norwegian traditional circuit. “My interest in the field grew forth as a combination of a love of local history and ethnography and some seminal record purchases: I bought some CDs with traditional music that I fell for instantly. And so, in due time, I enrolled at the folk music program at Rauland in Telemark. It was there that I discovered the recordings of Magnhild Havdal Almhjell. It was a very special experience to realize that she was actually from my home place! I had no idea that there was such and important voice of traditional music hailing from the same little corner of the country as I come from.”
Boksasp’s debut CD came in 2007, entitled Songar frå Havdal. The record is dedicated to Magnhild Havdal Almhjell in its entirety, meaning that the songs are all songs from Almhjell’s repertoire based on the ethnographic recordings that were made with the singer many years ago.
“I never got the chance to hear her sing live,” says Boksasp, “as she suffered a stroke before I was even born. But the local connection made my first record project very clear to me: I wanted to record her songs and make a record that also mirrored the things I had learned underway, especially in Stockholm.”
Between her studies at Rauland and her debut record, Unni first spent a couple of years working as a pedagogue in Norway and then moved to Stockholm to attend the Royal Swedish Academy of Music, a result of her decision to become a full time musician.
“I was already well acquainted with the Norwegian tradition and the educational methods used in Norway, so I wanted the difference in perspective that studies in Stockholm entail,” Boksasp elaborates. “They have a very different approach to working with traditional expressions. It is more liberal, I guess you can say, and more focused on arrangements. They have developed a special method for arranging traditional music, something we lack in Norway.”
Her insight into arrangements has been a very important tool for Unni in creating her own unique interpretation of the traditional sources she draws upon. Even more so on her new upcoming record, upon which she is currently working.
“Keramello, as it will be called, is more arranged and broader than my debut, which was an oddity in many ways, albeit consciously so,” Boksasp explains. “Now the format is a little more fixed, with bass and drums throughout. And the new record is definitely more light-hearted – even party-like – which is a bit of an achievement I think, bearing in mind that most of the repertoire that I draw on is very melancholic in nature.”
Apart from the format and arrangements, the major difference is that the new record draws from many different sources.
“A big part of being a traditional musician is learning from sources first hand,” says Boksasp. It is simply all-important to learn by ear instead of through written material. For that reason, I have spent a lot of time studying recordings and also making recordings with old people. Especially in my district, where there are very few still-active old singers and musicians, it is decisive to travel around to meet them and record their music.”
However, Keramello, which takes its name from an old goat herder’s calling-tune, also features songs written by Boksasp herself, including lyrics.
“The interplay between traditional songs and sources, and new arrangements and compositions is at the heart of folk music,” says Boksasp. “We find and create music as we go along, and often it is a matter of coincidence what ends up on a record and how long it takes to make a record. In my position, where I do everything myself –including the business part of it all – there is a certain limit to how much time you can spend on every project. Being a musician is a lot of work, especially as a singer, since it is mostly a question of your own projects and ideas rather than filling a role in a band.”
Unni Boksasp travels to Showcase Scotland with the band from her debut record.
“It is my first major international appearance,” says Boksasp, “so naturally I am very exited about it. For a newcomer on the international scene a convention like Showcase Scotland is really the optimal launch pad.”
Keramello will be recorded in February. By the time of its release, Boksasp will probably have extended the market for her music considerably. For things are happening in quick succession now; it is breakthrough time for another unique voice of Norwegian traditional music!
Unni Boksasp's MySpace site
Unni Boksasp's Last.fm site
Unni Boksasp on Spotify
Unni Boksasp, Folk singer