Cape Breton Post

Mix of new and familiar sounds fills church in Ingonish

The Cape Breton Post · Published on October 17, 2013

INGONISH — In the cozy confines of St. Peter’s Church, Swedish group Väsen continued their debut tour of the Celtic Colours International Festival, Thursday night.

The folk trio, featuring Mikael Marin, Roger Tallroth, and Olov Johansson, are performing three shows in three nights on a whirlwind swing through Cape Breton. The second in that run brought them to Ingonish Thursday for The Hills Are Alive show, alongside The Snowflake Trio made up of Irish flute player and singer Nuala Kennedy, accordionist Frode Haltli and Hardanger fiddle player Vegar Vårdal from Norway; as well as Cape Breton band Coig starring Chrissy Crowley, Rachel Davis, Colin Grant, Jason Roach and Darren McMullen, all veterans of the festival in their own right but making their Celtic Colours debut as a quintet.

The Snowflake Trio and Coig took the stage in the first half of the show, while Väsen was introduced to open the second half of the night with Marin on viola, Tallroth on the 12-string guitar, and Johansson on the nyckelharpa, a traditional Swedish instrument. With the shape of a long fiddle and features of various other instruments, the nyckelharpa has a storied past.

“The history goes back a long time, the oldest picture is from 1350 but we don’t know very much about how it was used (then). From the 1600s there’s lots of proofs of it and written texts and you can see how it’s been used,” explained Johansson. “In (the Swedish province) Uppland, where we come from, that’s where it’s been used and they have invented new models of nyckelharpa to match the fashion of the music that’s changing all the time over history.”

In the mid-1900s the nyckleharpa tradition was in decline in Uppland with only 20-30 players and about 10 people who knew how to craft one, but a resurgence happened in the 1970s when evening classes were established to teach interested people how to construct the instrument.

“It became this crae all over Sweden to build your own nyckelharpa,” said Johansson, adding that the number of players grew soon after and many nyckleharpa societies were formed in the 1980s.

While the nyckleharpa may have been the most distinct instrument on stage, it’s ust one piece of Väsen’s sound, which is often described as orchestral.

“We get that kind of comment a lot, even from classical musicians. It’s a really rich and full sound from the three of us because we tune down our instruments as well,” said Tallroth. “I’m really low in pitch and the five-string viola is both high and low so it’s sort of a mellow, rich sound as opposed to only fiddles.”

Johansson, Marin, and Tallroth are veterans of the Swedish music scene  Väsen is set to celebrate its 25th anniversary in 2014 – and have released 15 albums as a trio. Their set in Ingonish included many tunes from their latest, “Mindset.”

Tallroth said their first Celtic Colours experience has been a good one so far and that the Cape Breton event is quickly climbing their list of favourite festivals.

As is tradition at festival shows, the three bands came together for a finale set, to the delight of the capacity crowd at St. Peter’s Church.

Celtic Colours is in the home stretch with ust two days left of the nine-day festival. Friday, there are shows in Baddeck, L’Ardoise, Big Pond, Inverness, Sydney Mines, and the muchanticipated Songs of the Rankins show at the Savoy Theatre in Glace Bay, featuring a long list of some of the island’s best singers and musicians paying tribute to the legendary Rankin Family band, of Mabou. For a full schedule of events and ticket information go to