Stockholm’s jazz scene puts up a fight

The sixties were a golden age for live, improvisational music in Stockholm. Back then clubs like Gyllene Cirkeln attracted American jazz icons almost nightly and there was tight collaboration between international and Swedish artists. A lot has changed since then and most of it for the worse.

If you walked into the Gyllene Cirkel on a cold autumn night back in 1962 you might have caught jazz-legend Dexter Gordon together with some of Sweden’s finest rhythm men like Sture Nordin and Rune Carlsson as they played in the ABF-building’s smoke-filled ballroom. Back then artists played week long gigs where dozens of different jazz musicians would gather to exchange ideas and inspirations from both sides of the Atlantic.

Over the years though, the live music scene in Stockholm has changed dramatically as the forces of big-business, pop-culture and modern society have done their best to stamp the remaining life out of modern musical development.

At the end of 2005, Mondo, a popular venue for improvisational music, declared bankruptcy after it lost its liquor license. A few months later Lydmar Hotel, a well-established scene for jazz, soul and hip-hop, was forced to close its doors after the building owners decided that a bank office would be a much better use of the space than a legendary center for creativity and performance.

“The Stockholm live-music scene is almost dead and it seems as if everyone is doing their best to try and kill it off,” says Ingmari Pagenkemper, who before it closed was responsible for booking acts like The Jungle Brothers and Isaac Hayes to the Lydmar Hotel. But there are signs of hope with recent rumours that Stockholm’s Debaser club might take over Mondo’s business.

Likewise, Pagenkemper has now started working as producer at Södra Teatern. She is involved in two international musical projects and hopes to eventually start booking individual acts to that venue. But there are still many challenges facing the live-music scene in the Swedish capital.

“Audiences have become lazy and spoiled. People get their entertainment through the Internet and TV, so it is increasingly harder to get them to go out and buy a ticket if they don’t know exactly what to expect,” Pagenkemper says.

As always, the necessary evil that keeps the ship floating but can also run it into the rocks, and send it to the bottom of the ocean, is money.

Venues take big financial risks when they book new or upcoming artists. A few mistakes can bankrupt a place. For this reason, according to Pagenkemper, a lot of venues have chosen more mainstream acts over lesser known artists because there is a greater chance they will make a profit.

This is what has happened at the Stockholm Jazz Festival whose recent headliners include stars like Stevie Wonder, Jonny Lang and Lauren Hill. This year’s festival will put artists like Kayne West and Sting under the “jazz” headline.

Pagenkemper is well aware that events like the Stockholm Jazz Festival need to be run as businesses but she doesn’t agree with the way they are managing the music. “They think this is their way to reach a new generation and new target groups. I think it is necessary to find new audiences but they are going about it the wrong way. It is a disaster for the improvisational music scene”.

Pagenkemper sees collaboration as the way to breathe life and inspiration into the live music scene.

“At Lydmar one of my passions was to bring foreign artists together with Swedish producers and musicians, where they could exchange ideas or go into a studio together. It was greatly appreciated by both foreign artists and Swedish producers alike”.

This is the same concept that Gyllene Cirkeln used back in the sixties when Stockholm was a European center for live, improvisational music. With international and local artists constantly exchanging ideas the music and creative scene in Stockholm blossomed.

While today’s music scene is suffering, it is not yet dead. According to Pagenkemper there are good promoters and good venues in Stockholm. The Glenn Miller Café for example, is doing a fantastic job of offering new music while Mosebacke, which does not have as much jazz as it used to, is still offering a lot of high-quality concerts and independent artists.

Berns has also begun to offer a wide range of not-so commercial jazz, soul and R&B and finally Södra Teatern is promoting world music, spoken-word and jazz.

So despite the setbacks at the Lydmar and Mondo, many on the music scene are hopeful that Pagenkemper will continue to put her experience of forming collaborations between top international artists and Sweden’s young, creative minds to good effect.

David Francisco

Photo on homepage: Bajofondo Tango Club & Luciano Supervieille at Södra Teatern


IndiskFika: The Indian dance group taking Sweden by storm

IndiskFika are a group of Indians in Sweden with a shared passion: dance. Two of the group's leaders tell The Local how they came to be finalists in Talang, one of Sweden's top TV talent shows.

IndiskFika: The Indian dance group taking Sweden by storm

“We’ve been very passionate about dance from childhood,” says co-founder Ranjithkumar Govindan, who shortens his name to Ranjith. “I’ve been dancing from childhood, like first grade. So once we got into our professional lives and career, I wanted to continue my passion.”

“Like Ranjith, I have been dancing since the age of three, ” adds Aradhana Varma, who joined the group in 2020. She’s been competing in and winning dance competitions back in her hometown of Mumbai ever since. 

With just a handful of members back in 2019, the group now numbers over 50, including dancers, videographers, choreographers, editors, and production crew, and they are still growing.

Listen to Aradhana Varna from IndiskFika on Sweden in Focus, The Local’s podcast. 

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Govindan says started by dancing at various events in Stockholm alongside fellow Indian dance enthusiasts before the idea came to form the troupe. “Then, one fine day, me and one of my friends, Vijay [Veeramanivanna], said ‘why don’t we do a cover song?'” he remembers. 

“He’s very passionate about camera work, cinematography. I’m very passionate about dance,” Govindan says of the collaboration. 

Their initial idea was to take advantage of their location in to shoot dance routines out in Swedish nature, in the same way that Bollywood movies sometimes shoot routines against European scenes such as Swiss mountainsides or Italian plazas. 

“Indians are very famous for movies, like Bollywood, so we wanted to do a cover video of a particular song from a movie which was going to be released. Since we are living in Sweden, we have plenty of opportunities to cover good locations and nature, so that was an idea,” he explains.

The name ‘IndiskFika’, (“Indian fika”, a fika being a Swedish term for a coffee break in the middle of the day) came from Govindan and Veeramanivanna’s wish to combine Swedish and Indian cultures. 

IndiskFika performing in the Talang talent show. Photo: TV4

“We started with five to seven people in 2019, that was the first thing we did, and we did a shoot and edited everything, then we realised that if we wanted to release it, we should have a name,” Govindan says.

“So we started thinking ‘what name should we pick for this team?’. We came up with the idea IndiskFika. Everyone knows about fika in Swedish, right?” 

Their videos, some of which have over a million views, became popular both among Indians at home and among members of the Indian community in Sweden, whose interest helped the group grow further.

More and more Indians living in Stockholm started asking to join, and soon they were doing live performances:  one at the Chalmers University in Gothenburg, and another at the Diwali celebrations held by the Västerås Indian Association. 

When the pandemic hit, IndiskFika didn’t let it stop them. They started planning a digital one-year anniversary for the group, and began looking for other groups to collaborate with. 

That was how Govindan began collaborating with Varma, who had been performing with a different dance team. “I had been performing at various events like Namaste Stockholm with a different dance team based in Stockholm since 2017, but during pandemic, everything had come to a halt since it was a tough time for all of us,” she explains.

When new people joined IndiskFika, it gave the group a new impetus. “That’s when the boost started,” Govindan remembers. “We became stronger and stronger. So, so many things happened.”

IndiskFika first came to the attention of ordinary Swedes with an article in Ingenjörenthe members’ magazine for engineering union Sveriges Ingenjörer. Many of the group’s members are IT engineers or students at KTH, the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. “They did an article about us, about the engineers continuing their passion for dance, so that reached a more Swedish audience,” Govindan says. 

This led to more in-person performances, which in turn caught the eye of the producers responsible for Talang at Sweden’s broadcaster TV4.

“The Talang people said ‘we read about you and we’ve gone through all your YouTube videos, why don’t you come and participate in Talang 2022?’. The rest of the story you know. We participated in Talang, and we got a golden buzzer from David Batra in the prelims, so we went direct to the finals.”

David Batra, a Swedish comedian with an Indian father, is known for comedy series such as Kvarteret Skatan and Räkfrossa, as well as Världens sämsta indier (“World’s Worst Indian”), a series where he visits India, alongside public broadcaster SVT’s India correspondent Malin Mendel, and tries his hand at living and working in the country.

Batra is also one of four judges on Talang, whose golden buzzer meant that the dance team were awarded one of eight places in the final – four are chosen by votes and four are chosen by the Talang judges.

The group were among the top eight teams in the finals on March 18th, but for Indians in Sweden, reaching the final was a win in itself. They were invited for a fika with India’s ambassador to Sweden, where they were treated to both traditional Indian and Swedish treats.

The IndiskFika troupe on stage at TV4’s studios. Photo: TV4

Many of the group’s members work full-time alongside dancing, which can be difficult at times.

“It’s not easy to be so dedicated by spending extra effort after office hours, with hectic weekend schedules for rehearsals especially when everyone in the team has a full-time job,” Varma says. “There’s a lot of things that take place in the background from logistics to costumes, hall bookings, co-ordinating everyone’s availability, social media activities and so on.”

Like many foreigners, though, Govindan and Varma have taken their time adapting to life in Sweden. 

“All I knew about Sweden was that it was one of the cold and dark countries,” Varma says. “Eventually you start liking it, and you know, everything is worth it for the summers that you get here. The fika tradition, the amazing work/life balance, the nature, that’s the best part that we have here.”

“I didn’t have much of an idea about Sweden,” Govindan agrees. “The temperature, where I come from, throughout the year is between 25 to 40 degrees. In terms of temperature, nature, the people, everything is different.”

“India is very rich in culture, right?” Varma says when asked about the differences between Swedish and Indian culture. “We have a lot of colours and a lot of different flavours and you know, that’s the kind of performance we gave. That was the plan: to give a very energetic, powerful, and colourful performance.”