‘Adults could learn from their spontaneity’

The Royal Philharmonic percussionists skipped to a Södertälje beat this week on a visit to one of Sweden's more diverse areas where grade-school children are learning to play music in a band.

'Adults could learn from their spontaneity'

“The big one!” yells one boy as the percussionists pause after a two-marimba, one-vibraphone rendition of Eine Kleine Nachtmusik.

His call ripples down the two crescent rows of orange plastic chairs until more than 50 children are chanting in unison, pointing at the scuffed blue base drum waiting to be used.

“The big one the big one the big one…”

A man in the small audience of friends and parents laughs: “They could teach adult audiences a thing or two about spontaneity.”

“…the big one the big one the big one THE BIG ONE…”

The kids get what they want. And they get to play along on upturned white plastic buckets.

Södertälje municipality, one hour south of Stockholm, last year invested in the music tutoring programme El Sistema, which aims to foster an interest in music among kids of all backgrounds.

SEE ALSO: Pictures from the percussionists’ visit to Södertälje.

It started in Venezuela and has since spread, with a youth orchestra already in place in Gothenburg when Södertälje picked up the baton last year. A small troupe of the children even performed at the opening of the Swedish parliament in September.

Above the din of the improvized “Bucket Band”, a concept invented by a US outfit of El Sistema, Royal Philharmonics project manager Karina Svensson explains that most of their musicians began playing at the same age as the children in Södertälje.

The entire ensemble has already visited the small suburban school, then the strings did a breakout performance. Today, it was the percussionists’ turn to travel south.

“Our job is to act as inspiration,” she says.

“It’s not breaking news that young kids like to bang on drums,” says the Philharmonics’ principal percussionist Daniel Kåse.

He himself used his mum’s saucepans and even the letterbox to bang out a rhythm before his parents gave him a drum at age five.

“Hopefully some of this sticks and the children feel psyched to continue with music,” Kåse says.

Eight-year-old Ilan Malke says she will keep up playing the cello, while Noor Aljabiri, 9, interjects that she is “going to be famous” although maybe not by playing the violin that she is learning to master in El Sistema.

“At first it was scary, now I’m an expert,” Aljabiri says.

“I know how to sing too.”

(Later in the day, when The Local calls El Sistema’s project manager to fact check, she says Aljabiri has taped her singing and made the project manager promise to send it on to the reporter.)

Then it’s time to head home. The children, most of whom are six or seven alongside a few older pupils, meet three to four times a week to listen to and perform music. At the end of lessons, some follow their music teachers to the bus stop, on to afternoon activities (fritids).

Outside in the winter sludge, the movers push the instruments back to the van. The kids trickle past them. Sleet drips from the light grey sky. The giant blue base drum goes last. The van door snaps shut. Stumbling, pretending to be horses in the snow, the children by the bus stop neigh.

Norgul Yalikun has come to pick up her 6-year-old daughter Elvira.

“We moved here from Linköping and there are much fewer activities for the children here,” she says about the Hovsjö area of Södertälje.

“I’m glad the children have something to do.”

So is Sundes Gilana. Her 9-year-old daughter translates for her.

“Doesn’t baba play violin too,” Maria asks her mother.

“No no no, guitar,” Sundes says in Arabic, before breaking into a smile and saying in hesitant Swedish.

“They play, I dance.”

Ann Törnkvist

Follow Ann on Twitter here


What are the best concerts in Sweden this autumn?

Now that Sweden has lifted its audience restrictions for public events, The Local's Paul O'Mahony lists his recommendations for the best gigs to attend over the coming months.

Crowd at a music concert in Debaser, Stockholm
Crowds return to Stockholm venue Debaser after pandemic restrictions on events were lifted. Photo: Pontus Lundahl/TT

Sweden’s musicians, concert promoters and venue operators have struggled to varying degrees through the pandemic. One surefire way to help get them back on their feet is to give organisers and artists the financial reassurance they need by pre-booking concerts. 

Of course these recommendations only apply if you feel safe attending large events; remember that you should stay home and take a Covid-19 test if you experience any symptoms that could be linked to the virus, even if vaccinated. And make sure to check with organisers if there are any specific coronavirus requirements you need to be aware of. 

Coming up: top gigs in Sweden over the next few months 

As a regular gig-goer, live music is the one thing I’ve missed most over the past year and a half. So it is with some excitement (and, I’ll admit, a degree of trepidation) that I prepare to go see Norwegian band Pom Poko this Friday at Hus 7 in Stockholm. Their melodic art-punk album Cheater sparked the year into life on its release in January. They’re also playing Plan B in Malmö on Saturday night

Plan B is also the venue when Squid hit Sweden with a thrilling dose of post-punk on October 15th. Tickets remain available for the show at the time of writing (an absolute steal at 120 kronor), though that’s sadly not the case in Stockholm where their October 16th gig at Melodybox sold out a long time ago. (Although you can sign up to be added to a waiting list). 

Another artist well worth checking out in October is Gothenburg guitarist and singer Amanda Werne, better known as Slowgold. Her live shows are great and she is embarking on a Swedish tour on October 8th. 

Emma-Jean Thackray, one of the UK’s most interesting jazz artists, will be at Fasching in Stockholm on October 15th

For the best kind of sonic assault, Anna von Hasswolff’s band Bada are scheduled to play in Stockholm, Malmö and Gothenburg in late October. 

Have any of you ever seen Gothenburg electronic veterans Little Dragon live? I haven’t but might check them out in November when they swing by Malmö, Stockholm and Gothenburg

Amason are also heading out on the road for a Scandinavian tour in November. If you haven’t heard Amanda Bergman’s voice in a live setting before this will be a treat. 

The inimitable Sibille Attar released her superb second album A History of Silence at the start of the year and she’s finally getting the chance to play her eighties-inspired gems live at Slaktkyrkan in Stockholm on November 18th

Cassandra Jenkins long lurked in the background as a musician in touring bands for people like Eleanor Friedberger and Purple Mountains. But this year’s album An Overview on Phenomenal Nature has really established her as an artist to be reckoned with in her own right. She’s coming to Södra Teatern in Stockholm on November 26th

Always popular in this part of the world, The Jesus and Mary Chain return to Sweden for dates in Stockholm and Gothenburg at the end of November

Wry Finland-Swedish indie outfit Vasas Flora och Fauna have some of the funniest (Swedish) lyrics and catchiest tunes around. They’ll be in Stockholm and Gothenburg the first weekend of December

UK experimental rockers Black Midi are also playing Stockholm and Gothenburg on December 4th and 5th. So prepare to travel if you want to catch both them and Vasas Flora and Fauna. 

As if that wasn’t enough, Bob Hund’s annual ‘week 48’ show also takes place on December 4th. But that has been sold out for ages so no decisions to make there. It is also worth noting though that Sweden’s hardest working band has also written a musical that’s going to be performed in Helsingborg (October-November) and Gothenburg (November)

Bonus: For a post-Christmas pick-me-up try to get down to Little Simz at Slaktkyrkan on January 14th if you’re in Stockholm. The UK rapper’s new album Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is one of this year’s best releases. 

Selected artists playing Sweden in 2022: Henry Rollins, Sarah Klang, Yann Tiersen, Mogwai, Pearl Charles, Wolf Alice, Lloyd Cole, Lord Huron, Future Islands, Josh Rouse + Vetiver, Tricky, Snail Mail, Porridge Radio, Aldous Harding, Shame, The Kooks, The War on Drugs, Echo and the Bunnymen, Kings of Convenience, Fontaines D.C., Alex Cameron, Lucy Dacus, The Divine Comedy, Mdou Moctar, Iggy Pop, Chubby and the Gang, Sparks, Belle & Sebastian, The National, Sharon Van Etten, Teenage Fanclub, Tindersticks, Suede, Viagra Boys, Pavement. 

For bigger arena shows, Ticketmaster covers a lot of the bases. Big-name acts with gigs in the offing include Ed Sheeran, Zara Larsson, Whitesnake and, lest we forget, ABBA

And that’s just a fraction of what’s going on. Tour schedules are busier than ever now that artists are finally getting back on the road. To keep track of what gigs are coming up I can recommend checking in with Luger, FKP Scorpio, and Live Nation. Follow your favourite venues too: sometimes they cut out the middleman and do their own booking and promotion. I also use the Bandsintown app, which comes with the added bonus of receiving messages from your favourite artists which let you pretend to be their friend. 

Enjoy the gigs, and stay safe! 

Paul O’Mahony is editorial product manager at The Local. In his spare time he plays the best new indie and alternative music as host of the Signals show on Nerve Music.