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CULTURE

Five impressive facts to help you ace that Abba trivia contest

Abba are back, but how much do you know about the Swedish pop hit machine? Here are five things to know about the band.

two jars of abba herring
Abba as herring? Yes, Abba as herring. Photo: Hasse Holmberg/TT

One name, four first names, and herring

Formed in stages in the early 70s, the group had its first successes in Sweden, but struggled to find an identity.

After ditching the name Festfolket (“the party people”) and an unsuccessful naming contest launched in a newspaper, Agnetha Fältskog, Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson and Anni-Frid Lyngstad finally settled on “Abba” – an acronym of their first names.

The only problem was that the name was already used by a fish cannery.

After a phone call to the director of the company, Agnetha got permission to use the name in exchange for an easy promise never to go into the fish business or embarrass the company.

Abba’s pickled herring is still sold in most supermarkets in Sweden, and a staple on Swedish dinner tables at holidays such as Midsummer and Christmas.

The triumph of Waterloo

After losing out in 1973 with the single Ring Ring, the quartet managed to win Sweden’s Melodifestivalen, thereby getting to represent their country at Eurovision 1974, held in Brighton in the south of England.

With their star-shaped guitars and tight satin costumes, Abba triumphed with Waterloo, relegating Grease diva Olivia Newton-John to sixth place. In front of millions of viewers, a phenomenon was born.

The song, referencing Napoleon’s famous defeat, topped charts across Europe. It was just the first of a string of hits, including Mamma Mia (1975) and Dancing Queen (1976) – first performed at the wedding of Sweden’s King Carl XVI with Queen Silvia in June 1976.

Swedish pop group Abba from left Benny Andersson, Anni-Frid Lyngstad, Agnetha Fältskog and Björn Ulvaeus singing the song Waterloo. Photo: Olle Lindeborg/TT

Crazy costumes

Initially intended to stand out from the crowd of Eurovision contestants, the sparkling costumes became an Abba trademark.

“I asked Björn: ‘What would you like, what can I produce for you?’ And he answered: ‘Nothing is too crazy’,” Owe Sandström, the designer of the group’s famous outfits, told AFP.

It was a call to extravagance that the costume designer eagerly embraced, blending influences from cabarets, the circus and the animal kingdom.

Sequins, pearls, crystals and all that glitters were liberally draped over the Abba stars. One of Sandström’s favourites was inspired by flamenco and worn by Björn during a performance of hit Chiquitita (1979) at a Unicef charity concert.

From left, Björn Ulvaeus, Agnetha Fältskog, Anni-Frid Lyngstad and Benny Andersson, on stage during a concert in 1979. Photo: TT

Sweden, a champion of musical exports

Even today, only three countries in the world export more music than they import: the US, the UK and Sweden, according to a recent independent study commissioned by industry group Export Music Sweden.

With hundreds of millions of albums sold, Abba helped the Nordic country of 10 million people punch above its weight.

Bands like Roxette, Ace of Base, The Cardigans, or more recently Swedish House Mafia, Lykke Li and the late Avicii, have taken up the torch.

Unofficial figures say Abba has sold as many as 400 million albums, but according to Carl Magnus Palm, author of several books on the group, 150 to 200 million is closer to reality. In any case, the band is one of the best-selling bands in the world.

Two marriages and two divorces

While Abba is a quartet, it also formed two couples.

Agnetha and Björn were married in 1971. Then in 1978, Frida and Benny, who had been together for several years, also got hitched.

But the trials of managing relationships as superstars became too much to bear and in 1979, Agnetha and Björn divorced, followed by Frida and Benny in 1981.

Not letting a good heartbreak go to waste, Agnetha and Björn’s break-up is believed to have inspired one of the groups most iconic songs, The Winner Takes It All (1980).

In 1981, Abba released a final album and the following year the band split up. But their success continued, notably with the compilation Abba Gold released in 1992.

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SWEDEN AND INDIA

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. 

Click HERE to listen to Sweden in Focus on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or Google Podcasts.

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.”

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