1993 – 1994
This album was released the year that Alf Prøysen would have been 80. Sadly, he died already in 1970, only 56 years of age, but he lives on as one of the best and most loved singers, authors, songwriters and storytellers Norway has ever fostered. Therefore it was a big challenge to produce an album celebrating what is best characterised as a national treasure: Songs that every Norwegian knows, and that project leader Sigbjørn Nedland grew up with himself. Songs that have created proverbs in the Norwegian language. Songs filled with wisdom and deep understanding of humanity, as well as humour and social commentary.
The idea was sparked by a phone call to Sigbjørn Nedland from Bjørn Eriksen, cultural consultant from the municipality of Ringsaker, Alf Prøysens homeplace. Eriksen wanted make some sort of celebration of the 80 years anniversary of Alf Prøysen. Nedland took up the challenge, and suggested a full CD production with a wide selection of contemporary Norwegian artists, an idea that made NRK decide to particpate. There was also an intention of updating and changing the understanding of much of Prøysen’s work. When a body of work becomes so much a national heritage as Prøysen’s, there is always a danger of it losing some of its original rougher edges and more critical or unpleasant content, and becoming “idyllified” and harmless. The truth is that there is a lot of sting in many of Alf Prøysen’s songs. Behind pleasing and seemingly idyllic images, there is often harsh realities and sharp social critisism, side by side with a warm and embracing understanding of especially the more underprivileged in society. Nedland decided to focus on highlighting the whole spectre of meanings and emotions of some of the best known Prøysen works – and some forgotten gems – to realise the full potential of the songs.
We wanted to show another side of Alf Prøysen (right): A tougher, cooler, more “dangerous” artist.
One quite revolutionary thing about Prøysen, was his use of his local vernacular in what he wrote and sang. At the beginning this was refreshing and new, it made the texts communicate more directly and relevantly to the audience. Over the years it became the norm that other artists would imitate this dialect when singing Prøysen-songs – with varying success. From the initally natural and direct effect of Prøysen singing his songs in his own vernacular, a sort of posing by other artists faking his dialect was established. In this process the dialect came to function as a”cozy” and idyllic coating, clouding the sharp observations and the underlying social commentary in the lyrics.
What Nedland Kultur decided to do, was to inspire the participating artist to do something Norwegian artists had not been doing up to then: To sing Prøysen’s songs, not in his vernacular, but in their own vernacular. Thus, for the very first time, well known songs were made new by the artists singing in the dialects of their own region. At the time, there was a very popular series of records in Norway called “På norsk”, where songs by famous foreign artists were presented in Norwegian translations (Leonard Cohen på norsk”, Hank Williams på norsk etc.). Jokingly, Nedland gave the project a work title: “Prøysen på norsk”, to indicate that finally artists were making Prøysen’s heritage their own: by using their own Norwegian dialects.
Eriksen, Stavanger, Tre små kinesere, Trondheim, Bjørn Eidsvåg, Sauda, and Marit Mathiesen, Tromsø were among the artists singing in the dialects of their home places.
The experiment seemed to turn out well. The album went on to become a Norwegian gold record. And a couple of the singles from the album became hits. The new versions of Prøysen’s songs were also performed in the various musical styles of the artists. The songs were adapted and transformed, and the new versions had taken up influences and ways of expression from rock, jazz, pop, blues and traditional music.
De Lillos and Dum Dum Boys, two of Norway’s top bands (left), did a raunchy rock version of Prøysen. Reidar Larsen(below, left) took one of Prøysen’s songs deep into the blues with a Tom Waits-like intensity, while Agnes Buen Garnås and Guttorm Guttormsen (below, middle and right) combined their traditional and jazz backgrounds in their take on Prøysen.
As for Eriksen, they stayed with their country/folk/roots style and got a hit with their version of “Sønnavindvalsen”. Actually, Rita Eriksen has said in later interviews that it was while standing in studio singing this song that she realized she had to switch from singing in English as she had done up till then, to singing in Norwegian.