Setesdal, right in the heart of Agder in the southernmost part of Norway, is not only known for majestic mountains, beautiful bunads (traditonal folk costumes), old building practices and rich craft traditions. The people of Setesdal are also very proud of its long and vibrant folk music traditions.
Sigrid Bjørgulvsdotter Berg has folk music in her heart and in her blood. She is the daughter of the famous songstress Kirsten Bråten Berg, and lead singer of the folk music group Ugagn.
"I am very fond of our folk music traditions and almost obsessed with the stories that come with it. They are my bond back to my relatives and an important part of my local identity. The tones and lyrics that were composed and written at the time are just as relevant today, and it gives me a sense of belong to the history where I am actually very small. In this way, I borrow a bit of a common legacy, which I then pass on again to others."
The folk dancing and singing as well as playing are a practice that has been inherited from generation to generation in Setesdal since the 18th century, and the three forms of expression are woven closely together.
The instrumental music that is played on the Hardanger fiddle, fiddle or Jew’s harp is called slåtter (folk tunes). These folk tunes, and the dance that belongs to this music, are further called setesdalsgangar. It is a couple's dance where a couple can dance alone or in circles while switching partners. It can be danced greileik, in a sedate and courtly manner, or sprekleik, a more vigorous form with athletic leaps. Then the dancer is in top form.
During the breaks between dancing and playing, there is often singing, or rather spoken a short verse. The stev (short verse) is a single verse of four lines rhyming at the end, and it has characteristic styleswith a special use of the voice and rhythmic distinctiveness.
When several people sing a verse to one another, this is called called stevjing or stevleik while song to dance is called slåttestev. Such singing of folk tunes was often used if there was no player present.
"When I sing a folk song, I convey a message that has visited many souls and many spiritual levels. I feel close to my ancestors then"
"The stev has been the way people here in Setesdal have expressed themselves for hundreds of years. I myself use it mostly in social settings in the folk music community. It's a great way to briefly sum up messages, comments, or moods. If you get an answer, the stev play is underway, and it might be a story of its own. But the stev can also come quietly, when it resonateswith what you experience around you»
The stevs convey life wisdom or emotion. They can also depict people, animals or nature. Or they can be humorous and a little on the edge.
"As a singer, I have my own stev bank with my favorite stevs. In this way, they become mine, even though they are also the people's, and in this way they are protected. With its short and concise form, it contains such strong and precise descriptions from the mind, and it hits right in the heart. For me, it is art, and since it can be found in such countless quantities, with descriptions of so much big and small in everyday life - also applied art. As a soundtrack to life itself."
The people of Setesdal perform stevs at parties and weddings, birthdays and confirmations. The stev is also used in newspaper posts, in political contexts and in advertising.
In folk music pubs and in other social settings, one will often find that performing a stev spontaneously occurs. It is initiated by a person in the room getting up and perform a stev, and then one gets a response back in the form of a new stev from another person, which in turn triggers the response from a third. Thus, the dialogue is underway.
"When performing stevs, it is therefore a matter of having a large stev repertoire and being quick to extract from memory what is most appropriate. We who participate in the performance of stevs must therefore constantly learn new stevs on various topics. This is how the stev tradition is kept alive," says Sigrid.
• We distinguish between old stev and new stev.
• The old stev dates back to the 13th century.
• The old stev was displaced by the new stev at the end of the 18th century.
• A staggering 30,000 - 40,000 written stev have been registered from Setesdal, and there are around 40 different stev tunes that can be used with the stev texts.
Fonn i fonn ette dokko kringe,
mæ heian bere si grøne bringe.
Evst å toppo der æ da blå,
Kore kan du venare syn få sjå?
Jon Bjørgulvson Rysstad (1877-1966)
Setesdal's culture has been threatened several times by societal forces that have wanted it to eliminate it.
In the 1880s, a religious revival passed over the valley, and everything that reminded of sin was banned. The fiddle was the devil's instrument, and they often ended their days in the fire.
In the 50s and 60s, the influence of popular music threatened traditions in earnest, and many feared that they would now die out completely. Fortunately, the 1968 protests and the green wave came, which led to an increased interest in the old and local traditions.
It is thanks to these enthusiasts and resource people who have come after them that the cultural expressions in Setesdal are alive and well today.
Dancing, playing, stevs and traditional verses from Setesdal are seen as such valuable traditions that in 2019 they ended up on UNESCO's list of intangible cultural heritage.
Annbjørg Lien is one of Norway's most famous fiddlers and folk musicians.
She is now working on communicating and following up on Setesdal's UNESCO status in the 3-year project position SETESDALSFOLK, initiated by Agder County Municipality.
Intangible means poetry, language, performing arts, social customs, rituals, traditional craft skills, knowledge and skills related to nature. Unlike the tangible cultural heritage, such as buildings and monuments, the intangible cultural heritage is very vulnerable.
"In order for Setesdal's culture not to die out, it relies on those who practise it to carry the legacy forward. That is why recruitment is essential for us to be able to keep the cultural traditions in Setesdal alive" says Annbjørg.
"My job is to sow small folk musical seeds in the everyday life of the people of Setesdal. Create enthusiasm and interest, and revitalise an eminent tradition. Going forward, it will be as common to perform stevs and dance Setesdal dances as going to the store."
The UNESCO Convention on Intangible Cultural Heritage was signed by Norway in 2007. This means that the Norwegian state also undertakes to protect the Traditions of Setesdal. Through all the years, it has been those who practise themselves who have taken on this responsibility alone.
"Such a common boost can lead to a renewed, proud and strong cultural identity in Setesdal. There is now a growing awareness, especially among children and adolescents, of where one belongs"
It is also important to be aware that this listing is an exciting opportunity for the Agder region, and also a common stamp of quality for folk music and dance in Norway, according to Annbjørg.
"As a nation, we are now so grown up that we can rest in the pride of our own folk music, and it is this eminent tradition and identity that makes foreigners want to come here. They want to experience the real thing, and they want to be touched."
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