Why don’t Norwegian musicians sing in their native language?

By Billy Ray Malone

At concerts in Norway, the lyrics are not always in Norwegian.

Norwegian musicians say that’s because they find their native language often lacks the expressiveness of English and Spanish. During Musikkfest, Norwegian bands played all over the city and though they were mostly born and raised in Norway and speak fluent Norwegian, musicians often sing in their second language — English. This helps the bands express their feelings and better connect with their audience.

Fredrick AAker plays the recorder while Espem Granseth plays the bongos and sings in Spanish. Photo by Billy Ray Malone
Fredrick AAker plays the recorder, and Espen Granseth plays the bongos and sings in Spanish. They performed on a stage between Ueland Gate and Stavangerata during Musikkfest in Oslo on June 2. Photo by Billy Ray Malone

Frederick AAkre and Espen Granseth play in a Norwegian band called Trio Oro, which was featured  at Oslo’s Musikkfest. The folk music band consists of a recorder, a percussionist/singer and a guitar player. The band members speak Norwegian and English, but they perform in Polish, German, French, Spanish and, sometimes, Norwegian. They say it helps them reach  diverse audiences when they play internationally and believe singing in other languages helps them more fully express their feelings through their music

They have no trouble singing in different languages, although they do not speak every language in which they perform. The band members said fellow musicians from Poland, Spain, Germany and other countries assist them in song writing, allowing them to incorporate different languages into their music.

Listening to them sing, the crowd might assume they are fluent in many languages, but this comes from practicing their songs over and over again until it comes out right.

“In Norway most of our culture is in English,” Granseth said. “All of our pop culture is in English, so when you start a band or write a song it seems more normal to write it in English because that’s 90 percent what we hear.”

Listening to English lyrics and watching television in English is how Norwegians are able to learn the language at an early age besides taking classes in grade school. The members of Trio Oro say they grew up listening to American and British music and television. It is no secret that Norwegians enjoy American television. There is a Norwegian version of “American Idol” called “Idol,” and reality television is as popular in Norway as it is in the USA.

Jazz singer Torun Eriksen sings at Jazz Fest at Nesoddtangen on June 9, 2018. Photo by Billy Ray Malone
Jazz singer Torun Eriksen sings at Jazz Fest at Nesoddtangen on June 9, 2018. Photo by Billy Ray Malone

Jazz is another genre that Norwegian musicians often have trouble singing in their native language. This year the first ever Nesodden jazz festival featured six acts on Saturday and few more on Sunday, June 9 and 10. Most of the songs were sung in English even though nearly all of the musicians were born and raised in Norway and speak fluent Norwegian. English was the second language of every musician that played at the festival, yet the majority of the music played was sung in nearly perfect English.

There are many more shadings of the sentiment “I love you” in English than in Norwegian. It’s easier for Norwegians to use English to say “I love you baby” than the more specific  “jeg elsker deg kjære” in Norwegian, not to mention that it just sounds more lyrical.