The Hamrahlíð Choir has been an Icelandic institution since 1981 when it was founded by Þorgerður Ingólfsdóttir. With Ingólfsdóttir as their conductor the Hamrahlíð Choir have released, or been featured on 10 albums, including Björk’s 2017 album ‘Utopia’.
Their new album, ‘Come And Be Joyful’, see them collaborate with Björk again, continuing the sounds they created for their 2017 collaboration. Their inclusion on ‘Utopia’ made sense in a lot of ways. Both are two of the biggest musical exports Iceland has produced. The Hamrahlíð Choir has toured Europe, North America, and Asia extensively and Björk, well, she’s Björk...
The connection runs a little deeper too. Björk was a member of the choir as a teenager. Her history with the choir and her love of their music meant they were the only choice when she needed a choir for ‘Utopia’.
‘Come And Be Joyful’ was conceived during their collaboration with Björk on her ‘Utopia’ album. When it came time to tour that album, Björk took all 52 choristers on her Cornucopia tour. While ‘Come And Be Joyful’ features Icelandic folk songs there are two Björk covers. ‘Cosmogony’ & ‘Sonnets’ which are based on Björk’s own arrangements for the choir.
The album opens with ‘Island Farsælda Frón’, loosely translated ‘Iceland Prosperity Seeds’. Massive, medieval sounding, horns welcome us. A level of grandeur is being established from the offset. After about a minute the horns drop away, almost the curtain being raised when a play starts, and the choir starts to sing acapella. Their singing echoes that of the horns. Long, loud phrases are the order of the day. It sets up the album perfectly. This will be an album filled with opulent instrumentation and luxurious vocals.
‘ Komdu Nú Að Kveðast Á ’ / ‘Let’s Say Goodbye Now’ features more lyrical vocals. The opening sees the choir’s vocals dance around before a more sombre tone pervades with song, bringing to mind Lalo Schifrin’s fantastic and underrated ‘THX 1138’ score. The two Björk covers/rearrangements ‘Sonnets’ and ‘Cosmogony’ are brilliant. Despite the choir singing in English for the first time on the album, don’t immediately recognise them as them as Björk songs, but they also don’t feel like the choir’s other songs on the album. They live in a weird world somewhere between the two. Either one, nor the other, but totally compelling and exciting.
At its heart ‘Come and Be Joyful’ is a glorious album. It permeates joy and positivity throughout. While you might not understand the words the choir are singing, you understand their meaning. The title gives that way. However, it doesn’t really let you know what you are in for. Yes, the music is joyful, but there is a haunting melancholy tinging some of the songs, ‘ Vísur Vatnsenda - Rósu ’ in particular, this adds to the enjoyment. As in life, after massive outbursts of joy and happiness there are periods of longing and melancholy. What ‘Come and Be Joyful’ does beautifully well is showcase the rich tradition of Icelandic folk music, and the Hamrahlíð Choir, to a wider audience.
This is an ideal album for the winter months. Draw the curtains, dim the lights, and bask in the unabashed pleasure of the Hamrahlíð Choir.
Words: Nick Roseblade
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