Anja Garbarek

Anja Garbarek

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"I like to take dark lyrics and put them with comforting melodies and to combine the sugar-sweet and the macabre." It's that combination of the instantly accessible and 'the strange stuff' that has made Anja one of the most exciting voices to emerge from the vibrant Scandinavian music scene.

Biography

Anja Garbarek hates to be predictable. "I like to take dark lyrics and put them with comforting melodies and to combine the sugar-sweet and the macabre. Perhaps I should have called the new album 'beauty and the beast'," she jokes.
It's that combination of the instantly accessible and what she calls 'the strange stuff' that has made Anja one of the most exciting voices to emerge from the vibrant Scandinavian music scene.
Briefly Shaking, the fourth album from the maverick Norwegian singer-songwriter, is Garbarek's most inventive and audacious release to date, a collection of compelling stories and extraordinary music, full of the dramatic contrasts and startling juxtapositions she so loves.
Born in 1970, Anja Garbarek grew up around Oslo, the only child of composer/ saxophonist Jan Garbarek, one of the acknowledged geniuses of contemporary European jazz. As a child she was surrounded by musicians, but although she always loved music, she never learnt to play an instrument.
Instead, at 16 she went to drama college and imagined a life in theatre and film. But music was clearly in her blood. At college she sang in a stage musical which brought her to the attention of the Norwegian record industry and she was offered a deal. The result was her debut album, 1992's Velkommen Inn' (Come On In). A concert tour followed and it became obvious she was a natural performer with a unique talent.
Her second album, Balloon Mood, appeared in 1996, a more ambitious work recorded with Massive Attack/ Bjork/ Madonna producer Marius DeVries.
One year later she moved to London - "something I had to do to grow-up" she says - and signed to Virgin Records. Her debut for the label, Smiling & Waving, was released in 2001 with contributions from Talk Talk's Mark Hollis and Robert Wyatt amongst others. The album garnered rave reviews for its bold combination of electronic samples and acoustic instruments and her ethereal, other-worldly voice.
Finally four years later comes the much-anticipated follow-up, Briefly Shaking. Such gaps between records are standard for Garbarek. "Think of a painter having an exhibition. It can't be rushed. Making an album is like that for me."
Yet if four years is the average time Garbarek takes between records, the period since Smiling & Waving has been a particularly intense one for her. She became a mother and in 2003, the family moved back to Norway, experiences that have had a powerful influence on Briefly Shaking.
"Having a child was wonderful, but it changes your life," she explains. "You can't be so self-centred any more and as an artist that affects your creative core. I felt my creativity was being suppressed. You lose yourself when you give birth. It turns your life upside down and it's fantastic, but it's frightening at the same time."
Eventually, Garbarek began to write a set of lyrics that reflected her feelings. "I was reading a lot of books about crime and horror and that seemed to give me the dark language I needed to express myself."
For her, songwriting has always begun with the lyrics. "Words have their own sound and rhythm and create an atmosphere," she explains. "So I started using these words and sentences and metaphors to create a set of stories. To me, the music is the soundtrack to the stories I'm trying to tell and they become part of the story."
As soon as she began to write, she immediately felt better about her circumstances. "I felt like I was coming back to life," she says.
Garbarek's songs have always walked on the dark side. But the stories she tells on Briefly Shaking are surely the darkest yet.
Sleep is based on the true story of a woman who was kidnapped and imprisoned in an underground bunker. When Anja had written the song, she realised it was also a metaphor for her own predicament. "It's me in that bunker," she says. "It's about will I be able to get out and be born again."
Can I Keep Him was inspired by reading a book about the mass murderer Dennis Nielsen, while The Last Trick was written at a particularly dark moment. "I thought it was going to be my last ever song. Literally my last trick," she says. The song also contains the line that gave the album its title.
Once she had her stories, she had to construct what she calls the 'soundtrack' to them. Because she doesn't play an instrument, Anja believes she approaches music in an unusually open-minded way. "I don't really know what's possible and what isn't so I'll try things that you're not meant to do."
Key to realising her vision was Gisli, a multi-talented Icelandic-Norwegian artist whose debut album was released on EMI in 2004. "I met him by accident when I was checking out some studios," Anja recalls. "But he was my rescuer and I knew from the first note I heard of his music that I had to work with him."
Another important collaborator was Anja's father. "When it comes to the big stuff like strings and saxophones I've always worked with him. That's my favourite part of making

Lyrics

Can I Keep Him?

Written By: Anja Garbarek

IN THE END
THERE WAS NO-ONE TO SEE
NO HELICOPTERS IN THE SKY THE NEXT DAY
OR THE DAY AFTER
NO-ONE WAS SEARCHING
COS NO-ONE KNEW HE WAS MISSING

HE FOLLOWED ME HOME
CAN I KEEP HIM?
HE FOLLOWED ME

A PRETTY BOY LIKE YOU
WITH HANDS THAT COULD BREAK ME IN TWO
BUT DON’T
BREAKING AWAY GENTLY
COME ON
LET’S GO

HE’S STILL WARM
AND CLOSE TO ME
I CAN SEE TEARS IN HIS EYES
AND I FEEL BETTER

HE FOLLOWED ME HOME
CAN I KEEP HIM?
HE FOLLOWED ME

IN THE END
THERE WAS NO-ONE TO SEE
NO HELICOPTERS IN THE SKY THE NEXT DAY
OR THE DAY AFTER
NO-ONE WAS SEARCHING
COS NO-ONE KNEW HE WAS MISSING

Discography

1992: Velkommen Inn
1996: Balloon Mood
2001: Smiling & Waving
2005: Briefly Shaking
2006: Angel-A Soundtrack

Set List

yes
dizzy with wonder
word is out
my fellow riders
shock activities
picking up pieces
stay tuned
beyond my control
this momentous day
still guarding space
the last trick
strange noises
icu
sleep
-
i won't hurt you (cover)
can i keep him?
big mouth

About an hour and a quarter