Monday, October 20, 2014

Tove Stryke & the mystery of Swedish reggae

Is there such a thing as Swedish reggae? It had never really occurred to me before I read this article, in which Stephin Merrit of the Magnetic Fields identifies it as one of pop's most underrated microgenres (he had his own stab at Sweggae, as no-one calls it, on the track It's A Crime).

Once it had been brought to my attention, I couldn't escape it. Obviously, Ace Of Base constructed an entire career out of reggae's elastic rhythms and europop's plastic melodies. But there's also Robyn's Dancehall Queen and Abba's Sitting In The Palm Tree - which is the nadir of their career, but that's a discussion for another time.

Abba - Sitting In The Palm Tree

Laura Engberg represented Sweden with a Caribbean-flavoured Eurovision entry in 1987 (although it's a stretch to call it reggae) and the country even has a bona fide reggae star - Peps Persson, who Bob Marley called the only white man with reggae in his blood.

Peps Persson - Oh Boy!

I wonder if anyone can help me explain this? From the cursory research I've done, I can't see much reason for the cultural cross-pollination between Kingston and Stockholm. The island of St Bart's was briefly a Swedish colony in the 19th Century, but that's unlikely to be the source. Perhaps you could argue that the chukka-chukka rhythms of dub and reggae are a good partner for the oompah-oompah of Schlager, Sweden's prevalent form of folk music - but again the link is tenuous at best.

Whatever the reason, the advance of Sweggae (as still nobody is calling it) continues apace. The new single from pop sorcerer Tove Styrke is a bouncy, percussion-heavy track called Borderline, which leans heavily on its buoyant reggae chords to balance the strident, politically-loaded lyrics.

I called the song a "bubbling, scandipop gem" when it debuted in a "songs you may have missed" post a couple of weeks ago, and the recently-released video only makes it better.

Tove Styrke - Borderline

If you like that, check out Tove's barnstorming Even If I'm Loud It Doesn't Mean I'm Talking To You, which came out earlier this year, then get yourself down to her first ever UK show on 5 November.

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