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Bengt Berger: Percussion | Communion

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Bengt Berger: Percussion | Communion
Bengt Berger and Christer Bothén Mridangam and Guinbri

Mr Berger had become involved in a band with childhood friend Kjell Westling, and reeds-meister and pianist, Christer Bothén and bassist Nikke Ström. The group, Spjärnsvallet, a contemporary music ensemble that grew out of earlier bands formed by Mr Berger including Arbete & Fritid was already spawning music that grew out of Africa thanks to what Mr Bothén brought to the table from Mali. Although the group disbanded in the 1980’s it was and reformed again with bassist Sigge Krantz and included Kjell Westling until the latter’s death not too long ago. But throughout, its existence Mr Berger continued to follow the exploits of Mr Cherry who was continuing to cast a long shadow on Swedish avant-garde and moved into and performed in the Muséum of Modern Art in Stockholm as part of the Exhibition Utopia and Visions.

“Those who wish to sing
always find a song.”
Swedish Proverb

Meanwhile, back in Stockholm Mr Cherry was not only bringing the music of Jazz into a new light, but, deeply entrenched in his African mode, he was reshaping the music landscape into one that was encompassing the world. Meanwhile Mr Berger’s musical topography could no longer be constrained by Stockholm alone. He had already made several trips to India as a student of the musical tradition there and later as a celebrity with Rena Rama. Married to the Anthropologist Prudence Woodford-Berger his next port of call was Ghana. Mr Berger continued to broaden, and re-draw his musical landscape.

As he narrates it, “In the seventies I spent one and a half years in Ghana with my family studying Ewe-drumming in Accra and the Volta region, Brong-Ahafu-drumming in the small village of Ammasu and Lo-Birifor xylophone music with Kakraba Lobi in Accra and the north of Ghana while my wife was doing her fieldwork in social anthropology. My Ko-Gyil xylophone teacher was the great Kakraba Lobi, his teaching is behind a lot of my later work with the Bitter Funeral Beer Band. He visited Sweden in 1978 for a tour we did together in Swedish schools and some concerts together and with our Swedish music collective “Ett Minne För Livet” (A Memory For Life).”

Spjarnsvallet was an iconic band and the eponymous album a masterpiece. (It was re-released as Again and Again in 2015 with more material by the late and legendary Kjell Westling and comprised a series of eight pieces whose shifting relationships appear to evoke massive natural forces that reverberate from Africa and India to Europe and beyond. Each piece, thanks to Mr Berger’s percussion – by now a reflection of his African voyage – is something of a geo-musical stratum. Heard together each strata sometimes stack up immensely; at other moments, they thin to the most diaphanous textures; but always there is the sense of returning to the same point (Africa), only to discover that the view has changed (now refracted by the music of Europe) in the interim. On top of these seismic musical processes, Mr Berger and the other members of Spjärnsvallet create a virtuoso ensemble superstructure whose riotous details suggest the teeming surface of the musical Earth in all its protean variety.

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