KulturNatten i Lund

Saturday was a special day in Lund. KulturNatten, or “Culture Night,” takes place every year to celebrate all forms of the arts, especially music, dance, art, film, and poetry, as well as offer other fun investigative activities including science labs, hikes, yoga demonstrations, and metalworking. With an astounding four hundred events on the program, beginning at 12:00 and continuing past 23:00, there was no way I could see everything. For obvious reasons, I focused solely on the musical acts, of which there must have been at least twenty. I made sure to see the ones I really wanted to see, and was not disappointed.

First on the agenda was the Lund Chamber Choir. Choral music and its rich tradition here in Sweden served as one of my primary motivations to visit in the first place, so naturally I could not miss the Lund group’s performance. I arrived a few minutes late to the Grand Hotel presentation room, the venue for the evening’s program, and was not surprised to find almost every seat in the house filled. My first impression of the group was in regards to its size – only twelve members! A chamber choir is typically around twenty-five to thirty singers, so Lund’s choir weighs in well below the typical minimum threshold. There are a number of plausible reasons for this; one would have to ask the choir director to be certain, but I doubt the ensemble’s paucity resulted from a lack of interest to join.

I should clarify that although in name the group did not expressly link itself to the university, I’m quite sure that it was in fact a university group. They sang very well, even considering my high expectations. I thought their intonation was excellent, though I found myself lamenting the inadequacy of their performance space. While it certainly boasts charming accommodations, the Grand Hotel is no substitute for a good church. For whatever reason the concert was not assigned to Domkyrkan, the town’s main church. Too bad, I think, as the choir would truly have captivated within that tall and resonant structure. In addition to the performance space, what struck me about the concert was the group’s repertoire. There was little variation in the styles and types of songs they shared. Perhaps there was a larger aim along the lines of conforming to the concept of KulturNatten, but I could not tell. The highlight of their show was a Swedish folk song of which I provide some video below. Now that is Swedish!

Leaving the choir concert, I trekked up one of the main avenues towards Clemenstorget, the site of one of several peripheral music stages set up around town, to hear a hip hop duo named O-Dog and Ante. I’d like to think that, after four years at Wesleyan as both a concertgoer and backup singer in a university hip hop band, I know what it takes to put on a good hip hop show. My number one most important element is a real drum kit (sorry DJs). Check. Next would be an entertaining MC. Check. Then you need live instruments in the mix. Check.

Having met these three requirements, O-Dog passed the test. The drummer was sufficiently skilled, the rappers had good flow, and two folk guitarists yielded the necessary musical color. A bassist in exchange for one of the guitars would have been welcome, but in all it was a satisfying performance. Unfortunately – and this is a big unfortunately I’m afraid – I had absolutely no idea what they were rapping about. Lyrics are such a crucial part of hip hop, but I have only myself to blame for not knowing Swedish. For their very last piece, the artists invited any rapper in the audience to come spit a verse on stage, and several did. It was fantastically refreshing to witness for a genre of music that can come off as overly self-involved.

I capped off my night by joining the massive crowd in Lund central square to attend the unofficial headliner of KulturNatten, Måns Zelmerlöw. Måns is a home-town hero, the pride and joy of Lund, and a Swedish pop sensation – as witnessed by the nearly ten thousand people who showed up to hear him sing. Måns looked and acted the part of a star. I would not say his material was original, especially since he played a few American covers, but he was definitely a professional performer. Let me be more blunt: I disliked the music but I thought he was good, if those sentiments can be reconciled. Taking the whole spectacle in hand, and the fact that he sang mostly in English, I inferred that his team has been positioning him to be an international star. That leap has yet to be made, but Måns is already a success.

Completely unknown, Måns strolled into the audition room for Swedish Idol back in 2005 and the rest is history. Such a story sounds oddly familiar – Clay Aiken, anyone? Hearing this rendered the ambitions of a musician like myself in stark terms, and make me realize the fundamental tenet of an aspiring artist. You must put yourself out there. It sounds obvious but the gravity of that statement cannot be understated. If Måns never walks into the room and auditions for some singing television show, he’s a sales associate at Levi’s.

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