North Dakota radio personality tours Norway, brings listeners along

Scott Hennen, a popular radio personality based in North Dakota, finds himself far from home on a Juven tour of Norway. The tour takes Americans, mostly with North Dakota and Minnesota roots, on tours throughout the country and helps to connect them with family and ancestral homes. Tourists also get to explore the Norwegian countryside and Fjords.

Today, the bus takes them from Oslo to Lillehammer, with a few stops along the way.

“This is my first time in Norway,” Hennen said. “I feel like I am in Disneyland just taking it all in.”

Hennen and his wife have a special interest in the genealogical aspect of the tour, as his wife is of Norwegian descent and has relatives in Tynset. They have also brought along their two children to meet their younger cousins for the first time.

The Hennens are not alone on this trip, however. Juven Tours and Travel worked with Hennen to bring dozens of Hennen’s listeners along for the ride. Many of them are also meeting their own relatives and diving into their Norwegian backgrounds.

Don Glesne, North Dakota, is one of these listeners. However his ties to Hennen run a bit deeper, as their wives are cousins. Glesne will be heading to Tynset to visit his great grandfather’s homestead later on the trip.

Bonnie Benson, Jennifer Benson, and Larissa Green, all from North Dakota, had the unique opportunity to meet a family member who they had previously only contacted on Facebook. “It was truly like we had always known each other, it was like oh! There you are again,” Bonnie Benson said.

As a radio personality, Hennen is also documenting his trip to Norway for his show back in North Dakota.

Hennen is known on air for holding right wing political views – a stark contrast to the Norwegian political system, which is based on democratic socialism and where the population leans further left than the American Left. While he notes that the political system seems to be working for Norway, he does express doubt about the system and questions whether or not it could be applied in America.

“Lots of people say Norway has figured out the quality of life,” Hennen said, “and they have no national debt, all of which is true but they also have an enormous amount of taxation and its a smaller country too. It’s only 5 million people and it makes it easier to do what they did here.”

One of Hennen’s loyal fans, Patrick Baranski from North Dakota, joined the trip just for the experience of travelling with Hennen. He is a political poet and pastor who shares very similar conservative views. He has even read some of his work on Hennen’s radio show. Regarding Norway’s political system he said, “there are some people that I would send here because they would love it, but I wouldn’t want to live here.”

Whether these North Dakotans agree with the political system in Norway or not, they can all agree that the country is beautiful and they are excited to experience all it has to offer.

After Lillehammer, the group will travel to Andalsnes in the middle region of the west coast. They will then continue downwards until they reach Bergen to conclude their trip and return to the U.S. on July 2.

To learn more about Juven Travel and Tours and Scott Hennen’s trip to Norway, visit www.oslorocks.blog or HPR Abroad online.

THE ORIGINAL: NORWEGIAN BLACK METAL

By Kaycee Boe and Rachel Levy

For many people, black metal is as synonymous with Norway as snow and fjords. Imagery of young men with dark painted faces burning down churches and causing trouble in the grey Norwegian winters often comes to mind. The legacy of black metal draws fans from all over the world, who hope to learn more about the history and find out if the music they love still exists in Norway today.

Many are interested to find that black metal only existed in a small community throughout the 1990’s, and may not be as prominent today as they hoped.

Anders Odden, 44, has been around the black metal community since the genre was born. He was drawn into the black metal world when he was only 13. Living on a farm created an isolated universe for him that drove him to create.

“You basically don’t have any friends around so you can turn to music or something else to get busy or get inspired,” Odden said. “That was my case, and the case for many others actually.”

In 1988 Odden formed Cadaver, which he says was the first death metal band in Norway and first band to sign with a label in the U.K. Now, Odden plays guitar and bass in multiple metal bands, including influential and major label black metal band Satyricon. He has watched black metal grow and evolve from its inception.

The black metal community was small throughout the 1990s. According to Grete Joanne Neseblod, co-owner of Norway’s black metal music shop and museum Neseblod, most of the culture was centered around 15-20 key people. Bands such as Odden’s communicated by meeting in each other’s rehearsal rooms and trading tapes.

“I got like 10 letters a day from people everyday at the peak of it – magazines and tapes and demos and contacts around the world,” Odden said. “It was inspiring to be a part of a world movement that was very unique and that nobody knew about.”

As with many extreme music genres, black metal was never meant to blow up. It was born in Norway’s underground, and according to Odden, it wasn’t supposed to leave the underground.

“Back then, nobody cared really,” Odden said. “That’s the thing that people don’t understand, it didn’t get any attention in music magazines. At the time, most people were into grunge or more polished American stuff.”

It was anti-establishment attitudes and authenticity that drove the genre forward.

“These were just young people who were 16 to 17 years old who just wanted to do something really new,” Grete Joanne said. “They had these guts because in the beginning, people thought that it was weird and strange.”

The brutality that is often associated with black metal came later, when Varg Vikernes of fellow black metal band Burzum attracted media attention through what Odden refers to as publicity stunts such as the burning of churches. Odden believes that artists like Vikernes hurt the genre musically.

“People doing this were really looked upon as animals in society for a really long time,” he says.

While black metal may have been known for being filled with tales of arson and murder, that is no longer the case. According to Odden, the legacy of the genre is much more prominent than the scene ever was. This is a common perspective on black metal culture in Norway.

“I think the history of it draws people in,” Kenneth Neseblod, owner of Neseblod records, said. “The murder and all the mystique around it. They want to see how dark and evil it all is, but it was more back then than it is now. It is not so dark and evil anymore.”

Peter Beste, who has been studying black metal for years and published a book on the subject, notes that many artists no longer stand by the aspects of black metal that made it so brutal.

“It’s part of the sensationalistic story of it,” Beste said, “but it isn’t really the essence of it.”

Through exposure and developments in production, black metal has transitioned to a more mainstream genre.

“Black metal is more clean, it’s not so underground now,” Kenneth said. “But you have some of the same people who still play in the bands and are pretty dark.”

Fans and those who have followed black metal notice this as well.

“I think the best Norwegian bands are, like, Mayhem and Emperor,” says Sanvik, a young member of the black metal community.

As for Odden, he is currently touring internationally with Satyricon. However, while they may be touring at a more professional level, Odden notes that there is still an edge to their music. For them, their music has changed, but it still fits their definition of black metal.

“For us, it’s about the vibe and how we think it should be, not how others define it,” Odden said. “We are defining what black metal is to us, and we never care for other people’s definitions.”

As for the fans, most will agree that the black metal and metal communities are very tight knit.

“They like to wear the clothes and the patches to show that they are outside of society,” says Grete Joanne, “but also that they are a part of something.”

For young fans Emilie Sandal and Jone Hoftun, who sit on a hillside at Tons of Rock Festival clothed in band t-shirts and high tops, the metal community in Norway could be described as united and also surprisingly, friendly.

From an onstage perspective, Odden says that black metal fans are generally quite mellow. “Metal fans never approach you like a crazy person,” Odden said. “If they recognize you from a band they approach you very politely. They just want to talk to you about music.”

People still come from all over the world to Norway to see where black metal started even though the genre has moved more towards other countries. Black packers, as they are called, travel to Norway to visit many of the spots where black metal formed.

Up until 2012, Odden conducted a black metal tour during Inferno Festival, a black metal festival held during Easter each year. Black packers would take a bus to Neseblod Records, a record store once owned by Mayhem’s Euronymous, then to Holmekkon to see the church burnt down by Varg Vikernes.

“I think it’s strange for them to come here to realize it’s quite normal people doing this,” Odden said. “I don’t know what they think, that people live in cages or in caves or in castles, people have all kinds of weird expectations, so it says more about them than the reality.”

Kenneth also notes that some black packers may be disappointed to see that the people of Norway aren’t actually walking the streets in corpse paint.

People from all over the world heard about everything black metal bands did in the 1990’s and believe that all black metal bands were alike. According to Odden, the point of the tours were to teach people about the background of black metal and what really went on during that time, how it was not all church burnings and satanism.

“They are really interested in that,” Odden said. “Somehow they were caught up in the myth of it so if you try to tell them how it really was, you can’t really get their heads around it, so I stopped doing it.”

While to outsiders, it may seem that black metal is still an integral part of Norwegian culture, the general consensus is that the genre lives mainly in its legacy.

“The people that are in the original bands are still making new music,” Odden said. “We’re just going to continue on our paths regardless of what’s going on.”

Kenneth Neseblod agrees. “A lot of the music was invented in Norway by black metal bands,” he said. “They were the first to start black metal, but there’s not so many people who are very black metal anymore.”

BACK IN OSLO

I am back in Oslo after living and working here for a month last summer. Nearly two full weeks passed this year before I noticed that I was going places without a map, getting on and off of metros without paying much attention to the signs indicating the upcoming stops. I pretty much knew where I was going like I do in Washington DC, where I live.

As part of the ieiMedia study abroad program in 2016, we were fortunate enough to have a local instructor at the Alfaskolen Norwegian school named Lene Ness. Lene’s task was to introduce our students — and me — to Norwegian culture.

If you look for descriptions of the Norwegian people, they are said to be stoic and distant, difficult to make friends with. Lene helped guide us through some of the obstacles to making friends.

My favorite bit of her advice and the one I most use and have had great success with, deals with how you approach a Norwegian the first time. Here’s the key. Even though they seem to be painfully introverted, don’t make eye contact or small talk. They love to solve problems. So when you want to ask a Norwegian a question, make it into a problem they can solve. All of a sudden they are open and friendly.

Last week I walked into Neseblod, a famous record store/Black Metal Museum here in Oslo. I had ducked in only briefly twice last year. The woman behind the counter, Rebellica, recognized me immediately when I entered the other day.

As Lene suggested last year I approached her with a problem. From what I’d read about the store, I’d been confused about its historical significance. Rebellica gave me a short, curt answer. After I left the store that day I remember telling one of the students that I didn’t think she liked non-metal heads and me in particular.

This had been just after Oslo’s huge Pride Parade last year, which closely followed the shootings at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Nearly everyone in the parade was wearing something black to acknowledge the atrocity. I had been wearing a black ribbon tied around my arm when I last stepped into Neseblod that day a year ago. Before I left the store I gave it to Rebellica. I was sure she didn’t like me and likely threw the ribbon away as soon as I left.

As I approached the other day, she turned, reached behind her and picked up the same ribbon from a hook on the wall where it had been hanging since I gave it to her. Largely because of Lene, my black ribbon is now part of a famous Black Metal museum. And I am known there. Even though I didn’t realize it at the time, Rebellica and I had bonded on some Norwegian level.

There are a couple of very funny and insightful books written by an expat, Julien S. Bourrelle, that go a long way to comically instruct outsiders about the ins and outs of the Norwegian social interaction. They are “The Social Guidebook to Norway,” books one and two.

I have a close friend, Mel Burford, who has lived in Bergen for the past two years with her Danish husband, Nils, and their two children. She was telling me a number of things she’s tried to get to know her neighbors, including a standing invitation to “Friday Night Meatballs” at their house. She’s invited many but enjoyed only minor success. I just today sent her a copy of Bourrelle’s first book.

Maybe she needs to send invitations indicating she has a problem she needs help with…too many meatballs for her family to eat.

GUEST EDITORIAL: OSLO MUSIC, SQUATTING, STREET ART, CRIME, AND ALTERNATIVE LIFESTYLES.

Oslo, Norway and the strangely unfamiliar

Since June 22, five student reporters have been publishing from the field on music, entertainment, and culture and all things Norwegian.

Last year, HPR, my former collegiate reporting stomping grounds, joined forces with my journalism study abroad program (www.ieiMedia.com/oslo) to offer students a chance to publish and readers a different view of the world. ieiMedia employs journalism faculty in the summers to produce international experiential reporting programs for U.S. and Canadian students.

Some programs are in very warm, exotic locations. After two summers on their faculty in Nice, France and Florence, Italy, and a previous summer in China with the University of Jamestown, I set my sights on something a little less warm, but just as exotic – Oslo. And shortly you’ll see why we’ve affectionately titled the program, “Oslo Rocks!”

The settlers of North Dakota and the upper Midwest were predominantly Scandinavian, with German, Eastern European and others sprinkled in. But again, so many Norwegians! While Minnesota has the most total Norwegian Americans at 800,000 (16%), North Dakota has the highest per capita rate at 27%, according to the most recent U.S. Census.

If we’re going to be reporting abroad, it makes some sense to provide the audience with a common ground. We both have hard winters. We are both mostly Caucasian. We both have immigration issues – Norway’s being mostly with Roma, ours mostly with, well, non-Caucasians.

An Oslo tourism pamphlet injected some comedy into Norwegian politics. It advised: “When in Oslo, remember that immigrants are good and we must protect the wolves. When anywhere else in Norway, remember that immigrants are bad and shoot the wolves.” Kinda sounds like the Fargo-North Dakota relationship to me.

That’s where things get interesting. In many respects, but not all, Norwegian Americans have fallen pretty far from the family tree. And North Dakota and Norway are as far from each other in terms of culture and politics as we can get in the West. Norway adheres to democratic socialism with a legacy monarchy. Norway also had a state church until last year, which holds more than 70% of the citizenry as members even though atheists and agnostics account for the largest demographic.

Two of our student reporters followed along with a tour group from North Dakota led by Carrol Juven of Juven Tours and Travel. Radio personality Scott Hennen was also on the trip and brought several of his listeners with him. I was there as several of the tourists discussed the differences between Norway and home. One said, “Norway is a great place to visit, to see the beautiful countryside and fjords, and to visit relatives. But I would never live here, because the way they do things is just un-American.”

Yet there’s one other slightly important distinction that piqued my interest in bringing student journalists to Norway. On average over the last decade, 65% of Norwegians annually attended at least one of the country’s record-setting 1500-plus music festivals (with highest attendance at pop/rock festivals).

Norway, with a population just shy of Minnesota’s, is the world’s 20th largest market for recorded music. The U.S. has the world’s largest total market for streaming music, earning approximately $5.00 per American. However, Norway has one of the largest per capita markets for streaming, earning just over $21.00 per Norwegian.

Norway is famously the home of the Black Metal sub-genre, and sits on top of world rankings for most metal bands, with Sweden and Finland. In an odd study by TheAtlantic, the Metal genre’s popularity can be correlated to a country’s happiness and contentment. Now, however, Norway is a growing producer of electronica – at one point last year Norwegian electronica owned three of the top 20 most played songs on Spotify.

So no matter if it’s Grieg or Mayhem or Alan Walker (Who? 1.5 billion on YouTube and 1 billion on Spotify), simply put, Norwegians love music. Long gone are the days when Norway was “The Land of the Vikings.” In 2015, Bloomberg called Oslo “The Nashville of Europe.”

These are the exotic circumstances that our student reporters find themselves in. Someplace that should be so familiar, but strangely isn’t.

Our student reporters don’t just come from North Dakota, however. They come from every corner of the U.S. and Canada with a mission to dive into Norwegian culture head first through its music scene. In 2016 and 2017, our teams reported on eight different festivals (most more than once); interviewed over 30 Norwegian, U.S. and international music acts; and photographed over 100 performances.

But that’s just scratching the surface, as our teams dug deep into music genres, scenes and beyond: squatting, street art and vandalism, religion, country life, politics, immigration and minorities, crime, alternative lifestyles, peace and so much more.

For our complete collection of work including student blogs, photo and video galleries, and much more, visit www.oslorocksblog.com.

We’ll see you again in 2018 when we will once again explore just how much Oslo Rocks!

__________

[Editor’s note: Steve Listopad is the Oslo Rocks Program Director at ieiMedia. A complete version of Steve’s editorial and related coverage are on our website at http://hpr1.com/index.php/opinion/editorial/ and http://hpr1.com/index.php/feature/hpr-abroad/]

SERVING UP YOUR BIAS AT THE BIAS BAR

An unusual bar is serving up biases and its patrons are sending their own biases right back.

The bar is the Bias Bar, an interactive exhibit at the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo, Norway. It shares space on the first floor with Detours, an exhibition about people who find themselves forcibly displaced from their homes. It is a floor below Hope Over Fear, this year’s Nobel Peace Prize exhibition that presents a strong portrait of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and his efforts to integrate members of the FARC rebel group with the rest of the Colombian people.

Participants at the Bias Bar get small cards designed to look like drink coasters. A bias is written on the front of the card. On the backside of the card is a blank space where people can write and share biases of their own. The cards are displayed on racks mounted on the museum wall.

The front of a typical card has a bias such as, “I am not a racist but…” Turning around the card people have written their own biases such as, “I’d rather live in a white than black neighborhood,” “You don’t look like a foreigner,” “But you are white,” and “#BREXIT.”

Another bias card reads, “All terrorists are Muslims. What do you think?” A patron’s reply to that was, “If all terrorists are Muslim that means all Italians are Mafia, all Russians are part of the Bratva and no one is a human being. Everyone is different, everyone is special and everyone needs an opportunity prove themselves [sic] and be who they are. Be proud of who you are.”

“We have printed, I think, 2000 cards since March and people are writing and sharing biases and their thoughts,” said Ingvill Bryn Rambøl, Director of Information at Nobel Peace Center. “It’s quite entertaining to explore the cards on the wall there and see what people write. People are very open about the fact that they have biases themselves and that they have met biases.”

The Bias Bar even has its own version of an open mic event.

“A Bias Night is where we invite Norwegians with different backgrounds to sit and discuss biases and people can sit behind and talk to them afterwards,” Rambøl said. The first Bias Night “was very popular and we had a lot of visitors that night with an immigration background or with different ethnic backgrounds, and they were very excited about discussing something very dangerous in such a light manner.”

The next Bias Night will be in August. “It will focus on Islam,” Rambøl said.

Exhibits like Detours and the Bias Bar have connected with Norwegian school children, because topics such as immigration are covered in school curriculums, but the school books have not been updated yet on the current refugee crisis and the war in Syria.

“They have been very happy to have the opportunity to come here and learn about that issue with updated information,” Rambøl said.

The Nobel Peace Center was opened in 2005. The building used to be a railway station, which closed in 1990 and was reinvented as the home for Nobel in Oslo. The museum depicts stories through a variety of permanent installations, and temporary exhibits of paintings, photographs, interactive digital films and other art.

Rambøl said the museum is famous for its modern, artistic design conceived by the British architect David Adjayeand.

“He did what he calls ‘room manipulation.’ You can tear down the whole museum from the inside and you will have the train station the way it used to be,” Rambøl said.

Nobel prizes are awarded in six categories including Literature, Physics, Physiology/Medicine, Chemistry, Economics and Peace. The Nobel Prize in any category is one of the most prestigious awards in the world. It was founded by the multi-millionaire philanthropist Alfred Nobel in 1901. Nobel created his immense wealth by inventing and manufacturing modern explosives into dynamite and patented it in 1867. He left his estate (the modern equivalent of $200 million) to be used as award money for the betterment of the world.

Swedish institutions choose winners in five categories (Literature, Physics, Physiology/Medicine, Chemistry, Economics) and the awards are presented in Stockholm, Sweden. The winner of the Peace Prize is chosen by a Norwegian committee and is awarded in Oslo.

The challenge for the Nobel Peace Center is to create an exhibition honoring the winner in just eight weeks. That exhibition is created within the context of the permanent and temporary exhibitions. The Peace Center, including the Bias Bar, is open seven days a week and the center has averaged more than 100,000 visitors annually since it opened in 2005.

CARROL JUVEN: SEASONED TRAVELER

BY KAYCEE BOE AND RACHEL LEVY

Carrol Juven, 80, enters the Radisson Blu hotel in Oslo, Norway with a bright red jacket and a walking stick and greets his long-time friend Karl Nyland. This is Juven’s 154th trip to Norway, and the Radisson is his favorite hotel.

Juven is the operator of Juven Tours and Travel Inc., a Fargo-based travel agency that hosts Americans on Norwegian cultural tours.

He started his travel company in 1966, when he would charter flights for the Sons of Norway. By 1985, the small program he started had turned into a full-fledged travel agency. According to Juven, he guides tours every two weeks and has brought over 47,000 people on these trips.

The tours specialize in connecting travellers with their family members in Norway. All they need is your name and birthdate.

“You can’t imagine what a gratifying experience it is for them, and for us who find the families for them,” Juven said.

Juven himself was born in Fargo, but his family is from Hallingdal, Norway. Anyone who meets Carrol can quickly see his passion for the north. He is even a past president and 50-year member of the Sons of Norway, which is a fraternal organization made up of men and women of Norwegian descent.

“The organization’s goal is to preserve, maintain, and perpetuate the Norwegian culture, and celebrate all of the benefits of travel and social life within the organization,” Juven said.

He also loves of Norwegian food, including goat cheese and potato dumplings. According to Juven, the food is an important part of the culture, and a focal point for many Sons of Norway events.

As someone who spends plenty of time in both Norway and the United States, he recognizes the differences between the two countries. The most prominent difference is the way religion is handled. “Only two percent of people in Norway go to church but they all belong to the church,” he said.

According to the official website “Statistics Norway,” currently 71.5 percent of Norwegians belong to the Lutheran-affiliated state Church of Norway. Catholics make the second largest group of religiously affiliated Norwegians at just 2.9 percent.

Juven also said that for many Norwegians the language is an important difference. Most Norwegians speak fluent English, however most written material in Norway beyond tourist information is only found in the Norwegian language. Since Juven speaks and reads both English and Norwegian, he said the language barrier isn’t an issue for him.

While Juven makes many trips to Norway each year, he has also visited and loved many other countries. To date, Juven has visited 98 countries on five continents. One of his favorite trips is New Zealand in the summertime.

Juven Tours and Travel also provides trips from Norway to the United States, and that is where he met a longtime friend. Karl was on one of Juven’s agriculture tours in North Dakota when they first met and they’ve been friends ever since.

“I was one of the first Americans Karl ever met,” Juven said.

Now, Karl visits the United States one or two times a year, every year, to see Juven and attend Høstfest in Minot, North Dakota. Karl can’t speak English well, so Juven translates for him.

“He likes to come to the Minot fest,” Juven said. “He likes to hear the entertainers that are there from all over the world. He goes with me every year.”

Karl also likes to visit the massive American farms, especially during harvesting season.

Juven has no plans to slow down. He is guiding his family on a Norwegian tour to celebrate his 60th wedding anniversary in August. “So the kids, three of them, and their spouses and the grandchildren are all coming here, and my wife and I are taking care of it,” Juven said.

Juven will continue to guide regular tours both before and after his family’s visit.

“I have no intention of retiring,” Juven laughs. “Karl is retired, but I’m not old enough yet.”

Juven will be back in Norway on June 19, 2017, with his 155th tour. Radio personality Scott Hennen and his family are joining Juven on the trip.

INTERNATIONAL MUSIC FESTIVALS REACT TO MANCHESTER ATTACK

As music festivals in Norway grow, the danger of attending a concert also rises. The Manchester bomb attack following an Ariana Grande concert killed 23 attendees and wounded many more. Festival and concert organizers in the U.K., the U.S., and Norway, which has one of the highest per capita music event attendance rates in the world, are keenly aware of security concerns.

The repercussions of the UK attack can be seen in the U.S. as additional security precautions are adopted. Several major concert venues have already heightened their security measures, including Madison Square Garden in New York City. MSG sent out a memo on May 23 detailing the venue’s commitment to “increased diligence in screening” and “greater on-site police presence.” Many other American venue managers have taken similar actions.

Norwegian venue organizers have also taken precautions in the wake of Manchester.

Oslo Musikkfest, held on June 3, 2017, is the largest annual one-day music festival in the country with venues spread throughout the Norwegian capital. This year saw 50 venues hosting over 450 bands, which is an increase from 2016, which had 38 stages and about 300 bands. All performances were free of charge and nearly all music genres were represented.

The free festival draws in tens of thousands of attendees every year. “It’s absolutely possible that it was about 50,000 to 100,000 attendees,” Mina Evenrud, director of Musikkfest, said.

A report by the National Knowledge Center for Cultural Industries showed that over 1.8 million people attended a festival in Norway in 2014, which accounts for nearly 40 percent of the country’s population.

With such a high level of festival attendance, threats toward the crowd’s well-being are a key concern for organizers.

“We have good and ongoing communication with the Oslo police,” Evenrud said. “We want people to feel safe at Musikkfest.”

After the Manchester attack, the Norwegian Police Security Service determined that the threat level in Norway had not risen.

The level of security at each of the given stages was left up to the venue promoter. Evenrud encouraged both the audience and local promoters to call the police if they noticed any suspicious activity.

With an event that is outdoors, without closed-off areas and open to the public, it is difficult to implement any comprehensive security precautions. When asked about implementing security precautions, Evenrud was intent on remaining strong and steadfast against any threat that may arise.

However, applying too many security measures may not be the best solution. “But then we give in to what the terrorists want,” Evenrud said, “to scare people from living normal lives. And is that what we want, to have armed police on every corner. Will you then feel safe or would you feel monitored?”

Evenrud continued to say that it is a very complex situation. The issue of security will continue to be an ongoing topic of discussion for future years of Musikkfest as well as other festivals and concert venues around the world.

Similar conversations regarding security were also held by BergenFest organizers, the largest festival on Norway’s west coast and one of the leading music festivals in Norway. BergenFest was held June 14 to 17, 2017, at Bergenhus Castle in Bergen, Norway.

“We spend a lot of time planning for our events to be safe,” Ole Morten Algerøy, BergenFest press manager, said. “We feel that we have taken precautions.”

Prior to the beginning Bergenfest, a post on its website explained the venue ensures the audience is as safe as can be. The post detailed how to best move around the venue, how to pack and what security measures have been put in place.

“In times like this, it is even more important to make people come together and appreciate each other and appreciate the music,” Algerøy said.

As music festival culture continues to grow and expand, an ongoing topic of conversation will detail what actions need to be taken in order to provide a secure environment for people to enjoy art and music.

NORWEGIAN CONCERT PLANNING ORGANIZATION GIVES KIDS POWER

Rockslo, a concert association in Norway’s capital city of Oslo, introduces youth to music by immersing them in the process of planning and executing concerts.

Since 2013, Rockslo has been a place for young people to work behind the scenes in the music industry. From booking to marketing to technical work to production, youth under the age of 20 learn the ins and outs of what goes into planning shows, by fully planning concerts with the guidance of adult volunteers.

Erik Fosland said the process begins with the youth coming together to select and book popular artists. Right now, the organization books Norwegian acts, but it is Fosland’s dream to be able to afford international acts.

Fosland’s role with Rockslo translates to CEO, though he said that title is too formal and prefers to be referred to as a leader of the organization.

The youth also book the venues for the concerts, ensure the bands have all equipment they need, promote the shows and decorate the venues.

“Primarily, Rockslo wants them [youth] to do everything because they want them to learn everything from the beginning to the end,” Sahil Singh said.

Singh, 18, has been with the organization for two years. He usually takes photos and videos at Rockslo-produced events, though he has helped with booking when needed.

“We’re allowed to do anything if we really want to. If I say I want to be responsible for this band when they come to the concert, I’m allowed to do that,” he said. Because of the work experience he gained through Rockslo, Singh recently got a paid job with another festival.

Rockslo typically hosts four to six shows a year. Two years ago, the organization hosted its own music festival, a weekend event that Fosland would like to be hosted every other year.

Fosland said that the shows include a well-known act, an up-and-coming act and an unknown smaller act to give those artists the chance to play and learn from other musicians while talking to members they may have grown up listening to.

He believes it’s important that the youth involved in the organization, as well as the bands brought in, are able to learn.

While “rock” is in the name, the organization hosts events with whatever music young people are listening to at the time. Many of the events last year featured hip-hop artists, while this year has been focused more on rock and pop.

“It’s just music, what the kids want to hear,” Fosland said.

The volunteer-based organization receives funding support from the government to help pay for the events hosted. Since venues won’t usually make money from events that don’t serve alcohol, Fosland said venues will often donate space for shows or charge a small fee.

In addition to planning concerts, Rockslo hosts social events and collaborates with other festivals and events, including Miniøya, a music festival focused on children that Rockslo members did the booking for this summer.

​FIRST NORWEGIAN SUPERHERO IS AN AFRICAN IMMIGRANT AND SCHOOL TEACHER

Josef Yohannes is the creator of “The Urban Legend,” about the protagonist he claims is the first Norwegian superhero. The comic series features a black African immigrant who fights street crime with martial arts skills, protects the innocent, and is committed to justice in the fictional setting of Capital City, a city ravaged by corruption.

The first issue of “The Urban Legend” was published in January 2012 in Norway. The comic was received with critical acclaim and garnered a digital publishing deal with USA Today.

“The Urban Legend” follows the story of Malcolm Tzegai Madiba, a 29-year-old high school teacher. As Capital City is nearly bankrupt, and the police force is cut back causing crime to take over, Malcolm dons the alter ego of The Urban Legends to fight crime’s reign over the city.

“I got the idea in 2010 when I visited Africa, went all over the place and saw a lot of things that changed my life forever,” Yohannes, who studied political science and human rights at the University of Oslo, said. “I saw a lot of poverty and I saw a lot of kids without any parents or role models.”

This is the thought that drove Yohannes to create a superhero that can inspire kids to believe that they can be somebody important in this world. From there, Yohannes developed his concept for “The Urban Legend.”

Yohannes had a very clear vision of how he desired his superhero to be during its conception. He wanted to create a very human superhero people could relate to and see pieces of themselves in.

“I think a lot of people see something in him that they wish they could see in themselves,” Yohannes said. “Like standing up for the people who cannot stand up for themselves and giving people who don’t have a voice a voice, and then just fighting against injustice and crime in a whole different way than all the other superheroes.”

The Urban Legend has set a significant precedent as the first Norwegian superhero. The superhero market in Norway is not nearly as strong is in the U.S. and Asia. That he is black, an immigrant and a school teacher are factors that also resonate in comics culture in the U.S. and abroad.

In the history of popular comic series, representation of people of color has not been relative to population demographics. Comics have had a long history of “whitewashing” their main characters. Through “The Urban Legend,” Yohannes is creating a wider, comprehensive scope of representation and providing a role model for those who otherwise would not have one.

Yohannes has also used “The Urban Legend” as a tool to address social issues through several collaborations. A Nobel edition focusing on Ebola was created in accordance with the 10th anniversary of the Nobel Peace Center.

Yohannes also collaborated with the Malala Fund to focus on education for girl’s rights. The comic sheet created from this collaboration was incorporated into school curriculum in Norway.

Along with being a part of curriculum in Norway, “The Urban Legend” is also taught in schools in South Africa, Kenya, Eritrea and Brazil, in subjects including Norwegian, English and media and communications.

The goal of “The Urban Legend” is to inspire youth to educate themselves and, in doing so, change the world in the process, Yohannes said.

“I want my superhero ‘The Urban Legend’ to really stand for something,” Yohannes said. “To not only inspire a whole generation but to also empower them and make them believe they can be somebody and that if you want to change something in this world, you need to change yourself first.”

The world of “The Urban Legend” is looking to grow internationally and Yohannes is also in talks with a major Hollywood studio to discuss the potential of turning the beloved comic into a movie.

LOVE AND DOGS

(Originally published in the High Plains Reader on July 12, 2017.)

 

Justin Chirico and his wife, Sarah Chirico-Wyss, live in Glåmos, a village just north of Rørøs, Norway. They have 10 Alaskan huskies and a black labrador named Belmont who is training to be a rescue dog and a bed bug sniffing dog.

Sarah races the dogs competitively, while Justin prefers to take the dogs out for fun and doesn’t have any interest in mushing. Together they train the animals that they consider part of their family.

He said that interacting daily with the dogs has helped to build a connection with them, and each of the dogs has their own personality that makes them diverse and individual.

“There’s a love there,” Justin said. “There’s a friendship.”

Finding His Place

However, Justin is new to life in rural Norway. Justin is a New York painter who found his artistic voice and the loves of his life in the Norwegian countryside.

He grew up around creative people and always liked painting, but the thought of making a living as an artist didn’t really hit him until early in his college career at Lock Haven University in Pennsylvania.

Justin felt being a student wasn’t helping him develop into who he wanted to be. He was increasingly losing interest in general studies courses and spent most of his time alone in the art studio.

After a good amount of thinking, he recognized that a large city would be the way to go if he wanted to become an artist, and in 2002 he made the important decision to relocate to New York City.

Justin thought the move would end up being what he called a six-month experiment, but he stayed in NYC until 2014.

In 2008, he was ready to leave the city. He was invited by an artist to help work on a project in Greenland. While he noted that he was there to make another artist’s vision happen, the trip impacted him by allowing him to meet and interact with the Greenlandic community, something that he valued immensely.

He didn’t want to return to NYC, but he did until he traveled abroad again in 2014. Justin went to Norway to show his art with a Norwegian as part of a traveling art show from the capital of Oslo to Røros.

While in Røros, he met Sarah Wyss, a Swiss woman living in Norway. He fell in love with the wilderness and with Sarah, and he would return to Røros numerous times during the next year.

With Justin living in the U.S. and Sarah remaining in Norway, the two discussed relocating to live together. Each time Justin returned home from Norway, he said there was a sadness when he was away from the nature of the country.

Despite that sadness, Justin had never considered leaving the U.S., and was hesitant to leave NYC because of the comfort he experienced there.

Eventually Sarah moved into a home outside of Røros with space for her dogs. Justin visited and in 2015, returned to the U.S., packed and moved to rural Norway, a strong contrast to the busy streets he had walked for years.

His family wasn’t thrilled with his choice to leave the U.S. His parents were concerned both with distance and how he would make money in Norway. But they supported him and wanted him to do whatever made him happy.

His choice to leave rattled some artist friends though, and he lost some friends who couldn’t believe an artist was leaving a energetic place like NYC for somewhere so isolated. When he left, he essentially chose to throw away some of the theory and intellect close friends and mentors had shared with him, he said.

Some people he worked with even saw him as a traitor, but he said he needed to leave. In New York, he was assisting other artists, and he compared the choice to leave to a member of a band walking away to pursue a solo career.

“It’s very hard to take chances and walk off the path, [to] follow something off into a dark, uncharted way,” Justin said.

He said that it was tough for him to make the transition, but that he trusted his love of Sarah and his love of the wilderness enough to take the leap.

“It’s fuel for a creative mind to dare to reinvent yourself and know that wherever you go, you take your brush with you,” he said.

Compared to New York, the pace of life in Norway is something Justin prefers. Back in the city, he said he could be woken up in the early morning hours by friends banging on his window to see if he wanted to go for a coffee, or people climbing on his fire escape. Now, he wakes up to the sound of his dogs.

Life and Art in Norway

Justin said that his move to Norway didn’t necessarily impact his subject matter. His artwork is a combination of dreams, memories and his imagination fusing together to create the stories that are his paintings.

The largest impact the move had on his art is the approach he takes to creating. He often uses items like sticks and other objects that wash up on the shore of the lake near his home, to paint. He started painting on driftwood he finds, as well as dried animal skins.

He has also drawn inspiration from interacting with the Sami people, an indigenous group who herd reindeer.

He had started breaking away into his own realm back in New York in 2010 when he established Chirico Studios, but didn’t fully focus on the endeavor until he got to Norway.

Justin sees more of an appreciation for art in Norway than he did back home. He said that he has noticed Norwegians care more about art that they like rather than the name of the artist who produced it. This applies to everything from music to books, he said, and provides a more supportive environment for independent artists.

On the contrary, he believes that art in the U.S. has, in many cases, become too competitive and commercialized. It’s being viewed as “art as moneymaker, not art as intellectual, spiritual enrichment,” he said.

A focus on other artists got in the way while he was in New York, and he said he didn’t have the confidence he now has because he was paying attention to what they were doing instead of spending time reinventing his own art and exploring.

While he went to the city with the intention of becoming an artist, his time was often spent helping other artists, including Per Fronth, William Quigley and Shalom Tomas Neuman.

Justin worked in the studios of artists and was painting his own works on the side. To survive, he often had to juggle several jobs, making it hard for him to make time for his art. Sometimes, he assisted for free.

He said that the days of assisting artists were long, and could be spent cleaning paintbrushes, mixing paint, posing models, taking reference photos or sweeping the studio.

Justin valued being around more experienced artists and gained inspiration from them, so he continued to embrace opportunities to help when he could.

He said he felt he “needed to try and hold onto the bizarre opportunity to be, and stay for as long as possible, in the company of these innovative minds.”

He added that when the work was done, he typically would paint alongside the artists he was helping, though he wasn’t getting a chance to follow his calling.

“In New York, you’re always under a machine,” Justin said.

In Norway, he’s free to explore as an artist, create and make a living.

When Justin came to Norway, he had established art world connections back in the U.S. that allowed him to move away from the big city and yet still be able to sell his art, both in the states, Norway and internationally.

He maintains a minimal presence on the internet. Aside from a website, he doesn’t use social media and sells much of his art through those connections formed before moving. Numerous public and private collectors support his work, including the alumni association and fine arts building at Lock Haven University, the school he left behind for New York.

The culture, the people and the landscape of the north have all been powerful to his thought process and have impacted his inner experience.

He said he may be able to get the same wilderness experience from somewhere rural in the U.S., but he prefers to connect with the natives.

Rather than cleaning up after other artists, his days now involve tending to the dogs and the property, fishing and finally, painting.

He used to fish with poles as a kid but was introduced to net fishing by the farmers who live around him within his first few weeks of living in Norway. Typically, he and Sarah are able to catch enough fish for them to feed the dogs and have a fish dinner of their own two to three days a week. He waits to start fishing until the winter ice on the lake across the street from their home has broken up and melted.

He tries to paint for a few hours each morning, but he said that his best inspiration comes at night, and he can sometimes be working until the early morning hours with Belmont lying at his feet.

Justin attempts to fit in his morning painting daily, even if it’s not when his best work is getting done, because he feels that as an artist, it’s necessary to always continue to create.

The biggest distractions to his art tend to come in the winter. All of his neighbors are farmers so if a large snow causes them problems, he goes to help them rather than painting.

Moving On

He and Sarah have discussed potentially moving to the U.S., but he said the politics of the country put a stop on those plans. While moving back isn’t completely out of the question, it’s not currently on their radar.

Right now, Justin is happy and content where he is. While he lost the awe he once had for New York, he’s yet to lose the admiration he has for the wilderness and beauty of Norway that continue to fuel his creative spirit.