We are Bára Grímsdóttir and Chris Foster and we live in Reykjavík, Iceland. FUNI is an old Icelandic word meaning fire.  It was also the name of one of Bára's Grandfather's favourite horses.

Her Grandma, Pjeturina wrote a poem about it.

We made it into a song.

 

Iceland has a unique and wonderful folk song heritage, but sadly, it has remained largely hidden from today’s folk, and wider music audiences, both in Iceland and around the world. We started working together in 2001, breathing new life into great songs that have been hidden for too long in old recordings and dusty old books, as well as writing new ones.

 

Together, we have performed and taught at festivals, concerts, summer schools and on radio and TV in Belgium, China, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Holland, Hungary, Ireland, Norway, Poland, Romania, Sweden, Switzerland and the USA, as well as throughout Iceland and Britain.

 

“It’s not every day that an unfamiliar, yet readily accessible new tradition comes along, so check this out.”

Nick Beale - fROOTS magazine

Funi at Siglufjörður Folk Festival Iceland 2018

filmed by Anne Luft

If you want to know more about our work, just send us a message from the contact page.

news & stuff

 

Dagur rímnalagsins (Day of rímur)2021

and Nýja stórnaskráin (the New Icelandic constitution)

Needless to say, live performing has been very infrequent lately, but one very successful live event was the annual Dagur rímnalagsins (Day of rímur) concert, organised by Bára and held on 15th September at the excellent new Mál og Menning venue in downtown Reykjavík.  Eight people sang and played solo and in various combinations to a full house.

 

Bára sang two very different pieces, both with electronic accompaniment, made by Kristín Lárusdóttir. The first was a twelve minute extract from the much longer Andrarímur by Hannes Bjarnasson and Gísli Konráðsson, which Bára put together with traditional stemmur(tunes).

 

For the second, they re-visited a performance they made in 2020, when Icelandic musicians from many genres were invited to perform the text of the proposed new constitution for the Icelandic nation. This new constitution was drafted in the aftermath of the infamous economic crash of 2008. Many hours of research and writing by an elected panel of twenty-five experts, went into making a constitution fit for purpose in the 21st century. The draft was completed in 2012, but due to political obstruction and inertia, it has still not been enacted.

 

Bára chose to perform clause 39, which deals with the conduct of elections. You can watch it here. The bell you hear is the speakers bell used in the chamber of the alþingi (parliament).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Augmented reality - Edge of Discovery

In September '21 we were contacted, out of the blue,  by a media arts company called Edge of Discovery, based in Utah, USA. They were in Iceland making an educational augmented reality production called Kvöldvaka. It's a multi-sensory documentary with a story inspired by Icelandic folklore about the huldufolk (hidden people), with the aim of creating awareness of environmental issues and encouraging respect for the natural world in this era of climate change and environmental crisis.

 

They needed langspil and Icelandic fiddle sounds to add  atmosphere through the story. In the end we sang a sagnadans ballad and recorded a range of tunes and sounds, which will be woven into the final production. You can find out more here:

 

Nordic Harp Meeting 2020 and 2021

Nordic Harp Meeting (NHM) has evolved into a rather special community of musicians and researchers. It moves from country to country and takes place just once a year, usually around the end of October. We try to go as often as possible.

Like everything else in 2020, plans for the thirteenth NHM were knocked sideways by the Covid pandemic. But the NHM community is a determined bunch of people. Maybe the fact that we are geographically spread so widely (from Prague to Pennsylvania and Estonia to Iceland) and only meet once a year adds an extra importance to the gathering. So, undaunted, the 2020 organiser, Maria Ojantakanen pressed ahead and put together two full days of workshops and performances via Zoom and Facebook, and very good they were too.

We gave a presentation about the organisation Kvæðamannafélagið Iðunn, of which Bara has been chairperson for the past five years. You can see and hear (there are some great archive recordings) the whole presentation here.

The 2021 Nordic Harp Meeting took place in Albertslund, Denmark and we were there. It was a great gathering over four days, made all the more special because so many friends were meeting in person for the first time in ages. We led a workshop on Icelandic songs and hymns in the phrygian and lydian modes. Joined in a workshop about langspil and its Nordic and American cousins and played in an evening concert. As always, some of the best moments were the informal sessions (alspell), chats and generally hanging out.

Video footage from the weekend will be appearing on YouTube in due course.

As in previous years our participation was made possible by funding from the Nordic-Baltic Mobility Programme of Nordic Culture Point.

 

 

 

​Working with Groupa, from Sweden

In the summer of 2019, we were contacted by Mats Eden of the great Swedish band Groupa, because they were going to make an album of their interpretations of Icelandic folk music. They visited Reykjavík for a few days in June and we had a great time showing them all sorts of examples Icelandic folk song tunes. Armed with a pile of raw materials, they went back home to work out what they were going to do with it. Then, in October they came back to record the album. They invited Bára to sing on the some tracks and also invited bass player Skuli Sverrisson and guitarist Hilmar Jensson to play on the album.

The album, called Kind of Folk 3-Iceland was  released on-line in the spring of 2020 and it is very good indeed.

We hope that the music on Kind of Folk 3-Iceland will have be able to be performed live in Iceland when Covid regulations permit.

More about Groupa and the album here:

 

 

​​New Funi album

Meanwhile, Chris has been working on plans for recording our third full length Funi album. We have been casting our net wide and collecting together songs and rímur extracts that are very little known and Bára has also been writing new tunes for some of the texts. This process of discovering and then arranging hidden riches is one of the things that we love about working with traditional music, whether it's from Iceland or England.

 

We are adding a new dimension to this album project.  As well as our usual song arrangements, with langspil, Íslensk fiðla, kantele and harmony vocals, we are working with our friend Buzby Birchall of Hidden Sounds to make special recordings in the Icelandic landscape. Through the summer of 2019, we made field recording trips to quite a few locations connected with the songs, so the sounds of the earth and sea that the songs first sprung from will be present, like veins of minerals through rock, throughout the album. This extra dimension of recording inevitably adds significant costs over and above the cost of a regular studio album, so we will be launching a crowd funding scheme in the near future to ask people to help us realise this exciting new project.

Söngvaka

For the past couple of years, we have run a monthly open singing session in downtown Reykjavik. The sessions are held in the former home of Benedikt Gröndal a 19th century Icelandic naturalist, writer and all round cultural activist.

The idea behind these sessions is to create a welcoming space and opportunity for people to come and sing together and to share and learn new songs. In particular we focus on the unique, traditional Icelandic two part harmony songs called Tvísöngur, and the old dance ballads called Sagnadans or Vikivaki, which are largely overlooked in the wider Icelandic musical world.

 

The ups and downs of Covid have meant that we have only been able to meet infrequently since summer 2020. We continue to meet when we can. It is always a lot of fun when we do and we long for the day that we can hold regular monthly sessions once more.

Vaka Folk Music Weekend

Vaka exists to build a community that creates opportunities to sing, play, dance and listen to Icelandic traditional music, along with songs and music from our northern European neighbours and further afield.

A bit of background info:

From 2015 - 18 Chris was the programme co-ordinator for the Vaka Folk Arts Festival, in Akureyri in the north of Iceland.

 

In 2019 we moved Vaka to Reykjavík and Chris was joined by Linus Orri Gunnarsson Cederborg as co-organiser. It was an intimate, small scale event, with a focus on people coming together to share music and ideas for the future. Covid has kept the pause button pressed since spring 2020, but it will be released at some point and when it is we will be ready to bring Vaka back to life.

  

​Funi's first Nashville recording session

 or

The langspil comes to Nashville

In January 2019 we recorded langspil, Íslensk fiðla and vocals for a song on a new album by American singer and harpist Karen Thames Ballew, who is based in Nashville, USA. The album titled The Deer's Cry is now out, and very nice it is too. We wonder if this s the first time an Icelandic langspil has ever appeared on an album from Nashville?

Karen has also released a beautifully shot video of her 'Icelandic song'.

Click the button to see it.

Big honour for Bára

 

On 17th June 2019 (75th anniversary celebration of Iceland's full independence from Denmark), Bára was invested as a Knight of the Order of the Falcoln, by President Guðni Th. Jóhannesson. The honour was awarded 'For protecting and re-newing the traditional music of Iceland'.

This is just about the highest official pat on the back that you can get in Iceland. Bára is one of 16 people who received the award this year.

Here's a photo of Bára with her medal and the President.

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Kvæðamannafélagið Iðunn

Kvæðamannafélagið Iðunn is one of the oldest established cultural organisations in Iceland. It was founded in Reykjavík in 1929 and is dedicated to the maintenance and preservation of the traditional Icelandic​ singing and poetic styles associated with the Icelandic rímur tradition. Bára was first introduced to this venerable society by her parents, who were active members. They took her along to meetings and expeditions as a child and she has been involved with it to a greater or lesser extent ever since.


Kvæðamannafélagið Iðunn was originally founded by working people who were moving into Reykjavík from the countryside. They wanted to keep up their old ways of self made entertainment. The first known rímur dates from the 14th century and the tradition continued as an important form of home entertainment in farms, right up to the 20th century, when big changes in Icelandic society and the arrival of home entertainment in the form of radio, and later on TV, led to its decline.

 

Bára has been the formaður (chairperson) of Iðunn since 2015. Now in this ninetieth anniversary year, the society is going from strength to strength as more people become interested in this unique and beautiful form of traditional ballads. The precise founding day of Iðunn was the 15th September 1929 and  the society held a special anniversary celebration weekend on the 14th -15th September 2019. Other events are being held during this ninetieth year.

As formaður of Iðunn, Bára has worked hard to encourage a more outward looking atmosphere, to attract more and younger members into the society. To that end, among other things, she has instigated an annual rímur concert every autumn (four so far) and also an annual 'Skemmtikvöld' an evening of funny songs and poems, which takes place in a bar or cafe downtown in the new year.

​​Dagur rímnalagsins / Day of rímur

In connection with its 90th anniversary celebration weekend, Iðunn  collaborated with the Icelandic Ministry of Education, Science and Culture to launch an education project taking the music and poetry of the rímur tradition into primary schools. Bára is working with fellow Iðunn member Ragnar Ingi Aðalsteinsson to make teaching materials for music teachers and Icelandic language teachers. Following on from this year's project, it is planned to have an annual Dagur rímnalagsins on or around the 15th of September.

Regular folk music activities in Reykjavík

 

Part of our mission as Funi is to share our traditional music and to collaborate with other enthusiasts to encourage more people to get actively involved in singing, playing and dancing. We are involved in several regular opportunities to get involved with playing and singing folk music in the Reykjavík area.

 

Kvæðamannafélagið Iðunn meetings

Iðunn holds monthly meetings at Menningarhús Gerðuberg from October to May. On the first Wednesday of the month people meet for the Kvæðaæfing session, where they practise singing traditional kvæðalög songs. Then, two days later, on the first Friday after the first Wednesday, the society has a general meeting with talks on all sorts of topics, short performances, singing, poetry writing and more besides.

 

There are two more Iðunn meetings in the year. On the 15th June, members gather at a picnic area that they maintain in a wooded area that they planted in 1991, at Heiðmörk, just outside Reykjavík. The other meeting is an annual coach trip on the first Saturday of September. These day trips visit places such as historic sites, museums, cultural organisations etc. The trip usually ends with a meal, before travelling back to Reykjavík.

 

Reykjavík Trad Sessions

For some years now, there have been regular weekly folk music sessions in downtown Reykjavík. The music played at the sessions is primarily Irish, Scottish and Swedish tunes, with the occasional song added into the mix. There is a core group of about seven or eight people who turn up most weeks. Most of the players are immigrants or students who are studying here for a while and we also quite often welcome players from other countries who are passing through or here on holiday. The group is very friendly and both the music and the craic are very good.

 

Check out the Reykjavík Trad Sessions Facebook page for regular updates about what's going on and where it is happening.

gigs & tour dates

Performance dates 2021

​Thursday 21st - Sunday 24th October

Nordic Harp Meeting

Albertslund, Denmark

This event is taking place in real space and real time. We are really excited to be meeting up with good friends for the first time in ages. Our participation is made possible by funding from the Nordic-Baltic Mobility Programme of Nordic Culture Point.

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Booking now for 2022

and beyond.

To enquire about booking us for concerts or workshops, just send us an email from the contacts page here on our website.

 

Watch this space for updates and more dates. 

This column is usually full of performance dates and news of live music activities.

If you scroll down you will find info about our recordings and publications.

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albums

All of our recorded music is available as physical CDs and downloads from

 

You can also find it on multiple streaming platforms, such as Spotify,  iTunes, Amazon, Deezer and so on.

Icelandic folk music with traditional Icelandic langspil and fidla

FLÚR (GMCD007) 

Our album of 15 Icelandic songs was released in April 2013. Flúr is an old Icelandic word that means decoration or tracery. 

   

The physical CD comes in a digipak along with a 32 page with lots of photographs, notes about the songs and full song texts in both Icelandic and English translation all beautifully designed by Inga Elsa Bergþórsdóttir.

   

As well as our usual mix of instruments, we are joined by some excellent musical friends and relatives who add their spice to the mix.  This is family based, cottage industry record production at its very best.

… haunting and fascinating. 

Simon Broughton – Songlines, October 2014

 

These consummate and intensely mesmerising performances are quite simply superb in their natural authority. 

David Kidman - NetRhythms.co.uk, May 2013

 

It’s a particular pleasure, to come across this wonderful disc by Bára Grímsdóttir - one of Iceland’s foremost traditional singers - and

British-born multi-instrumentalist, Chris Foster.

Oz Hardwick R2 magazine - July 2013

 

You can download songs from FLÚR and our other album FUNI from Bandcamp. You can buy physical CDs online from Bandcamp or from us in person, here in Reykjavík, via the email link on the contacts page, or at our gigs.

Funi (GMCD002)

Our first album was released in 2004. The album was recorded in England, where we were living at the time. We were joined on the album by our good friend and fabulous squeeze box player, John Kirkpatrick. The photo on the front of the album shows three generations of Bára's family, photographed at the family farm in 1932. Her father, who also wrote several of the song texts on the album, is the little blond haired boy in the bottom left of the photo.

Chris' albums

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Chris' solo English language albums are also all available from Bandcamp.com.

Full info about them can be found over on Chris' website.

Bára sings

Passíusálmar / Hymns of the passion

The Passíusálmar are fifty hymns written by the Icelandic priest and poet Hallgrímur Pétursson (1614 -1674) and completed in 1659. These meditations on the sufferings and death of Jesus Christ hold a special place in Icelandic culture and are also the most widely published and translated Icelandic literary work.

 

Hallgrímur intended the hymns to be sung, so he set each one to a known tune in the Lutheran hymnody. People learned the hymns by heart and sang and read them in their homes during Lent. Over the years, the hymn tunes evolved in the mouths of the people as the melodies, which were originally German, were moulded to the sounds and structure of the Icelandic language.

 

In the twentieth century the practice of singing the Passíusálmur started to decline.  Coming in at around ten minutes each, the hymns do not fit comfortably with contemporary ideas about timing, although they continue to be read a lot in churches and on the radio, especially on Good Friday. Fortunately, recordings of older people singing the hymns were able to be made, before they passed out of use.

 

In March 2020, Bára Grímsdóttir researched traditional melodies to seven of the Passíusálmur and performed them in Háteigskirkja, a church in our neighbourhood in Reykjavík. Covid restrictions meant that only a very small number of people could be present, but the performance was live streamed and videoed.

 

We are happy to share this very special music here.

Passíusálmur number 36

Um skiptin á klæðunum Kristí

(Christ's garments divided)

 

 

Numbers 37 - 42 are over on the music and videos page.

Bára's kid's book

With her other hat on as a composer, Bára has written a musical story for children, titled Ævintýrið af Sölva og Oddi kóngi. Premiered as a live performance in January 2016, it is now published as a beautiful illustrated book with CD. The disc features narrator / singer Margrét Eir and an eleven piece band. Watch a trailor on You Tube here:

​​The book is published by

  Töfrahurð bókaútgáfa  

ISBN 978-9979-72-968-6

Jón Árason - the opera

Apart from her work in Funi, Bára is also a busy composer. She writes music for all sorts of groups and occasions. For the last ten years she was working on her biggest project so far, composing an opera about the life and times of Jón Arason, the last catholic bishop of Iceland, who was executed along with his sons in the reformation of 1550. She completed the piece in the summer of 2021. Next step is to find a way to get it performed.

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