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 filmed by Anne Luft at Siglufjörður Folk Festival Iceland 2018
If you want to know more about our work, just send us a message from the contact page.
news & stuff
Nordic Harp Meeting 2020
Nordic Harp Meeting (NHM) has evolved into a rather special community of musicians and researchers. It takes place just once a year, usually around the end of October. We try to go as often as possible.
Like everything else this year, plans for the thirteenth NHM were knocked sideways by the Corona virus. 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, this year's 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.
Next year's Nordic Harp Meeting is scheduled to take place in Albertslund, Denmark, as it should have done this year, and we already have the funds to be there.
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 has now been released on-line and it is very good indeed.
Kind of Folk 3-Iceland will have an Icelandic launch concert in Reykjavik just as soon as Covid regulations permit.
More about Groupa and the album here:
Changing times, changing plans for
Vaka Folk Music Weekend 2020
which was to have been held 21st - 24th May 2020
When Vaka Folk Music Weekend 2020 had to be cancelled, we decided to hold some of the events as single events later in the year, as and when C-19 conditions allowed.
Revised plans were made, but then had to be cancelled as another wave of C-19 infections in the autumn led to new restrictions.
We are now working on plans to make a series of videos of various aspects of Icelandic traditional song and dance.
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. Vaka exists to provide a space and opportunity to sing, play and listen to Icelandic traditional music, along with songs and music from our northern European neighbours.
In 2019 we moved Vaka to Reykjavík. It was an intimate, small scale event, with a focus on people coming together to share music and ideas for the future.
Plans for the sixth Vaka were well on the way when the pandemic struck. The main events would have been:
An afternoon seminar / mini conference about the performance of Icelandic rímur ballads. Organised in conjunction with Kvæðamannafélag Iðunn and the Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies; A concert featuring iconic Swedish band Groupa launching their new album Kind of Folk – Vol. 3 Iceland; and a Festival Feast with lots of entertainment by local folk musicians, followed by dancing.
The festival would have also featured plenty of opportunities for people to get together in sessions and workshops.
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.
For the past couple of years, on the third Tuesday of each month, we have run an 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, two voice harmony songs called Tvísöngur, the traditional Icelandic two part harmony songs and the old dance ballads called Sagnadans or Vikivaki, which are largely overlooked in the wider Icelandic musical world.
Plans to restart Söngvaka sessions are on hold pending the easing of C-19 control regulations.
Funi's first Nashville recording session
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.
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 and is currently working on a big project, 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.
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.
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.
gigs & tour dates
Icelandic folk music, live and direct
Most of our planned performances for 2020 were cancelled and the rest are subject to re-organisation as Covid-19 continues to unfold over the coming months.
5th - 8th November
Nordic Harp Meeting
The 13th Nordic Harp Meeting took place on line. The two full days of online workshops and performances were a great success and left participants hungry for more.
Plans are now afoot for an extra online event in spring 2021, before the 14th meeting is held in
21st - 24th October 2021.
Kaustinen Folk Festival, Finland
Our long anticipated visit to this important event has been postponed to July 2021
Funi summer concerts in Iceland These were actually able to take place...
Saturday 4th July
Sunday 5th July
Sunday 19th July
Textile Museum, Blönduós
Saturday 25th July
Iðnó Theatre, Reykjavík
Booking now for 2021
To enquire about booking us for concerts or workshops, just send us an email direct 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.
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.
Click the link below to buy Flúr and Funi now...
Our first album was released in 2004. It 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' solo English language albums are also all available from Bandcamp.com.
Full info about them can be found over on Chris' website.
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