Published December 6, 2013
Love it or hate it, Christmas music is an inseparable part of the holiday season. It serenades listeners far and wide over the airwaves and, more cynically, spurs shoppers in the consumer-driven Christmas creep.
In Iceland, one man in particular is responsible for a great deal of the cheery holiday pop. That man is Iceland’s most prolific pop star Björgvin Halldórsson. Gracing the cover of our annual Christmas issue this year, Björgvin sits at a restaurant in Reykjavík with a plate of pasta in front of him. Pasta, it turns out—or more generally, Italy—has played a role in shaping Iceland’s Christmas.
As the story goes, Björgvin went to Italy on holiday in the ‘80s and fell in love with its culture, its food and… its music. “It was when I was listening to those Italian pop songs on our holidays and watching Sanremo [an Italian song competition] that I started to notice a certain dramatic character in them that reminded me of Christmas music,” he says in our feature interview. “My daughter Svala and I talked about this and felt that all these songs needed were some Christmas bells and new lyrics and they’d suit perfectly as Christmas songs.”
Inspired by his trips, Björgvin commenced transforming a slew of Italian love songs into soon-to-be classic Icelandic Christmas songs. Marcella Bella’s “Dopo La Tempesta” became “Ég hlakka svo til” (“I Can’t Wait”). Ricchi E Poveri’s “Voluez Vous Danser” became “Fyrir Jól” (“Before Christmas”). “Gente di mare,” “Komdu um jólin” (“Come For Christmas”), “Chi Voglio sei tu,” “Þú komst með Jólin til mín” (“You Brought Me Christmas”). “Quanto Di Amo,” “Svona eru Jólin” (“This Is Christmas”). “Ci sara,” “Þú og ég (Jólagjöfin mín í ár)” (“You And Me (My Christmas Present This Year)”). “Gente come noi,” “Þú og ég og jól” (“You And Me And Christmas”). The list goes on.
Now, if your love for Christmas music is being tested with too much “Silent Night” and “”Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” go enjoy these Icelandic varieties and their Italian counterparts on YouTube.
Then turn to page 16 to read “’Tis The Season of Björgvin Halldórsson,” Árni Hjörvar Árnason’s feature interview with the man, who is actually responsible for giving us a lot more than a handful of popular Christmas songs. As Árni writes, “Björgvin is the perpetual patriarch of pop music. Björgvin is our Elvis. He’s our Sinatra. He is our Legend.”