From Iceland — Back To The Roots: Anna Jónsdóttir sings Icelandic folk in distant locales

Back To The Roots: Anna Jónsdóttir sings Icelandic folk in distant locales

Published July 14, 2015

Back To The Roots: Anna Jónsdóttir sings Icelandic folk in distant locales
Katie Steen

Following the release of her most recent album, ‘VAR’, Icelandic soprano singer Anna Jónsdóttir will be touring Iceland to perform in some unusual spots, from lighthouses, to caves, to an abandoned fish oil factory.

Anna comes from a background of classical training, and graduated from the Tónlistarskólinn í Reykjavík, where she received lessons primarily from Alina Dubik. While she typically sings lieds and arias, her “secret side project,” as she calls it, is singing Icelandic folk songs a capella. Except for two songs in which Svavar Knútur accompanies her with a harmonium, a capella folk songs are exactly what listeners can find on ‘VAR’.


Speaking about her decision to make an a capella folk album, Anna explained, “I wanted to perform the songs as pure and as near to their origin as possible.” In comparing ‘VAR’ to her first album ‘Móðurást’, she describes the latter’s style as being more traditional. “In ‘VAR’, I was more impulsive,” she said, “working fast, following my heart and doing it my way.” But while ‘VAR’ (literally, “was” and “shelter”) and ‘Móðurást’ (“motherly love”) have their stylistic differences, Anna returned back to the theme of origins, explaining, “both albums express my gratitude to the past and my ancestors.”

This tour is Anna’s first, and will include stops in some unbelievably remote and seemingly impossible spots. Performance locations include an avalanche barrier in Siglufjörður, a lava tube in Dimmuborgir, a forsaken fish oil factory in Hjalteyri, as well as an array of caves, churches, and lighthouses—all in areas with populations you could probably meet in a day. The spot Anna most looks forward to is a church on Grímsey, a tiny island that marks the northernmost inhabited territory of Iceland.

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Remote and impossible

For her tour, Anna decided to explore the nooks and crannies of Iceland for several reasons. For one, her album was actually recorded in some of her performing spots, including in an oil tank in Djúpavik and in the Akranes lighthouse, where, Anna noted, “the acoustics are amazing.” Not only are these spots the location of her recording sessions, but also the spots where Icelandic folk music was originally inspired. “I wanted to make concerts in very special places, where people can experience the environment and surroundings as a part of the concert, and maybe make them come a little closer to the subject of Icelandic folk songs,” she said. “Having concerts out in the country, where the heart beats nearer to the environment from which the songs came, gives me and hopefully the audience more depth in impression.”

She has also been enjoying the intimacy and closeness of the concerts and the people she has been meeting at her performances and along the way. “For me, the tour is also a way to get to know my country and its inhabitants better,” Anna explained. “Performing at places not in the busy route is a way for me to meet the people who are more open to events like this.” It’s not only the performance locations, however, but also the very nature of singing a cappella that Anna says adds to the feeling of togetherness and vulnerability of each performance. “With a cappella, I cannot hide anything.”

Anna began her tour on June 20 with a midnight concert inside the Akranes lighthouse. So far, she said, the highlights of the tour have been “the summer light and the power of nature,” and that she has received only gratitude and generosity from her audience members so far. She will continue to travel and sing around the country until August 2, so if you find yourself wandering through a cave or perhaps stranded on an island, stick around and you might catch one of Anna’s performances.

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