The nordic countries are producing some of the most interesting new music today. Sweden, of course, has long been known for its awesome production of chart-sweeping popular music, with groups such as Abba and Roxette and many more recent ones. In fact, with a population of just over 8 million, Sweden is one of the world's largest exporters of popular music. This is very impressive, but it's not the kind of music I'm talking about, nor is it a kind of music I'm particularly interested in, or impressed by. (Now, if we were talking about Vikingarna, which are little known outside Sweden, and which many Swedes wish were less known everywhere, that would be a different story.)
All over the nordic countries, young musicians are experimenting with traditional forms and traditional instruments, used in new settings. At the same time, the older music continues to hold its appeal, and remains as worth listening to as ever. Much of this music defies categorization, but I have for the sake of imposing some kind of order to guide the neophyte, broken up my comments on the music into the following categories. Click on the links to explore each category further. My experience of Nordic music runs mostly to Finland and Sapmi (Lapland), but as time goes on, I'll be filling in more on Sweden and Norway.
Where can I buy this wonderful music? Although I bought my first two bus station music tapes in a bus station in Helsinki (hence the origin of the name I have given this kind of music), it is no longer generally available in bus stations, which tend to sell more modern pop these days. Also, though the quintessential bus station music used to be sold mostly on cassette tapes, CD's have increasingly taken over. The genre is far from dead. It can be found in gas stations in smaller towns (I've sometimes had to ask to look at the dusty box of tapes behind the counter) and in smaller K-Kauppat and shops in the countryside (e.g. at Jounin Kauppa in Äkäslompolo). I have even found some good cheap bus station disks in the souvenir shop on the Silja line ferries. Many fine bus station tunes are available in the "20 suosikkia" series, and also re-issued on the poptori label. A truly remarkably deep source of bus station music, and other dusty and offbeat Finnish tunes and movies, is Radio-Shopen.They used to have a store in Stockholm's Gamla Stan, but sadly that's closed so you can no longer just go in and browse. The Radio Shopen web shop still seems to be open, though. It's been one of the few places to find a comprehensive selection of this kind of music and film, but the inventory of classic bus station music on the web shop seems to be sadly depleted -- though there is still a good collection of FinnKaraoke versions if you like to sing along. Helsinki has more or less abandoned bus station music, though there is another truly remarkable music shop there for more serious Finnish folk, noted below.
As for the rest, the labels are not widely exported outside the Nordic countries. My favorite all-around source is Digelius Music (Laivurinne, Helsinki). They do mail order at a very reasonable price, even including shipping to North America. Check out the Digelius Web Site.
Where can I go to hear this music live? For bus station music, find a good dance hall out in the countryside. They're all over the place, and even have their own international symbol. One of my favorites is the Riemuliiteri in Äkäslompolo, which also has a branch in Kolari. Hietasaari, in Oulu is also good, though slanted more toward foxxi and less toward humppa and jenkka. For folk music and new music, there are very many festivals, such as the Kaustinen Folk Festival, the Haparanda Accordion Festival, and (my favorite) the Saltoluokta Folkmusikveckan.