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Nini Julia Bang (DK) & Sóley (IS) – “Smyrneiko Minore”

The only thing not Nordic about “Smyrneiko Minore,” a collaboration between Danish artist Nini Julia Bang and long-beloved Icelandic visionary Sóley, is the song’s origins. “Smyrneiko Minore” is a Greek traditional song, but that’s pretty much its only connection to the non-Nordic world. A Thousand Tongues, Bang’s debut EP from which “Smyrneiko Minore” is taken, features extensive collaborations with Áslaug Magnúsdóttir of Icelandic act Samaris; Magnúsdóttir’s Samaris bandmate Jófríður Ákadóttir, aka renowned polymath JFDR, is the opening track’s co-writer.

The Nordic connections don’t stop there. A Thousand Tongues is out now via Icelandic collective Source Material, the same group behind the multimedia opera Of Light, which has been praised by Icelandic royalty herself: Björk. Even before encountering the haunting sparsity of “Smyrneiko Minore,” it’s evident that there’s magic being brewed in these parts.

Sóley and Bang certainly deliver on the potential of their collaboration. Featuring little more than Bang’s operatic, howling vibrato, Sóley’s bleak, stern pianos, and the faint sounds of oceans gently crashing upon shores, “Smyrneiko Minore” is compulsively listenable in its experimental terror. In her solo work, each artist employs unorthodox instruments and notes to create unsettling, ambient soundscapes that owe immense gratitude to natural imagery and sounds; in their collaboration, this quality comes to the forefront for an especially striking and beautiful piece.

The contrasting traditional origins and non-traditional sounds—well, at least for popular music—of “Smyrneiko Minore” aptly forecast the remainder of A Thousand Tongues. Five of its six tracks reimagine Iranian, Bulgarian, Norwegian, Icelandic, and Kurdish traditional songs as modern experimental and ambient dreamscapes. For all six songs, Bang collaborates solely with female musicians, located across the globe; the geography-spanning nature of Bang’s collaborations further emphasizes the contrast between the modern and the traditional.

The EP’s extensively collaborative, markedly spacious nature might suggest an artist unconcerned with performing and touring, but not so. A Thousand Tongues is inspired by performances Bang toured; in Iceland, these performances were nominated for two Icelandic Theatre Awards just this year. Björk and the ITAs on your side? Now that’s a combination worth calling non-Nordic folks about.

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