Friday, October 5, 2012

KNUTNA NÄVAR – De svarta listornas folk (Proletärkultur, 1973)

International relevance: **
Swedish vocals

Whenever someone wants to poke fun at progg music, they pull out a band like Knutna Nävar with a nasty sneer to prove just what kind of leftwing fundamentalists that made up the progg movement of the 70's. Thing is, it doesn't prove anything except that even the Movement had its maniacs too. Because although the Movement (”Musikrörelsen” in Swedish, see ”Encyclopedia of Swedish Progressive Music” for a comprehensive description) very often had its sympathies to the left side of the politics, few were as far left or proclaimed their politics with such a religious fervour as Knutna Nävar. They were affiliated with KPML(r), a revolutionary party to the extreme left, and basically the musical spokespeople for the party.

In ”99 proggplattor”, an anthology of 100 (!) newly written progg reviews, Stefan Wermelin (famous radio host and founder of the Musiklaget label) sums it up, very accurately, this way: ”The album is worth listening to as a historical document, a musical trip into the past, performed with great gusto and conviction. Two of the songs' lyrics, 'De svarta listornas folk' and 'Hundra procent' were written by Arthur Magnusson, a Swedish revolutionary poet in the 20's and 30's. It works, as long as the lyrics originates in a time when choices were between nazism and communism. More recent lyrics, on the other hand, appear unintentionally parodic.”

Wermelin states that albums such as this were not the kind of albums that were regularly played among proggers. ”They rather belonged in the Party's office”, as he puts it. It's important to remember this every time someone tries to dismiss the entire progg movement on the grounds of one band and a coterie of airheads only. Knutna Nävar were extremists tributing Stalin, most overtly in the infamous ”Sången om Stalin”. Anyone with even the slightest knowledge of historical facts will nervously laugh an awkward laugh upon hearing of Stalin as ”our friend and our comrade”.

But still. It's hard to entirely dismiss Knutna Nävar because they did have their merits. They could weave a couple of excellent songs, and they had a couple of prominently executed covers. Just listen to ”Strejken på Arendal” on this, their last album. An irresistably rocking version of the American traditional ”John Hardy”, translated to tell the story of a wildcat strike at the Arendal shipyard in October 1972. (They had previously covered the Creedence Clearwater Revival chestnut ”Proud Mary”, as ”Lär av historien”.) They also had a natural flair for slightly psychy originals in a predominantly acoustic folk vein. A track like ”Greppet hårdnar” is nothing less than excellent, but it's a hard time having the message shoved down one's throat, even to someone of more moderate leftwing opinions.

At first I considered ”De svartarna listornas folk” to be of mainly domestic interest, but the more I think about it, the more I believe that foreigners may appreciate it the most, simply because the lyrics won't get in their way. If this was performed in a language I can't speak, I would probably feel less uncomfortable listening to it. Because it's a largely good album, but just about impossible to listen to due to the lyrics. Oddly enough, Knutna Nävar remain popular among a lot of people, although it's hard to say if it's because of the lyrics or in spite of them, or whether they take the lyrics seriously or not.

Whatever happened to many of the members of Knutna Nävar is largely shrouded in mystery, but Swedish actor Sven Wollter was involved in an earlier incarnation of the band (Freedom Singers). Main musicians on ”De svarta listornas folk” include Bengt Franzén, Brita Josefson, Mattias Lundälv, Lars Gerdin and Thomas Ellerås. Gerdin played congas on Proletärkultur stablemate Dan Berglund's classic ”En järnarbetares visor”, while Thomas Ellerås was also in Folk Blues Inc and other bands. He's an opera singer today.

Although Knutna Nävar's albums aren't terribly expensive (compared to other progg rarities, that is), they are rarely offered for sale. The albums have never been re-released, but you can find them as mp3's, for instance here along with other releases on the label. You should be aware, though, that the rips are in insufficient mono.

KPML(r) changed their name to Kommunistiska Partiet in 2005, and as such they still run Proletärkultur, offering mostly leftwing literature.

1. Svarta listornas folk 

2. Hundra procent

3. Till minnet av en avskedad kamrat

4. Greppet hårdnar

5. Strejken på Arendal

6. Hör maskinernas sång

7. I alla länder

8. Ho Chi Minh

8. Ut till fronten

9. Sången om Stalin

10. En arbetarkvinnas sång till sin son

11. Arbetarbröder

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