A Eurovision for the North: Arctic Music and Criticism, Politics and Sequins, Glitter and Reindeer Antlers!

Artists from various Arctic corners are now in place in Vadsø, Northern Norway, for Saturday's Pan-ArcticVision – a new and distinctive exercise in creating contact and unity across borders in the north. People are welcome to participate and award points; be it first-hand in Vadsøhallen, at one of the international viewing locations for streaming – or in the thousands of homes. (Photo: Pan-ArcticVision/Knut Åserud)

On Saturday, Pan-ArcticVision premieres in Vadsø, Northern Norway. A grand, crazy, and beautiful project, says Artistic Director Amund Sjølie Sveen – and welcomes us to the border-crossing building of the Arctic community.

Norsk versjon.

A northern twist on the Eurovision Song Contest.

A collection of artists from almost the entire Arctic.

Scene: Vadsø, a Norwegian coastal town 70 degrees North. The show is part of the Varanger festival – with complete film production for international live streaming.

The PanArcticVision will be a completely new presentation of Arctic music and community, says the invitation from the initiator Nordting – an artistic popular movement in the North. 

Amund Sjølie Sveen, kunstnerisk leder og vert for PanArcticVision, samt politisk og kunstnerisk leder i Nordting. (Foto: Pan-ArcticVision/Knut Åserud)
Amund Sjølie Sveen, Artistic Director and host of PanArcticVision, as well as Political and Artistic Leader of Nordting. (Photo: Pan-ArcticVision/Knut Åserud)

"We are doing this because it is important to build community in the Arctic – across the nation states that we are usually so oriented within," says Amund Sjølie Sveen, Artistic Director of Pan-ArcticVision and leading figure in Nordting, to High North News.

"People in the circumpolar North have so much in common, but we usually travel south to the capitals of our countries rather than around the Arctic region. With this project, we want to entice border crossing – more contact and interaction – across northern peoples and cultures."

Sveen points to common denominators in history and geopolitical starting points; climate and living conditions – as well as experiences of being on the edge: be it on the map, the stage, or the agenda.

«Pan-ArcticVision – song, community, independence!»

– Saturday 12 August in Vadsøhallen, Eastern Finnmark

– Brings together several Arctic solo artists, duos and bands

– Live-stream from 18:00 (CEST / UTC +2 / GMT +2) at www.panarcticvision.org/

– The show is also shown on big screens in various places: Verdensteateret in Tromsø, Norway || Hiljaisuus-festivali in Kaukonen, Finland || Norðurlandahúsið in Tórshavn, Faroe Islands || Katuaq Kulturip Illorsua in Nuuk, Greenland || Old Fire Hall at the Yukon Arts Center in Whitehorse, CanadaIn addition, screenings are planned in Anchorage, Alaska, in Iceland – as well as in Vilnius, Lithuania, for the Russian exile community. See Facebook-events here

– Organized by Nordting in collaboration with the Varanger festival and several other international partners

– Nordting is, in its own words, "a nomadic people's parliament for the North, a party for the periphery – and a separatist movement for the Arctic colony"

Power tensions

Pan-ArcticVision is also based on a northern power analysis.

"The idea emerged on my many travels in the Arctic, within the framework of Nordting, where I explored ideas around independence and self-government. The experience of the capital – the center of power  being far away is recognizable to many in the north of the world," says Sveen and continues:

"Among other places, I went to the Faroe Islands and learned about the Faroese idea of independence. 'It's not very high on the agenda now,' said someone I spoke to. 'But it ignites when attention is drawn to the fact that people cannot participate in the Olympics and the Eurovision Song Contest under their own flag.'"

The flag of the Faroe Islands (Føroyar) is called Merkið ('the mark'). This was launched in the archipelago in 1919 by Faroese students in Copenhagen. When the Faroe Islands were occupied by Great Britain in 1940 (WW2), the British demanded that Faroese ships should not sail under the Danish flag and thus, Merkið was put into use. It was not until 1948 that the flag became official. Its white base symbolizes clear skies and waves breaking against the shore. The red and blue can be found in the traditional Faroese scarf – and also alludes to the connection to Iceland and Norway. (Photo: Nordting/Jamie Michael Bivard)

A spot on the podium

The artistic director brings things together:

"By extension, we will give the stage and podium to the northern territories, which cannot display their own flag and identity in various contexts. Like Greenland and the Faroe Islands, both parts of the Danish state. Alaska and Sápmi are also other examples."

Pan-ArcticVision is thus part of an ongoing discussion about independence in the North.

Also central to the project is creating a counterweight to geopolitical conflict between the states – and strengthening the basis for Arctic cooperation, which today has a fragile feeling to it.

Interaction at arenas such as the Arctic Council and the Arctic Arts Summit is partly on ice in the wake of Russia's war against Ukraine and Western counter-sanctions.

Greenland (Kalaallit Nunaat) got its own flag in 1985, called Erfalasorput ('our flag'). It was designed by Thue Christiansen, a Greenlandic artist, teacher, and politician. The circle with a red over white part symbolizes the sun rising over the polar ice cap – while the colors refer to the Danish flag. (Photo: Nordting/Jamie Michael Bivard)
The political power lies in the south, the economical power lies in the south, the power of definition lies in the south.

Wild and beautiful

PanArcticVision is the biggest, craziest, and most beautiful project Sveen has been involved in.

The scale is, as mentioned, circumpolar. He elaborates on the madness and the beauty:

“Bringing together artists from such different geographical locations and time zones is a project against almost all odds. We are talking about traveling enormous distances  with challenging communications and many detours. It is both time-consuming and expensive. We will also show PanArcticVision in several countries. When we start in Vadsø at 18.00 Norwegian time, it is 08.00 in Alaska – and then we have all the other time zones.”

“The beauty is found in people being so excited and engaged. I find that the idea has captivated many. They have likely seen Eurovision and got an impression of the European community that is created within this framework. In this project, we will build a different community. One that is between people of the North who live in small places and share many similar life circumstances and experiences. We are all, for example, familiar with snowy winters and bright summer nights.”

Alaskas flagg
Alaska's flag symbolizes the star pattern Ursa Major (Latin), Big Dipper (American), Karlsvogna (Norwegian), and Dávggát (Northern Sami). The flag came about through a competition in 1927 in which school pupils submitted proposals. The design of 13-year-old Benny Benson from the fishing village of Chignik won the competition. The name Alaska is derived from the Aleutian Al-ya-ek-sa, which means 'the great land' or 'that against which the sea breaks.' (Photo: Nordting/Jamie Michael Bivard)  

Easy to join

On Saturday evening, Sveen will host the event together with Dávvet Bruun-Solbakk. Journalist and activist Bruun-Solbakk has, among other things, led Sápmi Pride twice in Norway.

In the run-up to the show, Sveen gets the opportunity to make an appeal to people around the Arctic region:

“This event is open to everyone! We hope that as many people as possible will join us and create Arctic unity. Either physically, from your computer screen  or as an audience on big screen screenings in various countries.”

There will also be no shortage of festivities:

“We promise you flags and confetti, politics and sequins, glitter and reindeer antlers, criticism and music, voting and points!”

Byron Nicholai – Tooksok Bay in Alaska, USA. Indigenous artist Nicholai sings in his Inuit language, Yup'ik, and has been called 'Alaska's Justin Bieber'. In 2015, he performed at the US kickoff for its chairship of the Arctic Council. Nicholai offers a fascinating fusion of traditional and contemporary beats within Yup'ik rap, hip-hop, and R&B.
The Sweeties – Whitehorse in the Yukon, Northwest Canada. This duo, consisting of Fiona McTaggert and Patric Hamilton, plays bluegrass, rock'n roll, and a flurry of tunes from the 1890s – taken from the American Sacred Harp songbook. They mix this with heavy guitar riffs, guttural drums, and Black Sabbath square dance.
Nuija – Nuuk, Greenland. Nuija is a musical collaboration between Greenland, Denmark and Iceland. The band plays indie rock with Greenlandic lyrics. The members – Nick Ørbæk, Magnus Billmann, Lona Plato, Najannguaq Qvist, Valgeir Vernharoqòsson, and Kasper Roland – create a complex soundscape. Here the fragile and the powerful meet with a strong melody as a fateful companion.
Guðrið Hansdóttir – Tórshavn, Faroe Islands. Singer and songwriter Hansdóttir has made a name for herself both in the Faroe Islands and internationally. She mixes Faroese song with Nordic pop, American folk – and minimalist electronic music.
The boy Fengurinn – Akureyri, Iceland. Egill Jónasson, aka Fengurinn, is a distinctive, masked artist who is perhaps Iceland's most productive. Jónasson likes to mix paint and music, videos, and stage performances into explosive energy. The songs are about where he is and what he is doing. On the stage in Vadsø, there may be a brand new song about being precisely there – as a participant in Pan-ArcticVision.
Áilu & Aleksi – Enare (Anár), Northern Finland/Sápmi. Ailu Valle raps in Northern Sami, Finnish, and English and is a major artist in the Finnish part of Sápmi. He has released three albums in Northern Sami and won the Finnish state's culture prize in 2019. In Vadsø, he performs with the juggler Aleksei Niittyvuopio – who can make many things move through the air in an impressive and almost poetic way. The duo is ready to lift the audience to heaven!
MÁ / Marita Isobel Solberg – Tromsø/Manndalen (Romssa/Olmmáivággi), Northern Norway/Sápmi. Solberg is a border-crossing Arctic person and multi-artist. She is Sami, Kven, and Norwegian – and creates music, stage performances, and art exhibitions. She comes to Vadsø as MÁ, a duo formed with Risto Puurunen from Joutsa, Finland. Together they offer boundless arctic beauty.
Sköll – Båtsfjord, Northern Norway. This band plays hard punk with a hint of rock. Or "noise from Båtsfjord", according to the members themselves. With ages ranging from 15 to 19, Rudi Garstad, Chris Emil Utne, Kamila Sandulskyte, and Remy Christer Wærnes are the youngest – and most hardcore – participants at Pan-ArcticVision. In Norse mythology, Sköll is the wolf that chases the sun across the firmament. When the wolf finally swallows the glowing ball, the world has come to an end...  
Katia Gilman – Northern Russia, now relocated to Tbilisi, Georgia. This up-and-coming singer began her musical journey growing up by performing at song festivals in Belarus, Kazakhstan, Bulgaria, Estonia, and Finland. Later, she was a frequent headliner at jazz clubs and independent music venues in St. Petersburg – and has focused on her own songwriting career in the genres of indie, pop, jazz, and folk.

Pan-ArcticVision's partners:

  • Varanger Festival – Vadsø, Northern Norway
  • Anchorage Museum – Alaska, USA
  • Yukon Arts Centre – Yukon, Northern Canada
  • Music Yukon – Yukon, Northern Canada
  • Katuaq – Nuuk, Greenland
  • The Nordic House (Norðurlandahúsið) – Tórshavn, Faroe Islands
  • Kaktus collective – Akureyri, Iceland
  • Hiljaisuus festivali (Hiljaisuus ry) – Kaukonen, Northern Finland/Sápmi
  • Artlab Davvi – Northern Norway/Sápmi
  • Pikene på Broen – Kirkenes, Northern Norway (Russian exile contact)
  • The project is also supported by the Norwegian Arts Council, the Nordic Culture Fund and the Nordic Culture Point

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This article was originally published in Norwegian and has been translated by Birgitte Annie Molid Martinussen.