Who would expect hundreds of yellow-haired Vikings to be bouncing energetically to “Bonita Applebum” and not missing a word of Aretha’s “Think” on a random late-summer’s eve? Sure as hell wasn’t me; seeing a rack of blonde “single ladies” bouncing their Nordic booties on-beat (y’all read right) left me verklempt. I have to give it up to the Swedes: they are no joke on the dance floor!
Like in most of the world nowadays, hip-hop is the general soundtrack for Swedish teen love and loss and twenty-something success and angst. Still, unlike in most of the world, that soundtrack seems to have been playing in Stockholm for the last twenty years. With The Voice of Hip-Hop and R&B being the city’s most popular radio station, young folk are indoctrinated in the soul and bounce of “black music” from an early age, both by hip parents and by the prevalence of the music in almost every shop or restaurant staffed by people under 35. And also unlike in other places, because they learn English from a very young age, Swedes actually understand most of what they’re listening to.
I remember first visiting the country as a foreign exchange student at age 16, waaaaaaaaay up north in the tiny Arctic town of Råneå (pronounced RO-neo) and being surprised that one of my friends there knew most of the lyrics to Toni Braxton’s “Another Sad Love Song.” True, her version was “Another Shade of Soul,” but who could blame her for not getting Toni’s husky vocals quite right; the approximation at least made sense. This trip, I scored Scandinavian cool points by arguing that rapper Busta Rhymes is indeed Swedish, since one of his most famous lines is “Ja ja ja, ja ja!,” which is, of course, Svensk for “Yes yes yes, yes yes!” I got the whole carload crunk with me and five Swedes ja ja ja-ing through Stockholm.
With more than just a passing knowledge of soul, dancehall, mainstream R&B, and hip-hop, I sensed a true cultural appreciation for the artists as well as the music; hell, my CouchSurfing host had a head shot of Erykah Badu as his computer desktop wallpaper (“I luff hah!” he said). Then, of course, there are the imitators, like the “modern-day Steve McQueen,” Sven D’Navia, and his dancehall parody “Shejka Bompa.” Keeping in mind that the Swedish “j” has the English “y” sound (ergo, “ja ja ja”), you can figure out for yourself what the title of this song is.
Check the animated booty-popping:
Anyway, here are the photos from my five days in sizzlin’ cold Stockholm. She ain’t cheap, but she’s a definite party girl, ja!