Language lessons, stories and Mana Mana

Svavar Knútur – mon ami, Weimar – September 10th, 2021

While Svavar Knútur was playing concerts in my area I was in Poland, but one concert is rarely enough so I found myself on a train going east to see him again. I still felt tired from the Poland tour and when I left home at noon I wondered why I was doing this to myself, but later that night, as soon as the concert started, I remembered. Soon after my arrival in Weimar I left for the venue, only to find out that they were running a little late. That meant I had time for ice cream. Win! 🙂

The concert took place at a cultural center and because it was inside it had not been sold out. Still, it wasn’t empty and the guests were excited about the concerts. The stage was huge and seemed a bit sparse with only one mic stand and guitar case at the center. Yet, as soon as the lights went down and Svavar walked out, I forgot all about that.

Svavar greeted us in German and apologized for his language skills having suffered, with the fluency of honey. 😉 He was happy to see us all and started with ‘Fagurt er í Fjörðum’, translating the lyrics for us before he sang. As so many Icelandic songs it was a mixture of light and dark and sounded very melancholic. Afterwards he told us that he wanted to share his language with us and would play more Icelandic songs during the evening.

Next though was the only sad song he has ever written and had not played in  many years called ‘Your love was Death to me’. I don’t think I’d ever heard it before and I liked it a lot. It was truly sad, not melancholic like his other as he pointed out. ‘Morgúnn’ then was much happier and he let us know that the lyrics to all the Icelandic songs are translated on his website, because he wants everyone to understand what he is singing. I rarely look up the songs, but it makes me happy to know that I can. This one always makes me think of mornings in the fall when I have to get up while it is still dark and treasure the comfort of cradling a hot cup of tea in my hands.

‘Tiger and Bear’ followed and from Janosch we got to ‘Räuber Hotzenplotz’, a book he also loved and even read the Icelandic audio book version for. He fucked up the beginning of the song by placing the capo on the wrong fret of the guitar, but once that was corrected the song became even happier than usual. <3 He spoke about languages and how they sound different, depending on which part of the country you are in, depending on the landscape or rather how flat the country is. Even words with the same meaning in the dictionary can sound and feel very different. His example was the German “Baum” versus the Icelandic “tré” and how a conversation around a “tré” would sound. 😀 Of course he played ‘Undir Birkitré’ which sounded as happy as being under an Icelandic tree.

We learned more about Iceland and how the Icelandic life of always having to adjust is reflected in the language. The he told us about missing his kids and played ‘The Curtain’ which captures the feeling of missing someone you love. It is a really beautiful song. The lessons about Iceland and Icelanders continued regarding showing emotions and how we express anger differently, i.e. Germans might yell and they will keep it inside, unless they get extremely angry. Everyone who was there now knows what happens then and the only things left to do when it does, but I won’t spill the secret. 😉

Svavar played an old Icelandic song about the Raven that he rewrote from the original harsh sounds to a much sweeter melody. It was lovely. Afterwards he talked about playing Zoom concerts in the past year and how a fan reminded him of the song ‘Hard Things’ which he also had not played it years. I liked it right away and I understood how it could put anyone in a good mood. Who knew there were so many songs for me yet to discover? 😀

Once upon a time he was invited to take part in a Nordic Songwriter’s workshop in Denmark, but instead of writing songs together, they had requests from big labels to write songs for established artists according to specific formulas and he didn’t enjoy it at all. He also gave us a few examples of songs written there – it must have been painful. However, ‘Vetrarsól’ was written there and when he played it one Danish songwriter told him to “start writing with your wallet” – apparently he had no clue. We got to enjoy the song though. 🙂

“I like beer, beer is my favorite thing,” he told us, quickly clarifying that of course he likes his children and music more. This was the prelude to teaching us some German words he had invented and showing us how beautiful our language is by playing Brahms’ ‘In stiller Nacht’. ‘Wanderlust’ followed, which is always a highlight for me, even though we did not get a sing-along that night. I really feel this song, especially after 18 months of having to force my own Wanderlust to be quiet.

At this point there would usually be a break, but not this time so he offered to play a bathroom break song, so we could go out and come back without feeling shitty about it. It was Kris Kristofferson’s ‘Help me make it through the night’. We heard about the different jobs Svavar has had before deciding to become a songwriter because of him. It was a great rendition too.

‘While the World burns’ was great and lead to musings about love and friendship and how the latter comes in so many more forms and is more forgiving than the former. Of course ‘Ölduslóð’ followed. One of my all time favorites, ‘Emotional Anorxic’ was on the menu too. The song often makes me cry, but I am always happy to hear it. <3

Earlier this year, Svavar co-wrote a song with Canadian songwriter Irish Mythen called ‘Hope and Fortune’ and told us how it was about a common thread in Irish and Icelandic history with people fleeing their countries to America. He sees the song as a continuation of ‘Lady Winter’ and it is gorgeous. It also reminds me of another song, I believe it might be Mark Knopfler’s ‘Sailing to Philadelphia’. He thanked the venue, his crew of one and the audience for coming and played the songs about his two favorite months of the year, explaining why he loves them. First was ‘Janúar’ and the second ‘November’. <3

He closed the main set with the ukulele and ‘Girl from Vancouver’ and it was so much fun! 😀 Needless to say we wanted more and cheered him back to the stage. ABBA’s ‘When all is said and done’ was the beautiful first encore, followed by Cole Porter’s ‘Ev’ry time we say goodbye’. That was the perfect way to end the concert, but we cheered so loudly that Svavar came back one more time. He grabbed the uke again, told us he was gonna played a song that everyone would know, despite originally being from an old Italian soft porn movie, and launched into a silly, perfect version of ‘Mana Mana’, complete with all the antics of Animal from the Muppet Show version. So the show ended in a great sing-along. 😀

We chatted a little after the show, talking about how nice it had been and I left with a hug. That was fun, see you again tomorrow.


Fagurt er í Fjörðum (Látra-Björg)
Your Love was Death to me
Tiger and Bear
Undir Birkitré
The Curtain
Krummi Svaf í Klettagjá
Hard Things
In stiller Nacht (Brahms)
Help me make it through the Night (Kris Kristofferson)
While the World burns
Emotional Anorexic
Hope and Fortune
Girl from Vancouver

When all is said and done (ABBA)
Ev’ry time we say goodbye (Cole Porter)

Mana Mana

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