Murad Unveils “Wild West” Video Ahead of Song Contest Finals

A screenshot from Bashar Murad's video to Wild West

The Palestinian musician Bashar Murad premiered his music video for “Wild West” earlier this week. The song is Murad’s entry for Iceland’s Song Contest, and he will be performing at the Song Contest finals this Saturday.

A “journey from Palestine to Iceland”

The Palestinian singer-songwriter Bashar Murad premiered the music video for his song Wild West at Kex Hostel in downtown Reyjavík on Monday. The video, which took four weeks to make, was also released on YouTube yesterday. The video was directed by Baldvin Vernharðsson and produced by Fannar Ingi Friðþjófsson.

Wild West is Bashar’s entry in Iceland’s Song Contest — Söngvakeppnin, an annual music competition determining the country’s representative for Eurovision — and he will be among the contestants vying for a spot at this year’s Eurovision in the Song Contest finals this Saturday.

In addition to releasing the video, Bashar also published a brief statement about the song, the music video, and his hope of winning Eurovision for Iceland: “Wild West is about the desire to escape and experience everything the world has to offer. The song is about my journey from Palestine to Iceland, which started as a small idea but became a reality thanks to my collaboration with my Icelandic family,” Bashar was quoted as saying.

“Growing up, it would have meant a lot to me to see a Palestinian standing on the Eurovision stage,” Bashar continued, “but we haven’t had the opportunity to showcase our culture, beauty, history, and community. Therefore, I am grateful to Iceland for giving me this opportunity now, and I hope to bring Eurovision to Reykjavík in 2025.”

The 2024 Song Contest finals will be broadcast live from the Laugardalshöll Arena this Saturday, March 2.

Singer Ásdís Pops in Germany

Singer Ásdís María Viðarsdóttir

Ásdís María Viðarsdóttir, known professionally as Ásdís, has become a mainstay of the Germany pop charts and performed at the Brandenburg Gate to ring in the new year.

In a radio interview with Rás 2 this weekend, the singer discussed her career, with an upcoming supporting gig for pop star Zara Larsson in Reykjavík and two songwriting credits in Söngvakeppnin, the Icelandic Eurovision preliminaries. “It’s mostly been an incredibly good journey, but also an incredible amount of work,” she said.

Musical influence from her family

Ásdís has been performing publicly since she was young with her first big gig coming in the upper secondary school song competition, which she won in 2013. Growing up in the Breiðholt neighbourhood of Reykjavík, she credits her older siblings as musical influences. “I know I was a real brat, because as fun as I think it is to sing, it’s even more fun to talk,” she said.

Her father was her biggest supporter in music and after he passed away in 2016, she decided to take the leap and move to Berlin to study music. “It was his biggest dream that I become Elvis,” she said, adding that moving away from her mother to another country has been difficult.

Gold record hits

After seven years in Berlin, she’s made a career for herself as a songwriter and performer in Germany’s pop music industry, earning multiple gold records for her hits. Her recent songs include “Beat of Your Heart” with Grammy award-winning DJ and producer Purple Disco Machine, while her televised New Year’s Eve performance at Brandenburg Gate was an added honour.

She said that she felt that her career was on the right track these days and that she enjoys performing. “It’s been a through line in my life and I’ve come to understand now that I have to do it, especially in light of my upbringing,” she said. “If not for me, then for my parents.”

Iceland Airwaves Announces First Acts of 2024

Iceland Airwaves 2022

Iceland’s largest music festival, Iceland Airwaves, announced the first acts of its 2024 lineup today. They include local acts such as Klemens Hannigan (of Hatari fame), Inspector Spacetime, and Úlfur Úlfur, as well as acts from eight other countries. The festival will take place in Reykjavík from November 7-9, 2024.

This year will mark Iceland Airwaves’ 25th anniversary. The first-ever Airwaves festival was held in an aeroplane hangar at Reykjavík Airport and was initially meant to be a one-off event. While it is 25 years since the festival was first held, it is not the 25th edition of the festival: Airwaves was called off in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The first lineup announcement includes 9 Icelandic acts and, as usual, focuses mostly on up-and-coming local artists such as lúpína and K.óla. Foreign artists include Shygirl (UK), UCHE YARA (AU) and Saya Gray (CA).

The announced artists can be heard on the Iceland Airwaves 2024 Spotify playlist below.

New National Opera to Launch Next Year

Icelandic Opera

A new National Opera will begin operations next year as a division of Þjóðleikhúsið, the National Theatre of Iceland. The opera will stage its shows in Harpa concert hall in Reykjavík, as well as Hof in Akureyri and other venues across the country, Mbl.is reports.

Lilja Alfreðsdóttir, minister of culture and business affairs, has introduced a draft bill on the new opera, which estimates operating costs of ISK 800 Million [$5.8 Million, €5.4 Million] per year. The opera will employ 12 solo singers and a choir of 16 part-time employees, as well as other staff. The opera will also be responsible for educational activities, collaboration with music companies, theatre companies, and choirs outside of the capital area, and other grassroots work. The opera should aim to stage at least one Icelandic work every year.

Opera in flux

A national opera has been in the pipeline for years as a part of the government coalition platform. A director of the opera will be appointed for a five year term, and will have artistic and operational independence to run the opera, despite ultimately answering to the artistic director of the National Theatre. Two more members will be added to the National Theatre’s board, both of whom should have experience with operatic works.

The state of opera in Iceland has been in flux in recent years. The Icelandic Opera, the leading opera company, lost its public funding last year after the union of opera singers criticised its administration. The union supported a national opera being founded in its stead.

Popular Town Festivals Coming to an End

Mýrarboltinn mud football

Town festivals in Iceland have long been popular summer attractions that receive visitors from all across the country and abroad. However, many notable ones have come to an end in recent years, Vísir reports. The “mud football” tournament Mýrarboltinn in Ísafjörður no longer takes place, the Great Fish Day in Dalvík is not celebrated anymore, Mærudagar in Húsavík has been scaled back, and the heavy metal festival Eistnaflug in Neskaupsstaður is in hibernation. Recently it was announced that LungA Art Festival in Seyðisfjörður will be hosting its final edition this summer.

Stressful for organisers

The festivals tend to focus on music, arts, food or other cultural activities, and most of them take place in the summer, with the music festival Aldrei fór ég suður in Ísafjörður kicking off the season around Eastertime.

According to Þórhildur Tinna Sigurðardóttir, an organiser at LungA, the reason for the festival coming to an end is limited funding and a heavy workload for the people involved. “There is a lot of volunteer work and struggle,” Þórhildur Tinna said. “The format is such that most of the work falls on one week in the summer. It takes its toll and isn’t emotionally sustainable. Not to mention the financial side.”

25th and last LungA

Þórhildur Tinna called for more public funding for town and arts festivals across the country and argued that the financing has gone down in real terms. “If this is to be sustainable for small festivals, town festivals, arts festivals and music festivals, these grant systems need to be revised,” she said, adding that it’s appropriate that the 25th edition of LungA this summer will be its last. “We’re ending the festival with the hopes of something new being created in its place by the younger generations.”

Popular Flea Market Seeks New Home

Kolaportið

Reykjavík authorities are looking for a new space to house long-time flea market Kolaportið. The popular weekend attraction has been located in the Tollhúsið building in downtown for 30 years, but will soon make way for the Iceland University of the Arts, according to a notice from Reykjavík authorities.

Kolaportið was first opened on April 8, 1989 in the parking garage under the Central Bank of Iceland on Arnarhóll hill in downtown Reykjavík. Its name, which roughly translates to The Coal Yard, is derived from that location and its history. Five years later, the market was moved to Tollhúsið on Tryggvagata, which previously served as the customs office for the downtown harbour.

Search for a new location

The City Executive Council decided Thursday to launch market research for a new location, with the goal of soliciting new ideas and information from interested parties. The city will advertise in the hopes that owners of fitting properties will be encouraged to reach out.

The design studio m / studio_ was tasked with analysing the requirements for a new flea market. The current location is 2,250 square feet, but 1,200 would be considered a small sized space. “We look at examples from abroad and put forward ideas of some Reykjavík locations that could be exciting to pursue and analyse them based on our requirements,” the analysis reads.

Importance of public markets

The analysis goes on to emphasise the importance of public markets for city life, as they are a meeting place for people with different social and cultural backgrounds. They will therefore need to represent the diversity of their society so everyone can have a reason to visit and feel welcome.

Other important factors are the experience of tourists, product diversity that can both be predictable and surprising, low-cost rent for stalls, organisation of various events, good location and an accessible space, which is suitable, memorable, attractive and has a good flow.

Úlfur Úlfur “Breaks Free” with Nod to Queen in Viral Music Video

A still from Úlfur Úlfur's video Myndi falla

The rap duo Úlfur Úlfur released a video to their song Myndi Falla this morning. The video, directed by long-time collaborator Magnús Leifsson, features a recreation of a scene from Queen’s famous I Want to Break Free.

Seventh video in collaboration with Magnús Leifsson

The Icelandic rap duo Úlfur Úlfur released a video to their song Myndi Falla, from their newly released fourth album Hamfarapopp, this morning. The video was directed by Magnús Leifsson, a long-time collaborator of the duo. IR spoke to Magnús Leifsson today, who noted that the process of shooting the video differed slightly from previous collaborations.

“This is the seventh video that I’ve made with Úlfur Úlfur. Our first video, Tarantúlur, was released ten years ago. A lot has changed since that first project; both of the guys have gotten married and had two kids each, so the filming process for Myndi Falla was somewhat different from our first videos. You could say that the video, and the song, echo the current family life of the duo – although there is plenty of humour. We also managed to include various elements that we’ve long wanted to incorporate into our videos,” Magnús observed.

In the video, rappers Arnar Freyr Frostason and Helgi Sæmundur Guðmundsson take on the roles of members of the Icelandic comedy troupe Spaugstofan, recreate a famous scene from a Queen music video, and pose with dogs on an escalator, while also striking a pose with their kids at Hótel Holt in Reykjavík. The video has been shared widely on social media and has garnered nearly 5,000 views since its release this morning.

Úlfur Úlfur is currently promoting their album Hamfarapopp, which was released in October. They will be hosting a release concert on April 5 at the Gamla Bíó concert venue in Reykjavík.

Icelandic Language Resource BÍN Launches App

Edda Centre for Icelandic Studies

The free Icelandic online language resource BÍN has recently released an app: BÍN-kjarninn, created by William Stewart.

BÍN is an online inflection reference for modern Icelandic. Though not an Icelandic dictionary, it is an essential resource for native Icelandic speakers, in addition to those who have learned Icelandic as a second language.

The new app, BÍN-kjarninn, features a simplified subset of the BÍN database. Árnastofnun, the Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies, states that the app will be particularly useful for learners of Icelandic.

The simplified BÍN-kjarninn database is also accessible via an API connected to the BÍN database.

The vocabulary in BÍN-kjarninn covers both basic word forms in Icelandic and a selection of recognized word forms adhering to grammar rules and conventions. It aligns largely with the word list in the Íslensk nútímamálsorðabók (Icelandic Contemporary Dictionary), which contains approximately 50,000 words. Additionally, common non-inflected words (including prepositions, conjunctions, etc.) are included in BÍN-kjarninn in limited numbers.

The app is available both on the Apple App Store and the Google Play store.

Icelandic language learners can find more resources here.

Birnir Most Popular Baby Name in Iceland

baby swimming

Birnir was the most popular name given to newborns in Iceland in 2023. Emilía was the most popular name given to girls. The data on the most popular baby names of 2023 was published by Registers Iceland today.

Thirty newborns were given the name Birnir last year in Iceland, more individuals than any other name. Emil and Elmar were the next most popular boys’ names, followed by Jón and Óliver. Emilía was the most popular girl’s name given to newborns last year and sixth most popular name overall. Sara, Sóley, Embla, and Aþena (Athena) were the next most popular girls’ names given to babies last year.

Nameless newborns

Naming culture in Iceland differs from that of many other countries. Newborns are not typically named at birth, but at their baptism or a non-religious naming ceremony around two months later. It is quite common for Icelandic children to be named after their grandparents, although, as the data from Registers Iceland shows, naming trends do change over time.

All names given in Iceland must be pre-approved by the country’s Naming Committee. The committee maintains a register of approved Icelandic given names and governs the introduction of new names into Icelandic culture. Its existence has been a topic of debate in recent years, with former Minister of Justice Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir proposing its abolishment.

Anna and Jón most common

But what are the most common names in Iceland overall? The two most popular names in the country are Anna (6,272 individuals) and Jón (5,599 individuals). They are followed by Guðrún (4,923), Sigurður (4,445), and Guðmundur (4,208), which round up the top five spots.

Icelandic Musician Laufey Wins Grammy

Icelandic Musician Laufey has won the 2024 Grammy Award for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album for her album Bewitched. The nominees in her category included Bruce Springsteen and Pentatonix. Rather than resting on her laurels, the jazz singer-songwriter is setting off on a Europe tour.

“I never in a million years thought that this would happen,” Laufey said in her acceptance speech at the 66th annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles last night. She thanked her team, parents, grandparents, and the classical and jazz communities of the world, reserving the “biggest thanks” for her twin sister Junia, whom she called her “biggest supporter.”

Broke streaming records

Bewitched set a record for the most streams in the jazz category on Spotify on its day of release, accumulating 5.7 million streams. The previous record was held by Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett’s 2021 album Love for Sale, which received 1.1 million streams on its first day.

In an interview with Billboard following the awards ceremony, Laufey called the honour “very validating and exciting.” Laufey left the US today to start a Europe tour of the music from Bewitched, which will be followed by a North American tour later this spring.

A musical nation

Laufey was not the only Icelander nominated for a Grammy this year. Musician Ólafur Arnalds was nominated for his album Some Kind of Peace (Piano Reworks) in the Best New Age, Ambient, or Chant Album category. Ólafur has been nominated twice before.

A few other Icelanders have won Grammy awards in the past, including composer Hildur Guðnadóttir, who has won twice, and classical singer Dísella Lárusdóttir. Björk’s album Biophilia won in the category of Best Recording Package in 2013, but the musician has never taken home a statue from any of her other 15 Grammy nominations.