Icelandic reggae? We know what you’re thinking. What would a bunch of Norsemen know about tropical island music? A lot, it seems. Formed in the southern Iceland town of Keflavík, Hjálmar doesn’t just play imitated Bob Marley tunes. Instead, they weave their native folk music heritage through the roots of reggae music, completely exploring a new path in Icelandic music. Beginning with their first album in 2004, critics immediately took note and Hjálmar has since become one of the most popular bands in Iceland. Over the course of five studio albums, their sound has evolved and most recently incorporates dub and synths with live brass and, of course, Icelandic vocals. You’ll be amazed at how well Hjálmar tie it all together — so much that you’ll forget at times you haven’t a clue what they’re singing about! Maybe it’s the shared island experience, or maybe it’s just that these musicians are incredibly passionate about the music they make (they even went to Jamaica in 2009 to record songs at the famous Harry J and Tuff Gong studios with local artists), but Hjálmar prove that authenticity knows no physical bounds.
Just after the KEXP broadcast last year from the KEX Hostel in Reykjavik during the Iceland Airwaves music festival, we stopped by the famous Hljóðriti Studio (Björk and others have recorded there) for a private party with Hjálmar, who are essentially the studio’s house band. Warm yourself up with these sunny songs, as Hjálmar are the perfect antidote to a hard winter frost: