The Oslo Soul Children and the Cowboy Twins

Today's guest post comes to us from our Senior Norwegian correspondent

Hilde Løvdal,

who posted here last year on "The Adventures of a Norwegian in Colorado Springs." Today she sends her exploration of the influence of contemporary Christian music in her homeland.

People often ask me why I am so fascinated by American evangelicalism. To me, it’s perfectly logical. I grew up in a culture saturated with American evangelical culture. So, to me, it’s a matter of studying a culture that is strangely familiar while totally different at the same time. American Christian music, in particular, has influenced the ways Norwegian Christians try to balance being faithful to their beliefs and being up to date culturally.

My hometown Kragerø is a small town in the Norwegian Bible Belt (yes, there is one!) and was for a long time the home of Skjærgårds Music and Mission Festival, the Norwegian equivalent to the Cornerstone Festival. (“Skjærgårds” refers to the landscape you see in the promo trailer.)
The festival was held for the 30th time last week and had about 6000 visitors. In total, about a 250,000 people have been to the festival - and that’s a lot of people for a nation of 4.8 million people where maybe 5-10% of them attend church on a regular basis.

The festival has had a mix of local and international acts, but American artists have more often than not been the main attractions. As such, Skjærgårds has been a vital force in introducing American Christian rock and gospel music to a Norwegian audience. Larry Norman, Petra, Jars of Clay, Margareth Becker, Newsboys, Rebecca StJames, Jesse Dixon, Koinonia, Al Green, and Five Blind Boys are no strangers to veteran festival attendees.

From the first Skjærgårds festival. Photo: Vårt Land/Skjærgårds arkiv

Skjærgårds grew out of a group of young Norwegian Christians inspired by American Christian rock and contemporary gospel music, which again was introduced to the Norwegian audience in the wake of the Jesus movement in the 1970s (yes, it was here too!). Andrea Crouch, in particular, was a major inspiration to Christian musicians throughout Norway. Thanks to Crouch et al, gospel choirs may have been the most important arena that churches have had to reach Norwegian teenagers and young adults. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I estimate that thousands of Norwegians know Crouch’s Soon and Very Soon by heart.

Since 1988, Oslo Gospel Choir has been the most important ambassador of Norwegian contemporary gospel music. OGC has not just had success within the Christian market, but also managed to reach across to the secular market. Oslo Gospel Choir was the bestselling act in Norway in the 1990s - in any category. Other successful gospel choirs include Norwegian Gospel Voices Voice of Joy and Safari. Lately, Oslo Soul Children has been a driving force in the urban gospel. Since it started in 2005, the OSC concept has spread to more than 70 choirs across Norway (there’s even one in Japan!) and there’s now also Oslo Soul Teens. (PS - those of you interested in trans-Atlantic gospel music can see OSC live on tour in the States this fall.)

Contemporary gospel music has not fared well in all Christian circles. Skjærgårds caused quite a stir when it started in 1981. The pioneers behind Skjærgårds grew up in a culture where strict moral codes distinguished believers from non-believers. It was a bold move to bring drums on stage in a culture where drums were considered the devil’s instrument and dancing was a major social taboo (“It’s not the dancing itself we’re against, but whatever it might lead to”). Yet, those skeptical towards the new rhythms and new ways of doing Christian music have also relied heavily on American gospel music, albeit in the Southern gospel tradition.

Southern gospel has been hugely popular in low church groups in and outside the state church. Pentecostals and fundamentalists may have disagreed over the theological matters, but they’ve shared a love for the harmonies and message they find in Southern gospel music. Churches and religious meetings are abounding with groups such as Fjordingane and Rett kurs. The folks over at Southern Gospel Scandinavia estimate that Southern gospel has been part of the Norwegian evangelical culture for at least 90 years. Lately, the Gaither’s Homecoming concept has attracted thousands of primarily baby boomers to their concerts, and there’s even a Norwegian/Swedish version of it – Minns du sången.

I could go on and on about the profound impact American religious culture has had on Norway’s Bible Belt culture. I could for instance write about Cowboytvillingene (the Cowboy Twins), a legendary 1990s duo that spread the Good News through Southern gospel music and their own TV-show. Or about how my grandmother and Johnny Cash’s mother had very similar hymnals. Or about the connections between Christian hipster musicians in Norway and the States. Or about how Christian hipsters mourned the loss of Larry Norman and organized tribute concerts in his honor. Or about how pastors look to Bill Hybels and Rick Warren for inspiration. Or how most of the books in Christian bookstores are Norwegian translations of American evangelical literature. No wonder, then, that reading books by the likes of Andrew Beaujon, Colleen McDannell, Eileen Luhr, and Heather Hendershot is a glimpse into a culture that is strikingly familiar to my own background.


AMBurgess said…
Great post. My Swedish relatives always seemed to know more about gospel music than we did. My mother loved the Danniebelle Hall recording of her live concert in Sweden. I must have heard it a million times. And, of course, Andrae Crouch was always big.

In fact, it seems to me that Scandinavians are the only group other than African-Americans where gospel choirs are a natural domain. For your listening pleasure:
Hilde said…
Thanks! And for your listening pleasure, here's the fabulous Swedish duo Curt & Roland: