bernhoft

Across continents, music is the universal consolidator between cultures. No one embodies that fact more than Jarle Bernhoft, the R&B/soul singer from Nittedal, Norway. Bernhoft has just released his new EP Stop/Shut Up/Shout It Out available on iTunes now.

When you think about certain genres of music or a cultural movement, it’s easy to pick off the most fun and entertaining parts of the customs to suit your own tastes. However, it’s only when one looks into those specific histories, and what caused those movements to occur, that the face of a good time begins to take on a more solemn appearance.

Soul music and R&B was birthed out of the Civil Rights Era of the 1950s and 60s. The struggle that Black Americans persevered through in that time gave way to a new sound in music, that combined rhythms of African-American gospel, rock & roll, blues, and the percussion of jazz, and became known as soul music. The music of the day was funky, it was heartfelt, it was political, and it was from the soul. In the same way, hip hop and rap came from the streets of the Bronx, from DJ Kool Herc innovating his equipment to give us something new to move to a block parties, or the first commercially widespread rap song with The Sugarhill Gang‘s “Rapper’s Delight.” Black music, in America, seems to have been made from our breaking out of being boxed into our own communities.

According to a survey done by StatBank Norway in 2014, an estimated 88,764 people in Norway are either first or second generation African or African-American immigrants.

So how does a 38-year-old white Norwegian man become nominated for “Best R&B Album” at the 2015 GRAMMY Awards? Well…we don’t know, and neither does he, as only the top tier of American R&B artists ever made it to Scandinavian radio in the way of his major musical influences (take Sly Stone, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Al Green, etc.).

The Foundry, adjacent to Philadelphia‘s lustrous Fillmore venue was authentic to the mission, with a preamble of Nina Simone, Earth Wind & Fire, and an engaging opening welcome from tourmate Jonny P. (Thanks for the help, Jonny ūüėČ ).

Over Yuengling lagers with my dashiki and box braids, and Bernhoft‘s Buddy Holly-esque rock & roll moves, we chatted about Black history, Norwegian pop culture, and the transcendence of music through time. It actually felt like a conversation between old friends. What we did learn from Bernhoft, however, is that although he has no idea how he became a GRAMMY nom, he’s every bit aware of the history of the music he makes, and how it impacts his listeners.

Check out what he had to say below.

HarleyQuinn_NJ

DTS: Thanks for talking to us! It’s not often that we get to hang out with a Norwegian R&B star!
Jarle Bernhoft: (Laughs) “Star.” I’m just a regular guy. Thank you for having me, I hope you enjoyed the show.

DTS: Of course, you had an encore performance! We’ve never seen anything like that before. Where on earth did your R&B/soul influences come from with you being native to Norway?
JB: Well, you have to remember, I’m almost 40, so I’ve had time to check some things out (laughs). But no, I grew up on Sly & The Family Stone, Marvin Gaye, that sort. Only the most successful American musicians came to Norway, so even though it wasn’t the whole country that was into it, I still found a way to enjoy it on the radio. R&B [in Norway] is still pretty rare, unless it’s really successful, you know.

DTS: What was it about this type of music that drew you in?
JB: Musically, it was that bass and the tones in the songs. I wanted to know what shaped the music. What was that pain that made this kind of music? It was American, but I knew it also had patterns of West African music. It spoke to their culture, but to me, Sly Stone smashed the lines between race and music. It helped me to understand more. When I was growing up, I had [known about] the L.A. Riots, and things of that nature. From Norway, I had sensed this feeling, there had always been this [pauses] rambunctiousness of Black America.

DTS: What do you mean?
JB: I mean, you have a community of people who have been displaced from their home, and now are forced to¬†survive¬†in this new country, and every generation¬†there’s always this explosion of expression there. I¬†suppose it’s the fact that African-Americans have been oppressed, but from¬†what¬†I’ve¬†observed, there’s beautiful stories to be told; art to be shared from that experience. There’s no containing or stopping what soul music represents — freedom. I’ve read A Case for Reparations [Ta-Nehisi Coates], and a large amount of the world’s wealth, not just America’s or Europe’s, is at the hands of a very few. I feel like there’s another Civil Rights Era happening right now, since Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Eric Garner and the like.

DTS: Yeah, pretty much, we’re just calling it #BlackLivesMatter now. It’s not like much has changed.
JB: (claps hands) Right! This is my San Francisco of ’68! I don’t know if I really have a reason to speak on it, but it does concern me.

DTS: You’re very…what we would call “woke.”
JB: (Laughs) What is that?

DTS: You’re aware with what’s going on, and you’ve cared enough to do your history on Black music and what the driving forces are behind it; especially what’s going on right now. “Woke.”
JB: (smiles) Well, thank you. I just feel like it’s crazy that this is still happening in this country.

DTS: Do you feel like it’s because you’re not from America that you can’t express how you feel about what’s happening here?
JB: Well, yes. I’ve only lived in New York since 2013, so I know people are like ‘who’s this guy, he’s not even from here.’ At the same time, I really am a white, European male who has no idea what Black people go through. My wife is half African, and we speak about this all the time. Coming from where I come from, I guess you would not expect me to care, or to know. I do speak on injustices and keep up with American politics, but I don’t feel it’s my place to speak on things too much in one way or the other.

DTS: I think that’s half the battle. You do care enough to express your thoughts, but it seems like you’re not ready to jump all the way in yet, but that’s okay, too. A lot of people forget that. Beyonce is someone who’s gotten more vocal about racial injustice and police brutality in her music, and it’s caused her to lose a lot of fans and even protection from local police forces as she goes on tour. Is that something you’re worried about?
JB: It’s like this woman [pauses] Rachel Dolezal who pretended to be Black?! That was crazy! I can understand being on the outside and wanting to help, or feeling connected to a group of people in a certain way, but that’s where it got ridiculous. There are other things to do. I don’t mind speaking up about injustice to people at all, like we are now. With my music, I think it’s something I wouldn’t feel comfortable speaking about, unless I feel pushed into a box where it was [artistically] speaking to me and I had to get that message out.

DTS: Getting back to your new EP, could you explain the title, Stop/Shut Up/Shout It Out?
JB: Yeah (laughs). It was a random thing. The little voice on the end of the EP is Ruthie, Jason’s daughter (bandmate). She’s 4, and she comes to our practices and directs us. (Bernhoft makes music conductor gestures) “Stop! Shut Up,” she would say while we were recording. Then I started the piano rhythm, and that was just the birth of the song and EP title. She’s getting royalties from that! This is my first US tour with a band (The Shudderbugs), as well. I’m loving it!

Of the EP, Bernhoft says:

‚ÄúI’ve done three albums. Three is a good number; it feels like a little closure. Lyrically, I‚Äôve felt like I‚Äôve spun a red thread through them, both internally and between them. I thought it a fantastic opportunity to just throw all ambitions of coherence to the wolves, and let every whim and impulse flow freely. All of these songs are elusive in subject matter, you can try to grasp what they‚Äôre about, but there is always an anomaly or two in there. Not that they‚Äôre just thrown in there at random, but I am a very whimsical guy and I find it more honest to let it reflect in my lyrics. I dance on tables while reciting poems about cruelty and/or platonic love. That should come out in my music.

 

THIS OR THAT:

Fl√•klypa Grand Prix or Speed Racer?¬†I actually haven’t seen the latter, I know; so I’ll go with¬†Fl√•klypa Grand Prix!

Norwegian Kokkos bolle or New York Canolis? Canolis definitely! Kokkos bolle is just chocolate and coconut. (shrugs)

 

 

Special thanks to Jarle Bernhoft, Cami Opere, Sacks & Co., The Foundry @ The Fillmore.

*Pics do not belong to DTS Media!