Five pieces of Icelandic music to listen to before a trip to Iceland

Five pieces of Icelandic music to listen to before a trip to Iceland

Bjork is just the tip of the iceberg. Iceland's remote location means it has developed a vocal musical style of its very own, based on 'Rímur' (rhyming epic poems). Today, the pop-rock scene is well represented. Near the airport in Reykjavik, top up your playlist after visiting the Icelandic Rock'n'Roll Museum. Meanwhile, here is some top Icelandic music to listen to before a trip to Iceland.


'Brenid pid vitar', by Karlakor Reykjavíkur

Song by Páll Ísolfsson

Páll Ísolfsson wrote this piece in the 1930s, and when you listen to it now, surrounded by Iceland's dramatic landscapes, you understand the sounds, rhythms and colours.

'Brenid pid vitar' means 'the beacons burn.' The beacons themselves play the important role of guiding ships but this is about much more. The song tells of a ship caught in a storm, and how her crew prays to find a lighthouse to guide them to shore. Even without understanding the words, you feel the storm, experience the beating of the sea against the cliffs and hear the howling of the wind and rain.


'Á ferð til Breiðafjarðar', Steindor Andersen 

(BO Minn Heima)

Sigur Rós arranged this traditional song for the magnificent documentary 'Minn Heima'.

Similar to sagas, 'Rimur' are traditional Icelandic epic poems ('rimur' comes from the same root as 'rhyme') with rhyming alliterative verses, which are sung. The oldest 'rima' dates back to the 16th century, and since then, grandparents have sung 'rimur' to their grandchildren. Steindor Andersen, a former fisherman, is now the greatest performer of these traditional songs. 

In the evening, when the sun goes down (if you are in Iceland when this actually happens at all) watch the sublime black and white clip of this documentary, about the poetry of Iceland.


'Fjara', Sólstafir

(Album: Svartir Sandar)

A song about lost love, as written in every country on Earth. Its words are intimately Icelandic, where nature plays a key role in life. It's about darkness and frozen smiles.

When you return from your trip, listen to this song again while watching the video, this time in colour, to immerse yourself one more time in the grand, dramatic Icelandic landscape.


'To be Free', Émiliana Torrini

(Album: Love in the Time of Science)

Emiliana Torrini has been performing in Iceland for quite a while now. Between trip hop and pop, these first tracks, released in the mid-1990s, have a small audience, barely in Iceland, and it was only with 'Love in The Time of Science', a reference to Gabriel Garcia Marquez's novel 'Love in the Time of Cholera', released in 1999, that her audience extended beyond Iceland.

A lovely soundtrack for a road trip, complemented by the hypnotic 'Gun' from the album 'Me and Armini', a more mature piece released about a decade later.


Human Behaviour, Björk

(Album: Debut)

No playlist of Icelandic music would be complete without one of the country's most famous stars, Björk (full name Björk Guðmundsdóttir), who has taken pop music in many deliciously creative directions over the decades. Born in 1965 in Reykjavík and raised in a hippie community, she was barely 11 years old when she recorded her debut album, simply titled 'Björk', in 1977. It was an immediate success: the album, entirely recorded in Icelandic, is a gold record in Iceland. In 1983, she began exporting her talents, along with her punk band KUKL. From the late 1980s, she gained global success with her group the Sugarcubes, who performed worldwide until 1992. The following year, Björk released her solo album, 'Debut', which featured 'Human Behaviour', the singer's first hit track, which would be the first of many. Laced with lectro-pop, underground pop, experimental pop, trip hop and indie, and mixed with punk and jazz influences, Björk's music is unique and multifaceted. After listening to the other tracks on this playlist, it's easier to understand the deeply Icelandic roots of her unique rhythm, close to that of the 'Rimur'.