Rebekka Karijord artist

“I never know what my records are about until they´re almost done,” Rebekka Karijord admits of Mother Tongue’s provenance in a typical, if wry, display of candour. “It´s like a subconscious collecting process, shooting arrows into the dark and then getting out there to see where they have landed. This time, however, it was a bit different…” Karijord isn’t exaggerating: Mother Tongue was largely written following the traumatic arrival, three months early, of her first baby, and its extraordinary eleven songs track her experience with uncommon honesty and unshrinking courage. Like a collection of short stories, it chronicles the events surrounding her pregnancy and the agony of nearly losing her daughter, but it’s much more than an album about childbirth. Mother Tongue is about instinct, about belonging, and about finding one’s own emotional language. Karijord – who was born in Sandnessjøen, just south of the Arctic Circle in Northern Norway, but who moved to Sweden to train as an actress at the turn of the century – originally checked herself into hospital seven months into her pregnancy. “I had a feeling over a few days that something wasn´t right,” she explains, recalling how her maternal intuition ended up saving her child’s life. “It was merely a feeling, nothing physical. I called the hospital at night around 7 and said I wanted to check on the baby, and they said I should go to my midwife the day after, since there were no indicators that anything was urgent. But for some reason I argued and was really stubborn. In the end they said, ‘OK come in, we might have small opening to check on you’.” Twenty minutes after reaching the hospital, following an ultrasound, Karijord was rushed into surgery. She and her husband ended up staying for well over two months, pacing between their tiny allocated space and the emergency room, where they’d watch their child for hours at a time, “with machines beeping and alarms going off, nurses running to check on her every time.” Sitting motionless in a chair, with her infant – still attached to breathing tubes and machines – in her arms, Karijord began to sing. “She was so little, and I felt one of the few concrete things I could give her was the vibrations of my voice through my chest into her body, as if she was still in the belly. I sang and sang and sang and sang. Many of the album’s melodies came out of those endless hours. I remember thinking that I needed to transform the trauma into something, to process and to survive. I started to write tons of snippets and lyrics in my notebooks and in my phone.” Karijord is nonetheless open about the fact that some of Mother Tongue’s songs were created before this harrowing period in her life. Though she works most of the year in their home outside Stockholm, much of her pregnancy was spent in Hawaii, where her husband’s family live, and, as one of the world’s most remote archipelagos, it helped return her to both her Northern Norwegian roots and the very core of her being. She describes it as “a very spiritual place,” and ‘Mother Tongue’, ‘Waimanalo’ and ‘Morula’ were all written there, while ‘I Will Follow You’ features a recording of Hawaii’s Kekuhi Keali’ikanaka‘oleohaililani, “a very special kind of holy woman. This chant became a symbol for me.” Karijord, who’s also composed music for over 30 films, modern dance and theatre pieces, as well as writing plays and short stories, sees a strong link between the songs composed both before and after her daughter’s birth. “The secluded feeling of being so far out in the ocean, the strong currents and non-control one is faced with when meeting the huge masses of water: these are also good metaphors for the feelings I went through.” In fact, she describes pregnancy and parenthood as “the biggest lesson in non-control. Being pregnant was such an amazing and freaky feeling at the same time. It’s another body, taking whatever it needs, regardless of my opinion.” Inevitably, Mother Tongue offers a musical departure of sorts for Karijord, who sought “a meeting between machine and human. Perhaps it has something to do with the artificial ‘uterus’, the incubator keeping our child alive outside me.” She placed greater emphasis on “the interaction between the machine-like and metrical – arpeggios, synths, electronics – and human, organically played instruments”, but chose to avoid “easy solutions and programmed beats, instead letting the acoustic instruments work like electronic instruments.” Central to this was her use of prepared piano – run through analogue delay devices – which she often played alongside Martin Hederos (of Soundtrack Of Our Lives, Tonbruket, Ane Brun) in an attempt to replicate the sound of vintage synthesizers. It’s an instrument she’s played all her life, and returning to it – having explored other avenues on 2012’s critically acclaimed We Become Ourselves – felt like a vital response to the journey she’d experienced. Anyone who’s heard Karijord’s previous work will recognise her gently quivering vocal delivery and distinct musical approach, but Mother Tongue still revels in fresh terrain. Opening with ‘Morula’’s intimate revelations (“My body is a home/ To a will of its own”), it shifts to striking declarations of euphoria, obsession and gratitude in ‘The Orbit’ (“Your gravity is my command”) before, on ‘Your Name’, detailing – in startling, brutal imagery – the process of birth itself (“This is a riot of blood and steel/ Bending me open, violently”). It also documents fear and exhilaration in ‘Six Careful Hands’ (“Still you weigh more than the sun, the stars, the moon, the universe”), displays refreshing frankness on ‘Statistics’ (“Oh how easily one falls out of touch/ When life calls”), and concludes with ‘Mausoleum’, an unforgettably haunting celebration of womanhood (“My mothers and their mothers and their mothers/ I salute them here”). Mother Tongue was recorded in Hawaii, Stockholm & Oslo during 2015 and 2016, and Karijord produced, arranged and edited it herself – as well as playing most keys, synths, pianos and electronics – with help from Elias Krantz as technician, co-producer and mixer. Her husband Jacob Snavely, who contributed bass and electronics, also provided what she terms “co-ears”. She called upon a further tight circle of friends – Christopher Cantillo (drums), Joe Williamson (upright bass) and regular contributor Anders Scherp (drums & tuned percussion) – while Mariam Wallentin (Wildbirds & Peacedrums), Linnea Olsson and Nina Kinert provided additional vocals. It was alongside them that Karijord constructed the album’s astonishing harmony parts, particularly on the closing brace of songs, ‘Mother Tongue’ and ‘Mausoleum’. Unashamedly sentimental at times, Mother Tongue represents a bold statement, both musical and thematic. Born of instinct – the same that ultimately saved her child’s life – it’s about the connection we all feel, but sometimes ignore, to what’s inside us, and the need to listen to our intuitions. That it does this against a backdrop of music as visceral and heartfelt as its subject makes it all the more exceptional.