cultural differences

In a interview at the Southbank show you talked about the atmosphere surrounding ‘Debut’ concert group, that it was “immigrants united“. The question is, did you regard yourself as an immigrant with the people from the Third World who live in London, or did you find your way into the community of people from different cultural backgrounds ? Brian Eno once talked about a new dimension in Western music, what he called the fourth world music. Were you experiencing this fusion of different cultural worlds too ? With the Unplugged session and working with people from different cultural backgrounds ?

I think so. Again I must say after a musical upbringing in Iceland and a certain paranoia about foreign influences, which in fact I really think is a good thing and am very grateful for. I wasn’t working with people from different backgrounds because it was so exotic, but because it’s the reality of London. It’s just as much the reality in Japan today that you don’t find everyone playing shakuhachi as it is with the ‘langspil’ (a traditional kind of zither) in Iceland. But you go to an Indian restaurant and you hear Indian music, especially when you live in London. There were always Indian films on television when I went to Britain, those musicals. That was the reality. It was an attempt to tackle reality. To glorify it.

At that time I was difficult to define what was Icelandic music. I’m still trying to solve that puzzle. Being very Icelandic but at the same time cosmopolitan, was that possible ? As a child I was always told that these were opposites. You had to be either Icelandic or cosmopolitan. Spending a lot of time with people like Talvin, Leila, Goldie and Tricky was a very special experience. People who were all immigrants but simply lacked an identity.

Were these people you named second-generation immigrants who had been brought up in Britain or had they gone there as children ?

It depended. Leila moved to Britain when she was 10.Talvin was born in England but went to Indian a lot. Tricky and Goldie were born in Britain, of British and Jamaican parents. A lot of the music that was happening around me at that time was drum’n’bass and Indian techno. I was left along because I was an Icelander. As black, Indian or Iranian Britons they got hassled on a daily basis. They weren’t English, they were Indian or Jamaican. They weren’t anything. This stirred up a lot of anger and a sense of being second-class citizens .But it also stirred up a certain musical culture. I experienced this world when drum’n’bass and Indian techno were born. Music was a kind of passport for them. We don’t come from where our roots lie, we don’t come from where we live, our world is a third one a mixture of those two .But the characteristics are always embedded in the roots. There’s always a cool primal energy in a new movement, when people really have to fight for their right to exist and every statement has a deep meaning, They were blazing a trail, doing something that had never been done before. Their parents didn’t agree with them, society didn’t agree with them. They were a symbol of new times which contained basic elements of both but weren’t either. I didn’t think about this much at precisely that time but I think it influenced me a lot. Being Icelandic with different baggage from those people led me to ask ; what is Icelandic music ? Can I just be a girl who grew up in Reykjavik and be proud of it ? But still use the drum machine and have something to say in the musical capital of the world today, without making me feel the yokel deep down inside me, the fish factories and dried fish ? It was also a kind of attempt to make a passport for myself, a statement that didn’t want to be locked up in either box, I wanted people to take me for what I was.

Livebox interview, 2002