Fargespill (lit. “play of colors”) is a series of musical performances in Norway that have been staged from 2004 to the present. Each performance consists of a sequence of musical and dance numbers performed by children from different minority and immigrant groups, many of whom came to Norway as refugees, together with white Norwegian children. The songs and choreographies represent the home countries of the children who perform, and have included for example music and dance from Somalia, Myanmar (Burma), Rwanda, Kurdistan, and Eritrea, combined together with Norwegian folk music in often elaborate production numbers with colorful costumes and complex musical arrangements. While the specific musical numbers used and cast members change from performance to performance, the concept remains the same – a representation of ethnic, racial and cultural diversity in Norway staged through the voices and bodies of the children on stage. From its beginnings as an cultural initiative in the city of Bergen, Fargespill has gained increasing national attention within Norway, leading to performances in other cities such as Oslo and Trondheim.
Using as a starting point recent theorizations of multiculturalism and critical discussions of race and racism in Norway, this paper analyzes the Fargespill performances. The paper also uses Deleuze and Guattari’s twin concepts of majoritarian/minoritarian to interpret Fargespill’s representations. While the public face of Fargespill is that of children of various immigrant and minority groups, behind the scenes the performances are actually conceptualized, scripted, and extensively stage-managed primarily by majority (white) Norwegian adult arts professionals. The paper especially explores the question of whether the representations of Fargespill constitute a positive contribution to creating a climate for embracing difference in Norway, or whether Fargespill is better understood as a reassuring story white Norwegians tell themselves about multicultural Norway that, at best, naively sidesteps ongoing problems of racism and intolerance toward minorities and immigrants endemic in contemporary Norwegian society. Fargespill’s use of the performing bodies of refugee children to tell its story about a supposed Norwegian multicultural utopia can be seen as especially problematic in the context of the Norwegian government’s recent practices regarding the forced return of long-dwelling child asylum seekers to their country of origin.
Thomas Solomon is Professor in the Grieg Academy-Department of Music at the University of Bergen. He has previously taught at New York University, University of Minnesota, and Istanbul Technical University. He has done field research in highland Bolivia on musical imaginations of ecology, place and identity, and in Istanbul on place and identity in Turkish hip-hop. His publications include articles in the journals Ethnomusicology, Popular Music, European Journal of Cultural Studies, and Yearbook for Traditional Music, as well numerous chapters in edited volumes on topics such as music and indigeneity in highland Bolivia, orientalism and gender in Turkish popular music, music and postcolonialism, and music and race in American cartoons. He is also editor of Music and Identity in Norway and Beyond: Essays Commemorating Edvard Grieg the Humanist (2011) and African Musics in Context: Institutions, Culture, Identity (2015), and co-editor of Ethnomusicology in East Africa: Perspectives from Uganda and Beyond (2012).