5 Icelandic Folk Music Artists You Need to Know

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


Although Iceland is a small country, it has produced some incredible folk music artists over the years. Here are 5 of the best that you need to know about.

Icelandic Folk Music: A Brief Overview

Icelandic folk music is a living, breathing tradition that has been passed down from generation to generation for centuries. It is the music of the people, and it reflects the unique culture and history of Iceland.

Folk music played an important role in Iceland’s history, and it was used as a means of expression during times of political and social change. For example, the Icelandic National Song Contest was established in 1874 as a way to promote national unity during a time of great turmoil.

Today, folk music is still an important part of Icelandic culture, and there are many talented musicians who keep the tradition alive. If you’re interested in learning more about Icelandic folk music, here are five artists you should know.

5 Icelandic Folk Music Artists You Need to Know

1. Ásgeir Trausti
2. SIF
3. Mugison
4. Ólafur Arnalds
5. Jónas Sigurðsson

The History of Icelandic Folk Music

Folk music has been an integral part of Icelandic culture for centuries, and it remains popular to this day. Iceland has a rich musical tradition that includes both vocal and instrumental music. Much of the country’s folk music is derived from the traditions of the Icelandic people, who were isolated for centuries in a hostile environment. Iceland’s folk music reflects the country’s history and its geography, as well as the influences of the many cultures that have been brought to its shores.

The first folk music recordings were made in the early 20th century by scholars who were interested in preserving Iceland’s musical heritage. These recordings were made on wax cylinders and later on 78 rpm records. In recent years, there has been a renewed interest in Icelandic folk music, and many of these early recordings have been reissued on CD.

There are several different types of Icelandic folk music, including ballads (rímur), love songs (skaldskaparmál), work songs ( þulur), dance tunes (gglingar), and religious songs (kvæðir). The most popular type of Icelandic folk music is the ballad, which is a narrative poem that tells a story. Ballads were traditionally sung by gallant young men who competed with each other to see who could sing the most stirring tale. Today, ballads are still sung by both men and women, and they remain an important part of Iceland’s musical heritage.

Other popular types of Icelandic folk music include love songs, which are often sad and melancholy; work songs, which are designed to help people perform tasks such as farming or fishing; and dance tunes, which are lively and upbeat. Religious songs are also an important part of Iceland’s musical tradition, and many of these songs are hymns that date back to the country’s Christian era.

Icelandic folk music has been influenced by many different cultures over the centuries. One of the most important influences was the arrival of Christianity in Iceland in the year 1000 AD. Christianity brought with it new musical styles from Europe, including Gregorian chants and polyphony. These new styles quickly began to mix with existing Icelandic folk traditions, resulting in a unique hybrid style that is still heard in Iceland today.

Another significant influence on Icelandic folk music came from the country’s Nordic neighbors, particularly Norway and Sweden. In the 13th century, Iceland was under Norwegian rule, and many Norwegian musical traditions were introduced to the island during this time. Later on, when Iceland came under Swedish rule in the 18th century, Swedish Folk Music also had a significant impact on Icelandic Folk Music traditions.

Other important influences on Icelandic Folk Music include African American blues and jazz; American country music; Irish traditional music; Scottish traditional music; classical music; and rock & roll

The Influence of Icelandic Folk Music

Icelandic folk music has been kept alive and well thanks to a vibrant and supportive music scene. The following five artists are some of the most prominent folk musicians in Iceland today, keeping the traditions of their ancestors alive while also creating new and innovative music.

Valdimar Þórhallsson is one of the most popular folk musicians in Iceland. His unique style combines traditional Icelandic instrumentation with modern pop sensibilities, creating a sound that is both familiar and new. Valdimar has released three solo albums, all of which have been very well-received by critics and listeners alike.

Another popular Icelandic folk artist is Áslaug Júlía Jónsdóttir, better known simply as Júlía. Júlía’s music is heavily influenced by traditional Icelandic singing, but she also incorporates elements of jazz and pop into her songs. She has released two albums to date, both of which have been very successful in Iceland.

Mari Hilmarsdóttir is a singer-songwriter who specializes in Icelandic folk music. Her debut album, “Það er svona kuldi í dag” (“It’s So Cold Today”), was released to critical acclaim in 2013. Mari Hilmarsdóttir’s music is characterized by its beautiful melodies and her honest lyrics about love, life, and nature.

Ólafur Arnalds is a classically trained musician who often draws from Icelandic folk music for his compositions. His work has been used in film and television productions such as “The Revenant” and “Broadchurch”. In addition to his solo work, Arnalds is also a member of the band Kiasmos, which combines electronic and organic instruments to create beautiful soundscapes.

Finally, there is Elínborg Lárusdóttir, who specializes in playing the Icelandic zither (a stringed instrument similar to a dulcimer). Elínborg Lárusdóttir’s debut album, “Í þessum tónlistarheimi” (“In This Music World”), was released to critical acclaim in 2015. Her unique style of playing combines traditional Icelandic melodies with modern chord progressions, resulting in a sound that is both old and new at the same time.

The Future of Icelandic Folk Music

Icelandic folk music has been experiencing a revival in recent years, with a new generation of artists bringing the traditional sound into the 21st century. If you’re looking for something different from your usual musical diet, these five artists are a great place to start.

1. Ásgeir Trausti – One of the most popular Icelandic musicians of recent years, Ásgeir’s debut album went platinum in his home country. His songs are sung in Icelandic, but his melodic, folksy sound is universal.

2. Jónsi – Best known as the frontman of Sigur Rós, Jónsi also has a successful solo career. His 2010 album ‘Go’ was recorded in English, but he returned to his native tongue for his follow-up, ‘Shiver’.

3. Sú lindar alda – This all-female trio sing traditional Icelandic songs with a contemporary twist. Their self-titled debut album was nominated for the 2013 Nordic Music Prize.

4. Mínus – One of Iceland’s most popular rock bands, Mínus fuse traditional Icelandic folk music with modern rock sensibilities. Their latest album, ‘Hvert stefnir á nýtt’, was released in 2016.

5. Hjálmar – This group from the Faroe Islands blend traditional Faroese music with elements of jazz and rock. Their 2016 album ‘EyðILS eyðILS’ was nominated for the Nordic Council Music Prize.

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