The Movits!: The Soul of Language
By David Aldred, Bridge Music Critic
One of the things I love most about my intelligent and beautiful wife is her love of carefree dancing. She will break out into a jig whenever some music inspires her. It’s not that she loves to dance that tickles me, but rather that she doesn’t really possess any discernible skill whatsoever. For her, it’s purely an expression of joyfulness at how the music moves her.
So it was with some amusement and much delight that I found myself surrounded by a bunch of like-minded souls recently at The Analog, all of whom had come to enjoy the rap/hip-hop/jazz stylings of the Movits! (to be clear, the exclamation point is part of the band’s name but it’s also indicative of the reaction they draw from their fans).
Hailing from Sweden, the band, comprised of brothers Johan Jivin’ Rensfeldt (vocals) and Anders Rensfeldt (instrumentalist/DJ) along with saxophonist Joakim ‘One-Take’ Nilsson, takes their name from the 18th-century musician Father Movitz, sung about by the Swedish musical hero Carl Michael Bellman.
To the uninitiated, the beginning of a Movits! show is confusing – not only are the vocals delivered in a rapid-fire cadence that would bring tears to the eye of most auctioneers, they also sound like gibberish. It’s not until Johan’s slightly broken-English, between-songs rap with the audience that one starts to understand that the lyrics are sung in the band’s native tongue. The funny thing? It didn’t seem to matter to the crowd of about 100 people – they were completely content to lose themselves in not so much dancing as a free-form, spontaneous release from a long week of work/school/life/whatever.
I’m not sure if it’s part of the band’s visual image or merely an example of how Swedish gentlemen attire themselves, but Johan cuts a striking figure – tall, shoulder-length curly/scruffy blond hair underneath an Amish-style hat, bolero tie, and pegged pants tapering down to shiny silver shoes. He’s full of energy and is wickedly clever, weaving references to the opening band’s long drive back to Chicago into “Halfway” and recruiting Swedish-speaking fans to perform in-song translation for the non-bilingual. Even his greeting of “Hello Aregon!” was charming.
To say that The Movits! (or is it “Movits!’s”? These guys are driving my spell-check insane) style is a combination of several genres doesn’t really do them justice. For sure, there’s a very robust rap/hip-hop foundation in the vocals but they are accompanied by strong melodies; so strong, in fact, that the lyrics could be sung in a completely different style without changing anything else. Not that this is necessary – Johan delivers them without missing a beat, reminiscent at times of a young Eminem. The band itself sounds a little like local heroes Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, deftly mixing elements of jazz with swing, particularly in Nilsson’s horn playing.
The best part of this show for me was the revelation that if one understands music and can play an instrument reasonably well, the lack of a common tongue becomes much less a barrier. Not being able to understand most of the band’s lyrics didn’t diminish the enjoyment of the experience at all – in some ways, it made it moreentertaining. Certainly, The Movits! do not let this diminish the performance they put on at their shows.
In fact, it seems to me that singing the lyrics in a language other than English lends itself to the joyfulness experienced by the audience. At one point Johan jumped down from the stage to create a dancing circle with a group of fans, and later in the show someone started a conga line that snaked its way through the room.
None of this is meant to take away from the bands songs – by and large, they are very catchy and, if I were able to understand them, would surely be singing along. I’m not sure if the band has ever given thought to performing some of all of them in English, but I also don’t think it really matters. The music is highly enjoyable as it is, particularly if you’re into the unique direction they’ve taken their style.
Incidentally, I normally include set-lists when I do concert reviews but given that my Swedish is a little rusty (or, more accurately, completely rusted-through), I’m at a loss to detail all of the songs played by The Movits! At the end of the day, for this band, the omission really isn’t important – language may not be universal, but the love of music always is.