The living room is cleared. The host taps a wine glass with a knife, and people file in, filling the couches and chairs that are pushed up against the walls. Soon every seat in the modern, glass-and-wood house is taken, a bottle of schnapps is passed around, and a few babies are passed around, too. The small crowd of about 20 people settles, and it falls silent. Lyon Hansen, who minutes before was milling about in the kitchen studying the snacks, walks over and picks up a guitar and starts to play. Hoyma has begun.
For one night, homeowners primarily in Sydrugota, a small town on Eysturoy, the second largest of the 18 Faroe Islands, open their doors, inviting friends, family and tourists in to enjoy intimate concerts by local artists of all genres. The tradition on the tiny archipelago that dots the Atlantic between Norway, Scotland and Iceland dates back nearly 500 years to a time when Faroese language and life had to move underground due to Danish rule. Home concerts helped keep their culture alive.
The modern Hoyma concert series started as an offshoot of the G! Festival, an annual musical event on the beaches of Eysturoy every summer since 2002. The festival attracts about 5,000 attendees, who take over the village of 400 or so residents for a three-day-long celebration of Faroese music and culture. While Faroese acts make up the bulk of the performers, the organizers also bring in a mix of international talent. Fatboy Slim, Yann Tiersen, Ben Gibbard and Princess Nokia have all made appearances.
Putting on a festival anywhere is a challenge, but adding in the logistics of getting musicians, their equipment and their fans to a tiny village on a small island in the middle of the North Atlantic makes it even more daunting. Around 2007, G! Festival’s creator Jón Tyril, exhausted by all the red tape, negotiating and infrastructure that came with putting on a massive music festival, started to dream a little smaller. Specifically, he started to think about tiny concerts held in living rooms—no amplifiers, sound systems or spotlights, the audience made up of as many people as can fit inside a house. It would be the opposite of the large-scale G! Festival that involved a lot of administrative work. The idea resonated with Tyril, not only because it didn’t involve any heavy lifting, physically or mentally, but also because it harkens back to a longstanding Faroese tradition.
“The Faroe Islands is formally a part of the Danish Kingdom, even though we have our own government, our own parliament and everything,” says Tyril, as we stand near a makeshift bar before the night’s entertainment. Starting around the year 1380 and for the next 570 years or so, he adds, everything official was written in Danish, and only Danish was spoken in schools, churches and official places of business. When their Danish rulers outlawed Faroese in 1538, islanders were forced to take their language underground, only using it in private. “The Faroese culture and the language was kept alive in people’s homes, in their living rooms, where people gathered to sing and tell stories,” Tyril says. This “living room culture” also included the concept of husaganga, or house-walking. “Different villages were hosts for different parties during the year where people would come together and dance. And during such parties, you would go from one house to another and visit people,” says Tyril.
“It’s like pub crawling, but we don’t have pubs or cafes, so we home crawl,” pipes in a man who has been eavesdropping from the kitchen.
“And that’s where it ends, too—crawling home,” Tyril says, laughing.
Since 2007, Hoyma, which means “home” in Sydrugota’s local dialect of Faroese, has featured 20 concerts by ten different artists who set up in the living rooms of ten different family homes in Sydrugota. The concert series usually takes place on one fall night, when the weather in the Faroes is still warm enough, dry enough and calm enough that folks are willing to walk between homes.
“It’s probably the cheapest ticket you can buy, because you get food and drink and like ten concerts for 300 kroner,” says Sigvør Laksá, one of the hosts, of the roughly $43 price tag.
It’s easy to find musicians in the Faroes these days. The Faroese are so enthusiastic about music that the islands, despite having a population of just 56,000, have a music school in the capital of Torshavn and a full symphony orchestra. It’s particularly impressive on an archipelago where the folk tradition includes a chain dance set to music made without instruments, since few, if any, musical instruments were available on the islands until the mid-1800s due to a trade monopoly that dramatically limited imports. Singing and balladeering were the only musical output until the lifting of a trade ban in 1856. “Until the 1990s, the Faroe Islands had more contact with outer space” than with modern music, says Kristian Blak, the owner of Tutl, the Faroes’ longest-running record store and label. The Faroese have made up for lost time, home-growing musical acts like Eivør, a singer-songwriter best known for soundtracking the Netflix series “The Last Kingdom.” They even have a government office dedicated to exporting the islands’ music. The Faroes also bring in thousands of visitors to the many festivals they host each summer. “I think there are 200 or 300 festivals in summer now,” says Blak. “It’s a bit silly.” That includes the massive G! Festival; smaller ones dedicated to Faroese folk, jazz, metal, blues and country music; and the most intimate of them all, Hoyma.
When the day for Hoyma comes, doors are thrown open, shoes are removed, and a traditional glass of schnapps is offered to new arrivals. Hosts typically set up an array of local beer and snacks, mostly derived from the fish, whale and sheep that make up the bulk of what’s available locally. I enjoy traditional dried pilot whale at one stop. Some hosts charge for food and drink, but most offer it to their guests as a sign of hospitality, or leave a tip jar.
For Laksá, hosting the concerts is not only fun, but also a way to give back, and to ensure that the islands survive in the modern world. As in many families, her two daughters grew up and left the Faroes. “They both studied in the U.K. for nine years, but they both came back,” she says. “I actually think that G! Festival and Hoyma are partly the reason why many children from this village that go abroad come back. They are proud of it.”
Now, Hoyma is starting to expand, adding more dates and more concerts beyond the traditional one-night-a-year schedule, including smaller one-off shows called HOYMAbit. Similar home concert concepts have popped up beyond Sydrugota—across the Faroes, as well as in Denmark and Iceland.
“We launched this as an open-source event,” says Tyril. “It’s open for everyone.”
As a music journalist of 20-plus years, I have seen concerts in amusement parks, botanical gardens, and venues big and small, but curling up on the couch in someone’s living room to watch live music was new, intimate and instantly comfortable. Hoyma is a celebration of a culture and its long-term survival. It’s a warm welcome into a close-knit community.