Why do you love the world?
“Because when working and singing alongside the fäbod (Swedish summer farm) women, I felt such a profound connection to them both as a part of our past and present, I just knew that I had to carry on their kulning legacy.” – Jennie Tiderman-Österberg, singer
by Justin Calderon
Singers of this ancient form of Swedish herd-calling corral farm animals with haunting melodies, drawing in cows, goats, sheep and ducks with each hypnotic note.
Skallskog is a secluded farm without running water or electricity that most Swedes have never heard of. Hidden deep in the Nordic wilderness, this humble collection of cattle barns and russet-red farmhouses may seem like a place of little importance. But this is where you’ll find the disappearing roots of an ancient Swedish singing tradition so intimately connected to nature that it can only be described as magic.
Kulning is a vocalisation tradition that dates back to the Middle Ages, where singers corral farm animals with hypnotic melodies, luring cows, goats, sheep and ducks towards them as if each note was charged with its own gravity. This mystical ability originates from centuries-old fäbods (summer farms) like Skallskog, where farmwomen would traditionally call their meandering animals back home as they grazed freely during the few warm months in these frigid lands. In recent decades, as women’s place in society has shifted, these sounds have transformed from farmland pragmatism to operatic elegance.
A kind of Nordic yodelling-meets-Dr Doolittle superpower, modern kulning has a bewitching quality that inspired Disney to include its entrancing melodies in Frozen 2. In 2016, YouTuber Jonna Jinton posted a video of her kulning to cows that racked up more than eight million views. And outdoor concerts and folk music festivals featuring trained kulning singers are continuing to popularise this spellbinding art of communicating with nature.
However, while kulning might be undergoing a pop-culture revival, the average Swede would be hard-pressed to identify where the tradition comes from. This form of herd-calling connects hyper-digital Sweden to its pastoral past. Yet, just as Swedes have become increasingly detached from the farm, the origins of kulning have come close to being forgotten.