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This band has recorded the oldest known folk song in the world

This is Heilung, a collective of SUPER hardcore folk music musicians who met and bonded at a Viking reenactment society. They’ve just recorded their version of “Hymn to Nikkal” (also known as “Hurrian Hymn No. 6”), the oldest known song to have been transcribed into some kind of musical notation. Composed about 3,400 years ago in ancient Babylon (now northern Syria), it was preserved on clay tablets.

The song itself offers praise to Nikkal, the wife of a moon god. Since it was discovered in the 1950s and published in 1968, there has been much debate over how the song should be performed. For example, what, exactly was a “Babylonian lyre?” Obviously a stringed instrument of some kind, but how? What did it sound like? And how should it be sung? Archeologists still aren’t clear on what the Hurrian language sounded like.

The Heilung have given it a go for their upcoming third album, Drif. And to hedge their bets, they’re releasing five different versions from five different people. “We’ll leave the scientific battle to scientists,” says Christopher Juul, the group’s instrumentalist and producer.

Spooky stuff, this.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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One thought on “This band has recorded the oldest known folk song in the world

  • Very cool, but that tone is pretty fat and reverb-heavy for hardcore folkies!

    Sounds kind of like Nebuchadnezzar meets Bob Rock.


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