The Swedish kids know the songs. The parents know the songs. The grandparents know the songs and I think even the great-grandparents knows the songs. For 37 years Electric Banana Band has provided Swedish children with catchy tunes that immediately makes them want to jump and dance. Songs about Maja the piraya who is a vegetarian, a guy who wants to live in a mushroom and the bananas taking over the world since us humans don’t seems to be able to handle the situation. Does it sound strange? Well, the lyrics are probably not easy to understand even when translated, since many of them are based on Swedish sayings and conditions. But I would say that the music, the moves (that every swede can do in their sleep) and the joy is reason enough to give Electric Banana Band a chance, even if you’re not Swedish.
It all started with a children’s show in the 70’s where Trazan, a guy in tiger striped pants, and his friend Banarne, a musical monkey, was chilling in their tree house in the jungle, singing, playing, showing music videos and fun sketches, and every child in Sweden loved them. In 1980 the two friends in the treehouse invited another friend, a zebra, and together they formed Electric Banana Band. This happened 37 years ago and these jungle rockers are still going strong. This summer, the band has played at a jazz festival, a sports gala and a folk music festival, among others. They attract a great audience everywhere and receive brilliant reviews. One of the bands more amazing moments was when they appeared at the rock festival Sweden rock 2014 and met 30 000 cheering rockers, some of them in banana costumes.
Funny but with a serious twist
Guitarist Janne Schaffer, ”The Zebra”, is Electric Banana Band’s musical engine and the man behind the band’s music. I got a chance to talk to him when their concert movie Filmtajm had premiere in the end of September. He told me that he and textwriter Lasse Åberg, ”The Tiger”, the first years mostly wrote songs that were supposed to be fun. But over the years the band has been turning to an ever greater community and environmental commitment.
“We have a song about allergy, one about being a vegetarian, one for recycling and one song about Himalaya and how we need to ta care of the earth.” says Janne Schaffer.
Maybe the seriousness is the secret of this 37-year long love story between the band and the audience. The fact that behind all the jokes and the animal costumes, there is a genuine concern for the world and how we treat each other and the animals.
Music for children must be of high quality
In Filmtajm, Electric Banana Band has paired with Eskilstuna Symphony Orchestra. The choice of partners is no coincidence, Electric Banana Band has been playing with symphony orchestras before and discovered that the band’s music fits well when it comes to integrating different music styles with each other.
“It’s fun to show that a symphony orchestra can play our music and how well it sounds. And since we have many children in the audience, they may be curious to listen to other symphony orchestra music later on”, says Janne Schaffer.
Janne Schaffer is careful to point out that music for children must be of high quality. Children do not prefer simpler music and they have as high demands as adults.
“I realized this when I worked with ABBA in the 70’s and played the ABBA songs for my son, who was only a few years old. He didn’t understand a word of the lyrics but he loved the music. So this has been guiding me ever since.”
A proof that the band lives up to its own high standards of quality came this summer after a concert at the Ystad Jazz Festival. British Jazz Journal visited the festival and wrote:
”It’s a simple but important fact that jazz is a music with a deep and rich history. The Ystad festival has always been concerned with the question of how children might get involved with such a music. This year, spectacular confirmation of such commitment was provided by a wonderful afternoon concert at the new Arena venue from Sweden’s Electric Banana Band. This dynamic outfit has supplied the soundtrack for several generations of children in Sweden, with lyrics by Lasse Åberg and juicy guitar from Janne Schaffer complemented by rich percussion and quartet vocals plus plenty of funky dance moves and an array of costumes that would suit shamans and circus performers alike (Schaffer, for example, appears in full zebra costume). They certainly brought out my inner child and it was a great joy to see so many parents and young children really getting into the music.”
”We have received many great reviews this year, but a review like this in the Jazz Journal is of course honorable. It made us very proud”, says Janne Schaffer smiling.
So, how about myself?
Well, I was watching Trazan and Banarne on TV as a kid in the 70’s, I listened to Electric Banana Bands early music as a teenager in the 80’s and my kids were dancing och jumping around to the same music in our kitchen during the 90’s. Today my kids are grownups and I’m middle aged. There is not much dancing going on in my kitchen anymore but the songs are always there, somewhere deep down inside my head. Like a soundtrack, reminding me of our basic tasks: Be nice. Do not litter. Stay cool. And have fun.
Janne Schaffer, Lasse Åberg and Klasse Möllberg are all well-known in Sweden. Janne Schaffer is one of Sweden’s most renowned guitarists with a long and successful career, both as a studio musician and solo artist. Lasse Åberg is a comedian, artist and filmmaker who has created some of Sweden’s most beloved movies. Klasse Möllberg is a Swedish singer and actor.
Unfortunately, there are currently no plans to show Filmtajm outside Sweden but you can find several concert clips and music videos on Youtube:
Photo: Björn Sjönell