Singing Through the Bars
Prison Songs as Identity Markers and as Cultural Heritage
Singing Through the Bars is a book about Swedish prison songs. Yet it is also a study of how people in vulnerable situations can use music to fashion a context and a sense of belonging – and to express their feelings and convey a message.
In the 1960’s and 1970’s, Svenskt visarkiv (The Centre for Swedish Folk Music and Jazz Research) collected songs in Sweden’s prisons via two separate projects. The aim was to document a song genre which was assumed to be dying out but which, in those very years, gained in popularity and assumed new functions when it became a part of the progressive music movement. Formerly a secluded genre, living in a prison environment, prison songs became a matter for the general public and part of the struggle for better conditions in correctional treatment institutions. One of the book’s chapters is devoted to Lennart “Konvaljen” Johansson, who became a figurehead of the prison song genre in the 1970’s.
The songs and their function in the prison environment are the focus of this study by the ethnomusicologist Dan Lundberg. With the songs as examples he also describes the roles of archives, research and record companies and their significance in the development of genres of music.