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Buddy Awards to Maja S. K. Ratkje and Solveig Slettahjell

In 2020 the highest award given in the Norwegian jazz community, the Buddy Award, was shared by two outstanding musicians and composers: Maja Solveig Kjelstrup Ratkje and Solveig Slettahjell.

The Buddy Award has been presented annually since 1956, with a few exceptions, and looking back on the recipients is like reliving the high points of Norwegian jazz of the past seven decades. In 2020 the national organisation Norwegian Jazz Forum chose to honour two musicians with Buddy Awards.

“We are blessed with a multitude of fantastic musicians in Norway. This year, which has been a very different sort of year, we want to take advantage of the opportunity to honour more than one,” says board chair Ingrid Brattset. The Buddy Award consists of a statuette of the legendary jazz musician Buddy Bolden, recreated by artist Lise Frogg, and NOK 50 000 from the Norwegian Jazz Forum.

Due to the current infection prevention restrictions there will not be a public presentation of the Buddy Awards as there has been in previous years. Instead, the two prize winners were surprised at their homes by the Norwegian Jazz Forum’s board chair Ingrid Brattset and general manager Gry Bråtømyr. Using a cover story about wanting to conduct an interview about living as a musician during the coronavirus pandemic, Bråtømyr and Brattset arrived at the musicians’ doorsteps with a film team, and surprised both Slettahjell and Ratkje with Buddy statuettes wrapped up as Christmas presents.

By the grand piano in her living room

“You certainly fooled me,” Solveig Slettahjell exclaimed when she unwrapped the Buddy statuette by the grand piano in her living room on the island of Malmøya in Oslo. “This is simply wonderful. I am so grateful. I can barely manage to express myself in words. This is such a great honour. Thank you very, very much,” she said, moved to tears.

Throughout nearly 25 years, Slettahjell has established herself as one of Norway’s leading jazz vocalists and songwriters. The Norwegian Jazz Forum, when describing its grounds for the award, explains that Slettahjell has built up a large and devoted audience through her heartfelt, personal way of communicating, combined with the high artistic quality and integrity of her work. There is no doubt that she has helped many people find their way into the world of jazz.

Award presenters Gry Bråtømyr and Ingrid Brattset with Solveig Slettahjell.

With the forest as a backdrop

Maja S. K. Ratkje welcomed the representatives from the Norwegian Jazz Forum in lovely surroundings at Svartskog in Follo, on the veranda behind her house, with a misty forest and fjord as a backdrop.

“I’m just speechless. I have tears in my eyes and am so moved. Incredibly proud,” exclaimed Maja S. K. Ratkje, who was completely surprised when she was presented with the Buddy Award. “This is an acknowledgement of my work as a performer, and is unbelievably important. I appreciate this from the bottom of my heart,” Ratkje said.

As an improvisational musician, Maja S. K. Ratkje has been a ground-breaking figure in the Norwegian and international music community for nearly 25 years. Among the grounds that the Norwegian Jazz Forum states for the award is that Ratkje tears down established barriers with her large-scale compositions and compelling improvisations, using her voice, instruments and machines. She has also emerged as an important voice in discussions on political and ideological issues within the cultural community, where there is a need for people like her who have the courage to swim against the current and challenge the status quo, both on stage and off.

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