Margareta Abrahamsson was an eminent ballad-singer, lyricist, and a stand-up artist who was primarily active in western Sweden.
Margareta Abrahamsson was born in Mölndal in 1940. She was the daughter of Elvira and Ernst Larsson. She married young and had four children – two sons and two daughters – all of whom were born in the period between 1959 and 1964. Following her divorce from Per Robert Abrahamsson she became solely responsible for raising her children, whilst also working fulltime as a pre-school teacher for Gothenburg’s social welfare childcare provision.
Margareta Abrahamsson made her singing debut at the legendary Sven Dufva pub, located in the Haga part of Gothenburg, near Järntorget. The pub had a trademark neon sign, portraying a frothing beer tankard, which hung facing the street. Margareta Abrahamsson gleaned life experiences from the pub’s less than quiet customers which served her well throughout her career as a performing artist.
Although Margareta Abrahamsson gradually developed her own public persona she was also inspired by and had a fascination for Cornelis Vreeswijk’s ballads. She initially became known to a wider audience in 1977 as a member of the Andra Bullar group, which recorded two successful albums. The group, comprising five women and one man, played important roles in the story of Swedish ballads as well as in the women’s movement of the late 1970s and the 1980s. Margareta Abrahamsson not only wrote her own ballads but also used other people’s song lyrics which pinpointed society’s follies and injustices, often querying female and male roles. She approached the subject of social injustices with a twinkle in her eye and a healthy dose of self-irony, such as in her song “Ungflicksvisa”. The following is the first verse:
Han valt att va ungkarl.
Det är var mans rätt,
men tillhör den friheten alla?
För kvinnan är valet ej alls lika lätt.
Om jag vill va ensam har något gått snett:
Jag har ej fått mannen att falla.
(He chose to be a bachelor
As is every man’s right
But is this a general freedom?
Women’s choices are not at all as simple
If I choose to be single then something is wrong:
I haven’t succeeded in trapping a man.)
Margareta Abrahamsson, like the other members of Andra Bullar, was somewhat of a multitasker on the stage. She played a bit of accordion, a few chords on the mandolin, and sometimes strummed the guitar. However, after thirteen years of performing throughout Sweden the group decided to call it quits and go their separate ways. For Margareta Abrahamsson this meant that she continued to entertain and antagonise the public as a successful stand-up artist in her Cabaret Småtyket. Margareta Abrahamsson had exploited her talent for rapid-fire and hard-hitting verbal exchanges with her audiences during her time as a troubadour at the Sven Dufva pub and as a member of Andra Bullar. The author Anders Wällhed has described Margareta Abrahamsson as “direct, with a sparkling sense of humour and entirely devoid of a holy and devotional attitude towards ballads.” According to Wällhed Margareta Abrahamsson created: “Her own form of art which she later refined as rip-roaringly funny stand-up numbers. She quickly found a style of humour which hit the mark using trivial and cunning texts, spiced with naked truths reflecting our troubled times.”
One of the poets who left a lasting impression on Margareta Abrahamsson was Kent Andersson. She appeared in some of his revue shows at Teater Aftonstjärnan in Gothenburg during the 1996 to 2004 period. Her own repertoire also includes a series of Kent Andersson’s ballads, such as “Balladen om brödupproret 1917” and “Medelålders män”. These songs can also be found on the only album Margareta Abrahamsson ever recorded, in 1993, entitled Ja-Ja-Män! The album also includes her own self-mocking poem Mina avlagda män to a tune by Birgit Skole, the first verse of which follows here:
Jag tänker mig alltid de män jag har känt
sittande sorgsna, med ansiktet vänt
mot den plats där jag övergav dem.
De sitter på var sin sorgens ö
och önskar egentligen bara att dö
för jag ville ju inte ha dem.
(I always imagine the men I have known
sitting in sorrow, facing
the place where I left them
each sitting on his own island of sadness
wanting only to die
because I didn’t want them.)
Margareta Abrahamsson spent many years teaching at Nordiska Visskolan (the Nordic ballad school) in Kungälv, instructing others based on her own experiences of public performance and interpreting song texts for performance on a stage. She also ran a series of ballad seminars at Kustens hus, the stronghold of the Visans Vänner society in Majorna, Gothenburg. Andra Bullar had also performed there on innumerable occasions. Margareta Abrahamsson was able to place her pre-school teacher-training to the fore in these ballad seminars. When dealing, for example, with people who found it difficult to stand still on a stage and kept flapping their hands she would place a chair in each hand, thereby preventing further gesticulating. The most important aspect of public performance was to allow the audience to focus on what was being performed and not distract them with flailing hands and restless feet.
Margareta Abrahamsson died the day after her 71st birthday in 2011. Her remains lie at Västra kyrkogården (the Western Cemetery) in Gothenburg. Her obituary, written by several members of Andra Bullar, notes how she forged her own path and would often return to Karin Boye’s words: “You should thank your gods if they make you walk where there are no other footprints to follow”.