Amigo is a classic Swedish record label imprint, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2016. Cosmopolitan radio man Lennart Wretlind depicts the soul and history of this unique company with the help of its artists – such as Sofia Karlsson, Lena Willemark, Magnus Carlson and Love Antell alongside some key staff and other well-known Swedish music industry executives.
Lennart Wretlind: “My mission: To find the soul of a true independent label. Amigo was born in Sweden in 1966. The name has a cosmopolitan feel to it. It makes you think of a friend embracing the whole planet. “He has the entire world on his desk” is the telling newspaper headline from the nineties about the then CEO Fredrik Boquist and how he led the company’s foray into world music before the term even existed. Today the company is called Cosmos Music and the musical spectrum is even wider. The soul of Cosmos/Amigo? I contact some of their artists to find the answer.”
Sofia Karlsson is a superstar on the Swedish folk music scene. “It was such a blessing to be a young artist on Amigo. Theirs was a very kind and considerate world and they gave me complete artistic freedom with the three albums I made there. This was largely thanks to their producer Göran Peterssson. He really embraced me musically. I could do what I wanted and that is all a creative artist needs, that plus a little food.”
Göran Petersson: ”I am immensely proud to have been part of Amigo, one of the oldest and most prestigious labels in Sweden. I had some truly amazing years there as their in-house producer and A&R.”
Lena Willemark has been called musical royalty in the press. She is now signed to Göran Peterssons own label Brus&Knaster after many years as an Amigo artist. “I had very close contact with everyone who worked at Amigo and above all my producer Göran Petersson. They were like family and everyone had such love and affinity for the creative process. To record for Amigo was a very joyful experience, like running around barelegged instead of feeling constrained in a tight skirt.”
Esbjörn Hazelius is a well renowned folk musician and singer with a long CV. He was the creative engine on all three of Sofia Karlsson’s albums on Amigo. As a producer and fellow musician he took the celebrated Swedish pop artist Tomas Ledin back to his folk roots on the Grammis awarded album ”Höga Kusten” in 2014. As a solo artist he will soon be releasing his third album together with partner Johan Hedin on the Amigo imprint. ”Being a folk artist won’t make you very rich – but you can turn it into a lifelong career. I much prefer that to being a flash in the pan in the pop world. And the folk music audience is the loveliest and most engaged you can imagine. They’re like friends for life. Which is exactly how I feel about Amigo. There is a true passion for music there.”
Ludvig Werner is the current CEO of IFPI Sweden, but he was previously CEO of Bonnier Amigo Music Group. “It was a very exciting and highly varied job. One day we were at a sales meeting in a German monastery with the label ECM and their legendary boss Manfred Eicher. The next day we’d find ourselves on a hotel balcony in Cannes selling hits. While back in Sweden, Sofia Karlsson was recording her album “Svarta Ballader” with Göran Petersson – largely in his kitchen. The album won a Swedish Grammis, sold 60 000 copies and was highly praised for the very warm sound!”
Fredrik Boquist was CEO for the company during the second half of the nineties. “We tried to have a very relaxed and unpretentious atmosphere at Amigo and it became a melting pot for many interesting characters who all added their own personal flavour to the workplace. If an employee had an idea for an artist or a specific production, management tried to create the possibilities to realise it – budget permitting.
In our warehouse speed metal vocalist Cosmo Koroly could be seen packing records next to comedian Kalle Sändare and Gurra, ex-drummer of punk legends Ebba Grön. One of our traveling sales reps, Leif Johansson, with a past in sixties pop sensation Ola & The Janglers was the drummer for pop act Secret Service. Chesty Morgan-guitarist Pia Lundstedt worked in sales too and singer Idde Schultz in promotion… The late jazz pianist and co-founder of the Gazell label (later Sonet) Rune Öfwerman rented an office from us and contributed to the overall atmosphere with great vibes and fantastic stories.”
Ulf Lindqvist started out as label manager at Amigo. But pretty soon he got the opportunity to bring punk and garage rock on board at Amigo. “I was the A&R link between the young new bands and the engineer and it was my job to translate the band’s raw live energy into something that also sounded great on record.”
Niklas “Nix” Vahlberg is a member of cult garage rock band Nomads, who are still touring an impressive 33 years after their debut on Amigo. “At the label it was mainly Ulf Lindqvist who became our pal and our guide into the record industry. Despite the fact that he was as new to it as we were, he had a great ear and he managed to cram all our energy into the recordings. Music journalist Mats Olsson wrote about our guitarist Hasse Östlund and he described it really well: ‘He can’t even look at a guitar without it starting to scream and howl for the nearest fuzz box.’”
Magnus Carlson is a singer who is often hailed as the best male voice in the country. With his band Weeping Willows he has had huge commercial success over the last twenty years and soon he will begin the recordings of his second solo album for Amigo. “My first contact with Amigo was buying their records. I really loved their garage rock releases with bands like Nomads and the compilation “Searchin’ for shakes” for instance.
Later when I started making my own records and got in touch with Amigo and their boss Fredrik Ekander, he really understood my ideas about music. For me as a record collector it is important to work with a classic label that has passionate staff with an understanding for timeless musical qualities. Now that I am about to do [huge Swedish tv-show] “Så Mycket Bättre (So Much Better)” on national TV I could have gotten a record deal with any label. But I chose with my heart and my head and I chose Amigo and Fredrik.”
Love Antell is a musical artist and graphic designer. Love also puts huge importance on being on a heritage label, preferably with a long and well-documented history. “I really like labels that have their own identity and philosophy, like Motown in Detroit or XL and World Circuit in the UK. My recording career started at the Swedish indie MNW. Being on Amigo feels like coming home again. I also like the actual logo, the old Amigo design is like an expression of its soul. Pretty cool stuff for someone like me who also works as an illustrator and designs book covers.”
Toni Holgersson was born in 1966 and is the same age as Amigo, where his new album “Nordic Noir” will be released in August 2016. “I’ve had the great fortune to only work with labels that stood for something I would like to be part of – MNW for their political stance and musical heritage, EMI for their A&R-man Kjell Andersson and now Amigo for the creative freedom.”
Dag Häggqvist is a publisher and legendary record man who co-founded the equally legendary Swedish independent label Sonet. Today he runs his own boutique label Gazell. “What’s unique with the Swedish music industry is the great relationship that traditionally always has existed between big and small labels. This has been to the benefit of everyone, especially the big companies as they are dependent on the indies’ creativity. Equally unique is the friendship between the Swedish indies. Amigo and Sonet being especially good neighbours. We helped each other as much as we competed.”
One of the latest achievements by the incredibly successful music executive and former artist and songwriter Ola Håkansson is the founding of TEN Music Group. “Because of Amigo, Scandinavia now has an incredible musical width when it comes to repertoire and record releases. They carried over 10,000 different titles! No other label had the expertise or the logistics to handle such volume. Sweden would definitely have been a lot less exciting country without Amigo.”
Jonas Siljemark is the current President of Warner Music Nordics. “I was in charge of Bonnier Music when it merged with Amigo and became Bonnier Amigo. A pessimist might have said that this will become an ugly fight between David and Goliath. Instead it became a beautiful union of Bonnier’s hit driven commercial strength and Amigo’s uncompromising commitment to the best jazz and folk music. Together we became the biggest independent record label in in the Nordics”
Stefan Jacobson runs the best record shop in the world according to Quentin Tarantino. “It was always a pleasure going through the Amigo release schedules. They always had the great records we wanted in my record shop Pet Sounds in Stockholm.”
Fredrik Ekander is the Swedish “modfather”, record collector and a DJ, notably at the classic Stockholm club SOUL which he founded in 1993. Since 2009 he is one of the owners of Cosmos Music and today he is also responsible for all international campaigns, including those coming from Amigo. ”The indies have historically always been the most innovative, the most ground-breaking and the most creative companies in the music business. Amigo is a very important part of this proud tradition and I am very humble when it comes to the important task of carrying this torch forward.”
Joakim Bergman has been CFO, label manager, executive producer and royalty manager at Amigo during the 28 years he worked there – making him the longest working employee. “I started at Amigo because I love music. The reason I still work at Amigo is because I love music.”
Current CEO Robert Litsén started out as the company’s digital manager nine years ago. Today, at 31, Robert is the youngest label boss on the Swedish IFPI-board. “I think it is really important that we continue to invest in artists that we really feel belong here and that we think more people should hear about. This is the best way we can continue the legacy of Amigo. Our job is to be the enabler of great new and exciting musical talent from Sweden to break through – both here at home and internationally.”
Award winning pianist and composer Matti Bye will soon be releasing his first album on Amigo, his soundtrack to upcoming feature movie “Den allvarsamma leken” (The serious game)”. ”I am really looking forward to releasing my music on Cosmos/Amigo. It feels like they are operating like a classic record label, where the creative development of the artist is at the core – which is something that fits me perfectly.”
Jazz musician Goran Kajfeš is currently working on new material for release on Amigo this autumn. “Our first three albums with Oddjob came out on Amigo with Göran Petersson as a producer genius. After ten years with other labels we are now back with Amigo, this time with Fredrik Ekander as a way in. It feels so great to work with passionate people who think like we do.”
Ale Möller is one of the most ground breaking and genre defying musicians in Sweden. “I started buying Amigo albums in the eighties and noticed they always released great music. Then I started releasing my music there. What an incredibly creative climate! They just believed in creating great music – even if it wasn’t necessarily very commercial. It is very unique with record labels that give complete creative trust to their artists. I have so many great memories from my time at Amigo…”
Lennart Wretlind: ”I stop Ale. After all, my mission is not to write a whole book about Amigo/Cosmos Music. That’ll have to wait, later perhaps? Yes, please! So many stories! I realise now that Cosmos Music/Amigo is more than just a record label. And combined – all these voices actually end up sounding like one big choir of praise. And as everyone is applauding Amigo, I can’t help thinking it actually seems like a really great place to work. Yes, I would very much like to work there.”
Lennart Wretlind is a Three-time Winner of Sweden’s Grand Radio Prize, most recently for his series of shows on Spotify ”Wretlinds Värld” (Wretlind’s World) which is a global journey along different musical paths. During fifty years at Swedish Radio he made programs like Klingan, Tusen och en låt, Safari and Eldorado (together with Kjell Alinge).