Finn Fiddler
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FINNS ON DISKS

Thanks to my friends Pertti, Phillip, Timo and the many musicians I have met along the way.   - CF
Most of these reviews are by Cliff Furnald, with some contributions from Al Reiss, Brian Peters, Steve Winick and others.

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Featured Artists
Pekka Lehti interview
Kimmo Pohjonen
Maria Kalaniemi, includes reviews and interviews
Etno Pojat: The World Mankeri Orchestra
Värttinä; reviews and a longer article.
Wimme
Niles Hokkanen





Newest reviews:
  • Pekka Lehti
  • Alamaailman Vasarat
  • Kalaniemi, Varis and Maans
  • Maria Kalaniemi and Kimmo Pojohen
  • Petri Hakala (mandolin)
  • Gjallarhorn (Finland)
  • Wimme
  • World Mänkeri Orchestra

    Reviews

    Almetjh Tjöönghkeme
    Ameriikan Poijat
    Annel Nieiddat
    (Angelin Tytöt)
    Nikolai Blad
    Minna Raskinen
    Hedningarna

  • Hedningarna (1999)
    Helsinki Mandoliners
    Niles Hokkanen
    Arto Järvelä
    JPP
    JPP (1998)
    Anna-Kaisa Liedes
    Maria Kalaniemi
    Maria Kalaniemi (1999)
    Arja Kastinen
    Liisa Matveinen
    MeNaiset
    Mimmit
    Niekku
    Nypykät
    Ohilyönti
    Ottopasuuna
    Piirpauke
    Ulla Pirttijärvi
    Progmatics
    Tallari
    Tapani Varis
  • Troka
    Sirmakka
    Slobo Horo
    Edward Vesala Spontaani Vire
    Tellu Virkkala
    Hasse Walli and Assaman
    Wimme
    The World Mänkeri Orchestra

    Compilations:
    Tulikulkku
    Kuulas Hetki

  • Hedningarna
    Karelia Visa
    NorthSide-US (www.noside.com)
    Silence-Sweden (www.cabal.se/silence/)

    One of the ground-breaking groups of the Scandinavian folk-revival movement, Hedningarna noisily channeled the spirit of ancient music through modern electronics. Whether they sung of maidens, drunkards or mythical beasts, the group conjured up a slightly spooky, gothic place that seemed far removed from our gleaming modern world of technology. Hedningarna's mix of traditional and modern instruments showed the limitlessness of folk traditions.

    Now, with Karelia Visa, the group heads in a new direction. They have created a musical Baedeker of the often-forgotten region of Karelia, which was once Finnish, but now lies within Russia. Gone are most of the group's samplers and synthesizers. The album reflects the bleak primitive beauty of the isolated region, though calling attention to Karelia probably has more resonance for Scandinavian audiences than, say, solipsistic U.S. listeners.

    Musically, the album has some wonderful moments, particularly the close harmonies of singers Sanna Kurki-Suonio and Anita Lehtola. The lyrics from these folk songs are rooted in the natural world, and for the most part do not tackle intellectual topics; they are simple and poetic in their own rustic way. While the individual songs are creatively arranged and meticulously played, the album overall feels a bit monochromatic. The autumnal somberness of the album cries out for some old Hedningarna head-banging tunes, but they didn't seem to make it across the border with the group. Hedningarna fans might be disappointed at the absence of jaw-clenching moments, but the album is a well-done work of heart. - Marty Lipp


    Ulla Pirttijärvi
    Roussa Eanan
    Atrium - Sweden (www.warnermusic.se)

    The title means "Russian land" and refers to the northern regions that the Sami migrate through. 26 year old Pirttijärvi is a writer and vocalist from Utsjoki in the far north of Finland. She's a former member of the Sami singing group Angelin Tytöt and has also toured with Norwegian Sami musician Mari Boine. Here she is teamed with Frode Fjellheim and his group Transjoik in a high-tech collection of tradition in outer space. Not for those who fear synthesizers, although it is a intelligent use, with lots of electric guitar, acoustic percussion, strings and horns adding a more earthbound element. This is lightyears from the fluffy folk-pop sound of the girls from Angelin; a tense, modern sound that is challenging yet beautiful. The ancient, animistic joiking of the Sami lends it self wonderfully to this combination, and Pirttijärvi lends her own personal mix of tradition and pop singing to make it special. - CF


    Tellu Virkkala
    Suden Aika (Kansannmusiikki-instituutin/ Finland)

    Tellu Virkkala may be familiar to many of you through her work with the Swedish/Finnish rock group Hedningarna. As one of the two female lead singers in the band, she added a rich, heritage based sound to their high-energy folk-rock. Now, with the band behind her, she has gone back to the deepest of Finnish roots, the Kalevala tale that has been the heart of Finnish folk lore and folk music for centuries, and adding her own stories and her unique and forceful voice has made a rich album of vocal music, Suden Aika (Kansannmusiikki-instituutin/ Finland). To do this she has pulled together an impressive backing ensemble: percussionist Tina Johansson (Filarfolket), and singers Sanna Kurki-Suonio (Hedningarna), Pia Rask (Ma Naiset) and Liisa Matveinen (Tallari). The result is an important album of the voices of Finnish women, one of cool control, worldly vision and dark emotions. One doesn't need the potent lyrics of "Manaus" to hear the call, "Help me, nature, give me power, make my blood run strong and stronger... free the maiden" as the voices chant it to the wind. Tellu has created a small masterpiece of poetry and potency, one that rings true in Finland and well beyond.


    Liisa Matveinen
    Ottilia (Olarin Musikki)

    Liisa Matveinen first made her mark during the Finnish folk scene's vibrant revival in the 1980's and early 90s as a member of two seminal groups, Niekku and Tallari, both ensembles that reached for both old songs and new ideas. Her new solo endeavor is Ottilia (Olarin Musikki), a look at the work of Ottilia Ilkka, a singer, musician and song collector from the turn of the century. Her songs, as collected by folk musicologist Erkki Ala-Knni, depict an archaic lifestyle in Finland that is as universal as it is local, a life of sadness, joy, births and deaths, simple work, good times and bad. These songs are brought powerfully to life by Matveinen and an ensemble that includes accordionist Maria Kalaniemi, singers Anna-Kaisa Liedes and Heikki Laitinen and members of the ensemble Tallari. Her duets with Laitinen are particularly strong; gritty and compelling pieces punctuated by acoustic instruments; violin, kantele (zither) squeezebox and drone fiddle. For the non-Finn a lot will be lost to the lack of understanding of the lyrics of these songs, but for any listener the content will make itself manifest in the intensity of the performance of these pieces. Each of the 16 songs on Ottilia carries well on just the music and vocal delivery and coveys an immediate sense of both the time they were written and the place they have in today's world.


    My penchant for Finnish music knows no limits, and the music knows no borders, hence Finnish Brass In America (Global Village). Ameriikan Poijat (The American Boys) is a delicious mix of old marches, polskas, humpas and schottiches that sound both classically "American" in that small town, bandstand way, and uniquely Scandinavian, and of course, there's a tango as only the Finns know how to play it.


    The World Mänkeri Orchestra
    EkE!(The Primitive Music Association)

    Skirting the boundaries between ancient folk and aggressive jazz, The World Mänkeri Orchestra (also known as Etnopojat, “the ethnic boys”) is one of the most daring in Europe today. Their mission is simple: to take the ancient instruments of Scandinavia and bring them into the next century. To do this required research. Founding members Heikki Syrjänen and Pekka Westerholm sought out mänkeri and liru, early and primitive reed instruments made of wood and birchbark, and the kantele, a horse-hair zither that is pretty much the national instrument of Finland. Not content with imitations or limitations, they went into their workshop and built their own based on their research, expanding them in odd and wonderful ways until they had the arsenal they needed. To these they add percussion and electric bass (their only bow to factory-made contemporary tools), and subtle manipulations by their engineer, an essential member of the band.

    From these strange roots come EkÉ , a free jazz that is so primitive it stings and at times so beautiful it hurts. The five tone scale of the music seems to enhance rather than limit their scope, pushing them constantly to use the vocalizations of the instruments in creative, surprising ways. They express themselves on their reeds with the same dynamics as a David Murray or on percussion with the same creativity as Glen Velez. But they are uniquely Finnish, also. Their phrases harken back to old folk tunes, and the modal tunes give their work that elusive “eastern” quality common to so much of Finland’s tradition. The World Mänkeri Orchestra are a unique experience, a one-of-a-kind jazz band that looks around the world for its inspiration before settling in right at home for its execution.

    The next generation of Finland’s folk mob is fast moving to the forefront, fueled by their experiences at schools like Sibelius Academy, whose staff includes some of Finland’s finest musicians: Maria Kalaniemi, Arto Järvalä, Timo Alakotila, to name just a few. Their influence on this new crop is unmistakable, but not indelible. Young bands and solo artists are moving to make their own sound. - CF

    You can find the recording at cdRoots


    Mimmit
    self produced CD (1997)

    A four-track EP from an all-female Finnish quartet of alarming youthfulness, three members aged fifteen at the time of recording, and leader Pauliina Luukkanen a venerable 22. The instrumentation comprises accordions, violins and bass, with guitar and percussion guesting, and all four sing in that characteristically spiky Scandinavian harmony style. If we're talking pigeonholes, I'd say Maria Kalaniemi meets Varttina, with occassional echoes of Hedningarna, but Mimmit generally avoid the Gothic doominess of much Scandinavian folk-rock, substituting an exuberant pop sensibility that wears a broad smile. Complex traditional-sounding melodies, negotiated with impressive dexterity on squeezebox and fiddle, suddenly give way to Europop singalongs, while shimmering musical saw and yodelling vocals add a touch more exoticism.

    A group I'm sure will continue to develop in very interesting directions. Details of the product are sketchy, but you can contact the band at: Mimmit, Pengerkatu 22 C 72, 00500 Helsinki. - Brian Peters


    An earlier review:
    Mimmit (“the girls”) is one of the promising young bands. A quartet led by 22-year-old accordionist Pauliina Luukkane, they have forged their first recording, a four-song, self-titled EP. Falling somewhere between the boisterous attitude of the old Värttinä and the more artful, thoughtful approach of Kalaniemi and Aldargaz, they seem headed toward great things. In addition to Luukkanens squeeze box, the band is younger sister Hannamari Luukkanen on fiddle, Mervi Kervinen on bass and Satu Niiranen on accordion (and some saw on one track). All contribute vocals. They are assisted in the studio by guitarist Taito Hoffren and percussionist Petri Korpela. The four songs reflect folk themes in aggressive style, full of high musicianship and energetic singing without pretension. Mimmit are one of the more promising new groups to come out of phase two of the Finn folk revival. - CF


    The pump organ is one of the more unusual instruments to enter the folk mainstream in Finland, but as Timo Alokotila has proved for years with JPP, it can be an expressive and dynamic instrument in the right hands. One of the up and comers on the instrument is Eero Gundström. His is an aggressive approach to the instrument, pounding on the bellows, using even the wooden sound of the pedals as part of his sound. Joined by stellar young accordionist and fellow Sibelius student Anne-Marie Kivimäki, superb clarinetist Anna Pudas and fiddler Nanna Nevatalo, they have formed the band Spontaani Vire (loosely, “a spontaneous virus”) and released their first recording, also self titled. Valses, polskas and other dance music comes to find new meaning, as they take a very straight approach to the actual melodies (you will find no clever “fusions” here) and make them personal through their raw talents and personal playing styles. Kivimäki’s playing has always fascinated me. Like Gundström, she sees the instrument as a whole, not confined to what notes you can squeeze from the tool so much as what else it has to offer. She uses subtle squeezes and pushes to add meaning to the notes, and even the keys become an intentional percussive element. The clarinet adds a distinct color on the palette they use, and Nevatalos strings are distinctly edgy and demanding. Together they use subtle arranging and playing to make these songs jump out.


    Progmatics album Vaarallinen Lehmänkello (“lethal cowbell”) [Olarin] seems to be in the bidding for the first spy-surf folk band to come out of Finland, with a CD jacket full of threatening cell-phone-armed musicians and smoking cows. And on the first track, they seem to get there, in a song full of cheesy organs and 40s soundtrack horns tripping over an otherwise Finnish folk theme. But from there on the band roars back into the tradition, with a fiery performance of lively tunes played out on strings, horns, free reeds (centering often around the harmonica of Jouko Kyhälä) and a smattering of percussion. Dance tunes, folk songs, a few interesting pop things are all played with guts and energy.


    Tapani Varis
    Munniharppuuna / Jews Harp
    (The Folk Music Institute - Finland / NorthSide, US www.noside.com)

    This album originally came out in Finland a few years back, but it is gettng new exposure with a US release. It is one of the small wonders of the Finnish folk revival, and a different sound from the fiddles and accordions that dominate the music one hears on record.

    A prolific bassist on the Finnish folk scene, Varis is also an accomplished mouth harp player, and he has made the first ever CD of Finnish music on the instrument, simply titled Jews Harp (Munniharppuuna, literally, a mouth harpoon). He mixes up four or five different versions of the instrument, from a small regular one to a full blown bass version, and with some additional contributions from fiddlers, flutists and a banjo player. There are traditional tunes from Norway and Finland, as well as a few original and contemporary pieces that are quite unique. Banjo, Indonesian bamboo mouth harp and and a bass Jew's harp create a strange bit of ambient movie music in a theme from a Siberian "western." A Norwegian hymn takes on a serene and other-worldly aspect. Polskas, gangars and waltzes all find a new sound on this unusual album. - CF



    Tallari is considered by many to be the national folk group. Based in Kaustinen, they have spent the last decade preaching the gospel of Finnish folk. On this, their tenth anniversary, they have recorded a group of “classics” from their repertoire along with new material and issued them under the title Komiammasti (“better and better”) [The Folk Music Institute]. Always focused on the vocal tradition, they also offer superb instrumental performances on accordion, strings, harmonium and bass.


    PIIRPAUKE
    Metamorphosis: Live 1977-1995
    Rockadillo (zenmaster@rock.pp.fi)

    Progressive rock, folk-jazz, world music; all these tags have been tied to Piirpauke over the years, each appropriate on one hand and restrictive on the other. Here on two CDs you get a taste for all the band has been and has become, as it rides through gothic rock, hip-alternative 70s pop, Finno-Senegalese folk and just plain undefinable good new music. Sakari Kukko has been at the helm of an amazing band for nearly 20 years, and each Metamorphosis only proves the resilience of his talent and guidance.


    PIIRPAUKE
    Tuku Tuku
    Rockadillo

    The album starts with a folk tune by a Finnish traditional maestro, played by a Finnish jazz master, a Spanish singer and a Senegalese percussionist. They are visited by a kora player and a tama drummer. What explodes from the recording is "Primavera: Kevät," an ancient Scandinavian visiting north Africa, Finn flamenco, if you will. Piirpauke founder Sakari Kukko is joined by Ismaila Sane and Cinta Hermo in the fourteenth record by this band. In the last two decades they have done new age, folk, huge synthed progressive and hard rock. Each record adds to the sound, while hanging on to bits of their past, and this one carries on. By the eighth minute of the song, they are pounding out a variety of rhythms, driven by a fuzzed out electric guitar and searing vocals from Hermo, then they do the song again as a Finnish progressive band with a flute for the lead, just to emphasize both their eclectic nature and the beauty of the original melody. Euro- rock, the spirit of the griot and Andalusian fusion clash and meld in a sound that is truly different from anything from anyone of those places before, without every turning to clever parody, or ethno-sampling.


    Helsinki Mandoliners
    Helsinki Mandoliners
    Kansanmusiikki-Instituutti KICD 38 (1995)

    MeNaiset
    MeNaiset
    Kansanmusiikki-Instituutti KICD 37 (1995)

    Annel Nieiddat (Angelin Tytöt)
    Skeaikit
    Mipu Music MIPUCD 402 (1995)

    These four albums represent the breadth, depth, and quality of the Finnish folk music scene today.

    The Helsinki Mandoliners are a mandolin trio that includes Olli Varis usually playing lead, JPP fiddler Arto Järvelä on harmony and octave mandolin, and Ottopassuuna's Petri Hakala on cittern and rhythm mandolin. They are joined by a double bassist on three tracks. The adaptation of twin fiddle arranging styles to mandolins, inventive arrangements, and a combination of newly-written pieces intermixed with traditional tunes give credence to the liner notes' assessment that this is "a fresh new slant on the mandolin trio ensemble." "Iniö Brudmarsch," a traditional march evoking the feel of kids having fun on a warm spring day, and the lighthearted "Tisvasser Sotiisi" both sound like pieces that the late-70s lineup of Scotland's Battlefield Band would have performed had it been a mandolin-only group. Järvelä penned the jazzy "Mandoliners Polka," which has a tango-esque start and carries a touch of dawg-swing á lá Grisman. Add in the upbeat "Jakomäkivalssi" and "Menuetti ja Tyttörinki" with its regal first half and kicking conclusion, and you've got one delightful all-instrumental disc.

    MeNaiset is an all-woman a cappella octet founded at the Folk Music Department of Finland's Sibelius Academy in 1992. On this debut album of 15 mostly traditional pieces, MeNaiset interprets the polyphonic singing of the Finno-Ugrian people from Finland, Estonia, and the Ingria region around the Russian city of St. Petersburg. The spirit and drive that exists on the Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares Bulgarian Women's Choir recordings is omnipresent here. "Emo Neuvoi," a song warning girls to not marry a bad husband, builds in power and dramatic delivery over its five-minute duration. Taken from a 1701 Psalm book, the religious song about awaiting death "Juur Hartaast" features an emotive solo verse by Pia Rask, followed by shimmeringly beautiful group harmonies. A wide range of material is used, from humorous songs to love songs to wedding songs, and arrangements run the gamut from stately to frenetic. Most of the singers are given a chance to solo: nine songs feature a lead vocalist fronting the other members who sing the chorus. You don't need to understand Finnish to enjoy this attention-grabbing, proud, robust recording loaded with vibrant harmonies. English summaries of the lyrics are provided.

    Available at CDRoots

    Skeaikit is the third album by the singing, harmonizing, yoiking, drum-pounding Angelin Tytöt, sisters Tuuni and Ursula Länsman from Finnish Samiland. Their mix of traditional yoiks and contemporary original material is absolutely intoxicating. They use Sami culture and folk music as the foundation of a sound that comes at you from many directions. At times their drumming and singing patterns recall Native American pow wow music, while other times the percussion arrangements feel distinctly Middle Eastern. Accompanied by two other musicians on keyboards, guitar, drums, and programming, the sisters supplement a few duet tracks (some a cappella) with other songs that feature an array of backing styles, such as the dreamy, rhythmic, synthesizer- laden "Gidda Beaivváš," and the spoken/sung/sampled seven-minute techno-beat "Guldnasaš" (about a reindeer). Add in the bouncy "Mouhtaalmmit" ("Snowflakes") that juxtaposes nasty rap vocals with sweet, melodic chorus singing and the jaunty, Värttinä-meets-the-Ramones-meets-folky-guitars of "Gouktelogiovcci" ("29"), and this becomes one of the most ear-opening - and best - discs of 1995. The booklet contains some English translations of the Sami lyrics. - Al Riess (Dirty Linen)


    The mandolin is not a Finnish instrument, but like the accordion, it has its proponents all over the world. In Finland there are many infamous players, from young fiddlers to the old mandolin masters like Heikki Lahti. THE HELSINKI MANDOLINERS (Olarin) are a trio who have made their mark all over the new Finnish folk scene, in bands like Aldargaz, JPP, Koinurit and Ottopasuuna. Here they take on jazz, bluegrass, swing and of course, their own folk music. There are no familiar covers here, just artful shots at folk tunes and original melodies. Just three mandolins and the occasional upright bass move this band through some lively, bright and clever sets of tunes, with tight, sometimes witty arrangements.


    N. Blad Then there is the voice of Nikolai Blad [Eino EICD-4], a master of Finno-Ugric blues. Here's a voice to rival the breaking notes of Michael Hurley or Robin Williamson, wrapped around a language as tough as the terrain, and accompanied by a guitar as funky as anything Mississippi has donated to the world. But, marvel of marvels, in the hands of producer Andrew Cronshaw, Blad becomes a real troubadour, almost a romantic. Behind him are the best of Finlands folk-avant scene, the eerie flute of Kristin Illmonen, bassist Tapani Varis (rapidly becoming as ever-present as Arto Järveläís fiddle), Minna Raskinen on kantele, and Maria Kalaniemi on accordion (in a nice contrast to Blads concertina). This really is an interesting turn in Finnish folk, the first time I've seen the scene revolve around someone as quirky as Nikolai Blad. He's a good songwriter, a challenging live performer, and I think he and Cronshaw have really managed to capture both the charm and edge of the music.


    MINNA RASKINEN has taken the national instrument of modern Finland, the kantele, and found a simple, powerful way to redefine the music. The kantele is a zither-like instrument, open strings plucked and stopped by both hands to attain both melody and chords. Revelations (Olarin) takes the instrument on a wonderful journey through ancient tradition and modern improvisational interpretation. These pieces are all solo works, but at times she has the ability to make you feel like they are duet or trio performances. From the raucous Iris "Jig" to the ethereal settings she has composed for poems by Kari Saviniemi, Raskinen has found a new voice for an old instrument, innovating both the instrument itself and the techniques she uses.


    ERIK HOKKANEN & LUMISUDET go further afield, driving into Kaustinen, Texas (Olarin) with border swing and jumping blues. He is joined by two of the Mandoliners, Arto J ärvel ä and Petri Hakala, alogn with the entire fiddle contingent from JPP on a bunch of songs. The Finns have managed to assimilate music as unlikely as tango into their "tradition" and here Hokkanen tackles just about everything else (waltzes, Tex-Mex and more) with wit and energy.


    My last trip to Kaustinen in 1994 yielded a DAT tape that I still treasure and listen to repeatedly. ME NAISET is a group of women who met at the Sibelius Music Academy. Their common interest in Finno-Urgic music and language led them to a series of a capella performances, and finally, this self titled album (Olarin). These ancient polyphonic songs, primarily from Ingria (now in Russia) are as rich and surprising as anything you have heard from Bulgaria, Russia or Tahiti.



    Arto Järvelä
    Polska Differente
    OArt CD1 (1994) Chances are, if you've heard anything from the Finnish folk revival, you've heard Arto Järvelä; he's in so many bands he once had to play 47 gigs in a single festival. From the family that put the "J" in JPP, Järvelä clearly received both the genes and the upbringing to make him a master musician. Polska Differente, his first solo album, confirms this fact once again. It highlights Järvelä's fiddle, nyckelharpa and mandolin playing, as well as his skills as a composer, songwriter and singer. It also teams him up with many other musicians, including Maria Kalaniemi, Janne Lappalainen, and other stars of the Finnish folk scene, to test his abilities as ensemble arranger and producer as well.

    Most of the tunes on Polska Differente were written by Järvelä, but some of the most beautiful are old traditional pieces. Two gorgeous wedding marches, "Lappfjärd Wedding March" and "Handshake March," are highlights of the album, full of tender, delicate beauty. The traditional tracks are treated with appropriate reverence by Järvelä and his guests. Järvelä's treatment of his own compositions blends the consummate traditional musicianship of JPP with the playful, irreverent side that comes out in Pinnin Pojat. A good example is Järvelä's self-penned tune "Bride's Polska #2." It's a beautiful tune, played straight by Järvelä on nyckelharpa, backed by Lappalainen on mandola. As it nears the middle sneaky percussive sounds from Kimmo Pohjonen's gogo marimba enliven the proceedings. Toward the end, playful harmony is added by Pemo Ojala on trumpet, an unusual but delightful touch. Järvelä's flirtation with bluegrass ("Trotting Race in Käpylä") and even disco ("Wäinö's Stork") manage to walk the line between serious musicianship and goofy good times to make Polska Differente a great listen full of both beauty and good humor. - - Steve Winick (Philadelphia, PA)



    VARIOUS ARTISTS
    Tulikulkku
    Folk Music Institute

    The folk music department at The Sibelius Academy in Helsinki is a model for both national musical pride and bold innovation. Under the leadership oif Heikki Laitinen from 1974 to 1984, and with his continued participation as a lecturer to this day, Sibelius includes as staff and alumni spome of Finlands most creative musicians. In honor of his 50th birthday, his students and comrades in music at the academy and the Finnish Folk Music Institute have put together a birthday tribute called Tulikulkku Here is the perfect introduction to what can really happen when folk music is turned loose as a living, growing force. Traditional a capella singing takes on new formes, Lappish joiking meets electronics and guitars, and traditional instruments are taken into the world of free- improvisation and new world art. If you have any doubt of how powerful a force folk music can be in the modern world, take a listen to the live "Mikonkatu," an absolutely stunning fusion of pre-historic sounds and contemporary force. Then get into tracks from Hedningarna, Niekku (with Arto Järvälä and Maria Kalaniemi) and the primitive Primo (is there a band Arto doesn't play in in Finland?).


    HEDNINGARNA
    Trä
    Silence / Sweden ; Northside / US

    On Trä (Which I am told is a word play on "three" and "wood") this Finnish/Swedish band has acheived yet another milestone on their quest for a new local music for Scandinavia. Their research into the ancient legends and music of their homes, their reconstruction of old instruments linked to their use of modern technology has put them in the forefront of new music. In one breath there are fiddles and lutes in an almost barogue setting, and then suddenly ancient harps are run through a mixmaster of electronics, voices are synthesized, bagpipes get fuzz boxes and ouds sound like the last dream of Jimmy Hendrix. When they play on stage they draw a crowd of young toughs and aging hippies, a testemant to the fact that they are making music that speaks not to modern pop culture's "generations" but to the universal soul and wit of their own culture. Trä is a testament to the strength of that local approach. All the trappings of pop are there, but none of the sell-outs. This is high energy rock music that sounds like nothing that could be made outside of Scandinavia.



    HEDNINGARNA
    Kaksi!
    Silence / Sweden ; Northside / US

    HEDNINGARNA take the ancient music of Sweden and turns it into an impressive folk-rock hybrid. Comparisons to Filarfolket, Mouth Music and even Peter Gabriel come to mind, but only in terms of approach, not sound. There are few new bands that seem to define their own genre, but this is one of them. Synthesizers and bagpipes mingle with processed vocals and keyed fiddles. African rhythms stir up a pot of Scandinavian dance steps, and not a single track on the album slips by unnoticed. Kaksi! (Silence, S- 670 41, Koppom, Sweden) is an experience unto itself, looking to the past while adamantly living in the future. NEW music...

    See also Hippjokk (1997)


    WIMME
    Rockadillo Records / Northside-US

    Our excursion is to the northern reaches of Scandinavia, to the land known as Lapland or Samiland. Here, a vocal form called yoiking gives the singer a personal freedom to create an almost visual representation of the people, places and things around her. There is a strict approach to structures and scales, but it is the improvisation, the personal nature of each yoik, that makes the music moving. WIMME will be known to some folks for his appearances with Hector Zazou, Hedningarna and the techno-jazz-joik band RinneRadio. He was not raised a singer, but rather learned the music during a stint at the Finnish Broadcasting Company, where he found tapes of his uncle and decided to pick up the family tradition. On Wimme (Rockadillo Records) he makes yoiks without compromise, and then adds musical ambiance and rhythms that never alter the original beauty of the singing. The accompaniments range from the simplest drones and woodwinds to elaborate, beautiful electro-acoustic landscapes, full of intensity and a clarity that never gets sullied by over- production.

    This is a special recording, not only for its unity and direction, but because it once again shows how an intense artist with a singular vision can create new music without delving into cliché; use the old ways without ever falling into the trap of either revivalism or obliteration.


    ANNA-KAISA LIEDES
    Kuuttaren Korut
    Olarin

    The Finns continue to explore and expand the music of their roots. If you found the instrumental approach of Maria Kalaniemi's new album on Green linnet exciting, then you should go the effort of getting this album. Singer Liedes has gone digging for old songs from Ostrobothnia, Karelia and Ingria, and with the help of folks like Kalaniemi and her band, has forged a new music that captures the old spirit and then expands it with Finnish folk, gipsy jazz, pygmy vocal percussions and Tanzanian pluck. Her voice is a joy, the arrangements sparse and edgy, the music both earthy and surreal. Once again, my belief is confirmed: only by knowing the deepest roots of her own culture can an artist hope to make truly creative "world music."


    NYPYKÄT
    Elämä On Sumfaraa
    Kanuunaralli
    Poko Records/Finland

    They call themselves "the kings of polkka" but that's like calling the Pogues the kings of ceili. This is a ten member rock and roll band with a bad attitude, a sense of humor, and a love of the old music of their country that comes out as sometimes respectful, but more often as sly parody or outright badgering. Electric guitars, fiddles, bass, drums and of course, accordion seem standard enough. On Elämä On Sumfaraa they add a bit more electronic keyboard that gives some of their best tunes, like the thumping, psuedo-reggae/polkka fusion "Anna Armoa" a pleasant, cheesy feeling. It also makes a spit-fire minute and a half send up of "My Sharona" come to life. Kanuunaralli definately has the edge for energy, with a slightly folkier feel that seems better suited to their particular brand of humor. The arrangements are a paste-up of changing rhythms and manaical turn-arounds. Nothing deep or intense here, Nypykät are high-octane folk pop fun.


    NIEKKU
    Niekku 3
    Olarin Music

    The five women who comprised Niekku were all former students of the country's only music "high school" and are now performers and teachers. They sing warm, gentle harmonies, play accordions, kantele (the lap harp), mandolins, bass and fiddle. The music they make on Niekku 3 (Olarin Music, Finland) is deceptive, in that the tones of all the instruments and voices are usually light and sweet, but at times the groupings of the harps and voices gets down-right furious, and once or twice it even gets a little skewed and bizarre. One tune weaves its way through music box-like melodies on the kantele, with the accordions eventually overwhelming them in discordant madness, and then drifts slowly back to the ground. It is this splendid use of old instruments and new ideas that typifies Niekku's approach to their music.


    Ottopasuuna Amigo Music

    Ottopasuuna have the "trad.arr." sound nailed down tight, with fiddles, bagpipes, accordions and mandolins pulling old tunes into new dimensions. There's lots of guts in this acoustic music, often sounding like modern European folk bands like Patrick Street or the Italian group Ritmia. The tunes are traditional Finnish folk, but the delivery is once again fresh, innovative and unfettered by any notion other than what's best for the music. A little more Celtic than a lot of Finnish folk groups, they still retain a local flavor that makes them unique to their own land. This quartet will be playing the Champlain Valley Festival in Vermont in July, so New Englanders should take special note.


    OHILYÖNTI
    Sandals On! Olarin

    You've visited your Uncle Patrel in Szegerely a few times and the charm is wearing off. The sights have become familiar and the food just isn't as exotic as you remember. Head north to Balatonia! This is the land of Ohilyönti, Finland's answer to the fez-busters. With as much an interest in rock and jazz as folk, they derive their ancient wisdom from this lost land, a place band member Pentti Rasinkangas wryly describes as "a promised land that has disappeared, even though everything was going so well." The personnel comes from many places; jazz, folk and what Pentti describes as ethno-bands. "We had a vague idea about what we should play, but soon we noticed that we had some old material, that sounded very strange and didn't have much in common with the music we had played earlier. At the time, people in Finland didn't know about 'world music' and ethno-music sounded very old, and we were playing new sounds. We continued to compose and arrange music, trying to forget everything we had heard and played before. We started to call our music Balatonian, and claimed we were the last members of the old Balatonian tribe."

    They reached into this mythical past for a rock-roots folk music that has roots in the gypsies of their sister country, Hungary and points further east. Pentti explains "Even though Finnish and Hungarian people today lead very separate lives, sometime we were relatives from the old times. If those people were alive today, they would play like Ohilyönti, that is, Balatonian music." Other influences Pentti notes include "Elvis, The Beatles, Irish folk music, Django Reinhardt, rockabilly and western swing." What comes of all this is highly original, thick in texture, colorful and joyous, and not just a little humorous. Mostly, it is all their own; fiddle, cimbalom, bass and electric guitar music driven by eastern percussion and carried on droll voices. Their latest album, Sandals On (Olarin) is driving, riotous fun that defies easy classification. "If everyone in the world played Balatonian music it would be very dull, " says Pentti. "But since we are the only one, no one can claim we play it in the wrong style."



    JPP
    Pirun Polska
    Olarin/Green Linnet

    The backbone of the new Finnish folk revival is probably Järvelän Pikkupelimannit, better and more easily know as JPP. This IS folk fiddling, four small bows, a bass and a pump organ playing traditional styles from all over Finland, and incorporating plenty of outside influences as well, especially Swedish and Celtic touches, but occasionally straying into modern settings. Since their inception in the early eighties, they have become the kings of the folk festivals, and toured Europe, carrying the music of Finland to a new audience. They have put together a ten year anniversary album, Pirun Polska (Olarin), re-recording some of their best known tunes as well as new material. It ranges from the very traditional fiddling to some interesting organ compositions that stretch them out a little. of course, they also include the obligatory, and somewhat curious "tango" of Finland, a unique aberration of the Argentine dance that seems to have swept over the entire country.


    ANGELIN TYTÖT
    Dolla
    Mipu Music

    Angelin Tytöt is a trio of women from one of the only Lapp villages in Finland. Joiking is their way of singing about the world around them, the natural and human life in the northern reaches of Europe. The similarity to North American Indian and Eskimo singing is striking, using close harmony and unison vocal lines augmented by frame drums and rattles. There is a joyous feeling, tempered by a certain tautness on their album Dolla (Mipu Music), that makes this music distinctive. The starkness of the melodies contrast sharply with the sweetness of the trio harmonies, giving it all a very unique feel. They also include a few songs accompanied by guitar, that may carry a good message, but lack the fire of the others, sounding a bit to "folky" (fifties style) for my taste. Fortunately they are few, and the other songs are rich and textural.


    ALMETJH TJÖÖNGHKEME
    Vajesh
    Joikbox/Sweden

    Which is not to say that a fusion of the new can't be handled by the music of the Saami people. Almetjh Tjöönghkeme is a rock fusion band from the region, and I am told that their songs deal with social and personal issues of life in the north. I don't undrstand the language, but the music speaks volumes of this. The best description might be "folk progressive," with a lot of synthesizers, heavy drums and electric guitar, and strong western rock influences. But threading through this is a sense of the folk music, in the melodies, the harmonies of the voices, and occasionally in the instrumentation. This is to Scandinavian music what Jethro Tull or Steeleye Span at their most orchestrated is to Celtic music. Vaajesh (Joikbox, Sweden) even features one or two genuine yoiks, and a few developed into pop songs.


    Kuulas Hetki
    Olarin Music

    Tanzanian marimba and Finnish folk fiddle in duet? That's one of the new folk fusions pressed onto Kuulas Hetki (Olarin, Box 20, SF-02211 Espoo, Finland/ Fax: 358-0-5063263), a set of music from members of the music department at The Sibelius Academy in Helsinki. Featured are well known artists like fiddler JPP's Arto Järvelä and accordion experimentalist Maria Kalaniemi along with students and faculty playing music from the most outside edge of folk to the staunchest ranks of tradition. At the core of the whole project is the stated goal of the academy, "To learn the old styles of playing and singing and to break through all the perceived limits to create the folk music of the future." Proof of this project's success lies in the song "Jokku 8" by Turkilla Prostitus. An amazing clash of traditional singing and an almost punk attitude is fought out on lyre, harmonica, drums and the incredible voice of Eila Kosonen. Solo fiddle, mandolin duets, accordion duels and a band of kantele harps each stretch the limits of tradition and find that elusive "future folk."



    HASSE WALLI AND ASAMAAN
    African Sky
    (Olarin) Just to prove the power and resilience of African music, I offer you HASSE WALLI AND ASAMAAN, a band dedicated to the music of Senegal based in Finland. This is rock solid, non-digital mbalax of the N'Dour school, well executed and unaffected. African Sky (Olarin) includes great drumming, good vocals, and plenty of guitars and horns to keep things moving. It ends with a slightly zany "Crazy Rap," that more than pays the price of admission. More local music for the world, from the world!...


    Senegal and Finland are usually not associated musically, but there is one band that spends its time between the two countries, making a rock-solid mbalax sound as popular in Africa as Europe. Finnish guitarist HASSE WALLI (founding member of the epic prog-rock band Piirpauke) and ASAMAAN have produced a number of albums of Senegalese pop, but their newest is surely their best. Two tracks from the album were big hits in the highly critical Senegal radio market, surely a critical coup for a band living on two continents. Teranga (Olarin) is great music in any language...



    SIRMAKKA
    Mipu Music Fiddles,accordions, bass, kantele harp, mandolins and voices; it's what you expect from a "folk" group from Finland. Excellent playing on a lively set of tunes and songs; also to be expected. But to have all this fall together in a group of teenagers? A bit unexpected, maybe, but the hearing is the key, and what you'll hear from Sirmakka will surprise you. Here is the next generation in the blossoming folk revival in Sweden, a group of twenty young musicians with a lot of energy and talent, playing traditional and original material from the northern region of Carelia. Formed in 1986 when most were the age of ten, they are now becoming a respected band, and now have their first album. While the group vocals may have a bit too much of the school choir sound for some tastes, the instrumentals are super, displaying not only talent, but sensibility and humor as well. "Variksentappolaulu" displays all of these components beautifully, a lively ensemble with little pretensions to flash. If this is the training ground for tomorrow's Finnish folk scene, we can expect a long, satisfying exploration.

    SLOBO HORO
    Mastika
    Rockadillo Here's an exploration of those shadowy connections between east and north that permeate the music of Finland. In grand Mustaphaline style (and with a little Les Negresses color), their horos, kolos, Macedonian and Turkish torch tunes take on a twisted aspect that makes the room ripe with the pungency of love and opium. Distorted electric guitars and darbuka fill the place with smoke, surly voices threaten unseen surprises, and the police must surely break in any minute. As the title track warns, "Live a life of cigarettes and liquor. Real life. Don't forget to buy sausages for your wife." Real life for real listeners!... (Visit the Slobo Horo home page!)

    ARJA KASTINEN
    Iro
    Mipu Music, Finland
    Another unique combination of new spirit and tradition is this extensive single piece for kantele, a 15 string harp that is considered one of the national instruments of Finland. Kastinen has taken an old story about a musician who, after the dancing was done, sat off by himself, making up music and casually playing his instrument until he mesmerized the others in the room. Her 55 minute improvisation is a similar wonder, roaming through ancient themes and contemporary ideas, letting her heart and hands wander through the ages as they cross the strings.


    Edward Vesala Sound and Fury
    Nordic Gallery
    ECM

    Here in the Nordic Gallery the defining words become obscured, things like jazz, folk, free-improv and such become beautifully blurred, carelessly smeared into new colors that the listener may feel familiar with, but will have no name for. Finnish percussionist Vesala and his Sound & Fury ensemble are free ranging wanderers with no set misssion and no obvious destination. The can bop hard, riff cool and explode in electric fury, and each of the twelve canvases here could very well be by different artists from different schools of tradition. They can speak of the Finnish countryside and people ("Birch Grove"), take the national dance craze of the tango and twist it into a delicious, tender-hearted spoof. They can just as quickly turn to modern clasical modes on "The Quay Of Meditative Future" and then burst the seams of progressive rock pretension on "Lavander Lass Blossom." Vesala is no pretender to the jazz throne. He is far too much of an iconoclast for that. His nerve and individuality have long kept him in the outer reaches of popularity, but have also kept him at the top of the critical cosmos. He should have both.


    Some record label addresses.


    Some titles are available in the US from
    Mabel's Music.
    Digelius, Laivurinrinne 2, 00120 Helsinki, Finland
    Folk Music Institute, SF-69600 Kaustinen, Finland
    Mipu Music, Lusila, 03100 Nummela, Finland
    Olarin Musikki Oy, PL 20, 02211 Espoo, Finland
    MNW, PO 271, S-185 23 Vaxholm, Sweden/ fax:46-85-413-0060
    Rockadillo Records, Keskustori 7 A 11, FIN-33100, Tampere, Finland / email: zenmaster@rock.pp.fi)

    Many Finnish recordings are available from cdRoots Back to the top

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