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Pekka Lehti
Marty Lipp talks with Finland's bass man

Although Pekka Lehti plays bass with Värttinä, which bases its songs on Finnish traditional music, Lehti acknowledges that the bass is not a long-standing part that tradition.

"It was always the driver who played bass. [People said that] if you got a driver's license, they gave you a bass," he said with a laugh. "It was more important to drive the car than play..."

photo: Vertti Teräsvuori

His instrument may not be as traditional as the zither-like kantele, the accordion or the violin, but Lehti has listened to traditional music literally since he was born. That is because, he said, his mother sang lullabies with melodies from Karelia, the area that now straddles the Finnish-Russian border.

Lehti has been with Värttinä for 10 years, though the band's history stretches back farther than that. It began, he said, when several of the members would get together and read Karelian poetry. Although the internationally known band has increasingly created its own songs, Lehti said, "It's really important for us to have roots deep in Finnish music and culture."

"Vainajalan tango"
(w/ Alakotila)
In contrast to his playing in such a large ensemble, Lehti recently released, Outo Voima (Aito Records), an album of duets with various Nordic musicians. Describing the album as "really really intimate," he said, "I wanted a record where I can take the feeling of when two people are meeting." On many of the cuts, Lehti packed up his bass and went to people's homes to record, for example, playing with Sami joikker Wimme in his "red cottage in Karelia."

"It was really important to go to people's home to record and get that pure feeling of meeting."

photo: Kari Sarkkinen

In addition to two tracks with Wimme, Lehti recorded tracks with singer Sanna Kurki-Suonio (who sang with Hedningarna), as well as with JPP's violinist Arto Järvelä and harmonium player Timo Alakotila.


Lehti also plays with the more-experimental group ZetaBoo with the other half of Värttinä's rhythm section, percussionist Marko Timonen, as well as Anna-Mari Kähärä on wordless vocals and accordion, and Jarmo Saari on guitars and keyboards. Their latest album is MediZine on Aito Records.

"Here we use influences from different cultures and there is quite a lot of improvisation and jazz influences. We use it as a laboratory. We try things here and then we can use them in Värttinä."

With all these outlets, it is not surprising that Lehti said he is particularly interested in getting various sounds out of his bass, whether that means plucking it or playing it with a bow or even smacking it with a drum stick. "I am always trying to play it in a different way. I try to find different sounds, like whales or seagulls."

But he said he can only venture into these new experimental territories with his feet firmly planted on the soil of Finnish tradition. He speculated that the move to a single European Union has spurred many artists in smaller countries, such as Finland, to reexamine and appreciate their own cultural heritage.

"People have strength in their own national identity, but it's different from nationalism...and putting up walls. It's important to know where you come from, so you know where you are going better."

All audio © 2001 Aito Music

Pekka Lehti and ZetaBoo CDs are available from cdRoots

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