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Emmi Kujanpää

Nordic Notes
Review by Chris Nickson

Finnish singer and composer Kujanpää has a deep, long-standing love of Bulgarian music. She studied in Plovdiv and at home she assembled the group Finno-Balkan Voices, which takes from the tradition of both countries. Three years ago she began working with La Mystère des Voix Bulgares Vocal Academy, the successor to those Bulgarian choirs whose beautiful polyphony was so thrilling and new to Western ears in the 1980s and ‘90s. They pop up all across this first solo disc from Kujanpää, backing and adding to her singing. Other guest contribute trumpet, harmonium, and even a touch of throat singing, on the (mostly) original compositions.

Ranging from the lush fullness of the aching, longing voices on the opening track “Ogrejalo Slantse – Vuota Vuota” (video below) that envelops the listener, to the manic “Sirkus Savonia,” which at times seems more like a battle between voice and trumpet, instead of a duet – and the switch to a Russia rhythm partway through is baffling. It’s impressive, although not perfect; “Celestia” feels curiously lightweight, and the throat singing on “Laulajan Loitsu – Singer’s Spell” seems like overegging the pudding.

Yet there’s definitely plenty to love here (even if a trained Bulgarian singer who’s sent her life steeped in the folk tradition was less overwhelmed). For those of us who aren’t as knowledgeable, it’s a record that offer many layers of beauty. The traditional “Kuutar – The Goddess Of The Moon,” for instance, has the stately reverence of something that’s being sung for the ages instead of the moment, with the kind of glowing harmonies that raise goosebumps (and is one of two traditional pieces here). The title track floats, once again cushioned by all those exquisite voices, and “Milenka,” where Kujanpää soars over harmonium and ragged trumpet, is nothing less than thrilling. It’s taken Kujanpää a long time to release her first solo record, but it’s worth the wait. – Chris Nickson

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