New and exciting folk music
by Pirkko Kotirinta :: 2008
Over the past 20 years, new Finnish folk music has made quite a reputation for itself abroad: many people not only know Värttinä but also recognize names such as Maria Kalaniemi, JPP and Kimmo Pohjonen. It is a matter of some debate whether Pohjonen can actually be classed into the folk music genre, as he has virtually created a musical genre of his own. However, he is one of dozens of musicians who have studied at the Department of Folk Music at the Sibelius Academy, launched in 1983 to inspire new creativity stemming from old tradition. All of the musicians and ensembles named above — and countless younger ones — have their roots in this department.
© Juha Reunanen
|It is no exaggeration to call the Sibelius Academy the prime motivator in new Finnish folk music. The most recent example of its influence is Sväng, a band playing a wholly irresistible blend of old and new harmonica music. Sväng is well on the way to international success, and will be releasing its second disc in early 2008.|
Of course, the new and exciting things that have emerged in the sphere of folk music through academic training have not just appeared out of nowhere. Finland is located at an interesting juncture of traditions, a meeting of East and West. The East is present in the ancient culture of 'runo'
singing, the tradition of the 'Kalevala', Finland's national epic. The West may be found in the fiddler tradition and the rhymed stanzaic folk songs. Then there is the musical tradition of the North, the 'yoik'
of Lapland, which is a chapter completely unto itself, being more connected with the Arctic cultures of Siberia than other Finnish traditions. The Roma people of Finland also have their own, powerful song tradition, which has also lent its flavour to some new Finnish folk music.
We may thus say that Finnish folk tradition is multicultural in its way, even though multiculturalism is by no means an apparent feature of Finnish society today: immigrants account for only about 2% of the entire population.
A few pioneering key musicians explored foreign cultures as far back as in the 1970s and 1980s, above all Sakari Kukko
with his band Piirpauke
and Hasse Walli
Some of the Senegalese musicians of the latter stayed in Finland and today play Western African music in a band called Galaxy,
which won the prestigious Suomi Prize in 2005. One year earlier, the prize had been awarded to Värttinä. Karelia
, a band headed by jazz musician Seppo ‘Baron’ Paakkunainen
, was also an early player in the genre of world music.
Beyond the Helsinki Metropolitan Area, the focus of Finnish folk music is Kaustinen, whose annual folk music festival has been going since 1968 and is today the largest of its kind in the Nordic countries. Kaustinen is also home, among numerous other bands, to Finland’s only professional folk music ensemble, Tallari.
Translation © Jaakko Mäntyjärvi