Something new from something old
by Mika Kauhanen :: 2005
Karelian and Lapp traditions are not stuck in the past. Music has provided a new incentive for keeping alive the formerly threatened minority languages and ancient cultures.
In the 19th century, collectors of folklore, composers and painters began a reconstruction of the Finnish nation's ancient history from the lands of Karelia. To legitimise the Finnish bid for independence, there needed to be an age-old heritage on which to build our oldest traditions and culture, i.e. singers of runes in the Kalevala metre and kantele players picking out tunes on the same scales.
The early rune singing tradition also thrived at one time in Western Finland, but it is in Karelia that it kept around longest and in its predominant form – right up to the start of the 19th century, in fact. And even now it is not completely a museum piece: Finns still often know the lullabies in the Kalevala metre, even if they are unaware of it. A later type of folk song, whose strophic form and rhymes had been learnt in Scandinavia and Western Europe, did not interest collectors in the same way, although in practice it had displaced the older singing style in many areas.
Fortunately, a later cultural stratum of Karelian sleigh songs (tšastuška) and narrative Karelian songs were recorded in the form of musical scores, which serve as inspiration for the only Finnish group that sings in the Karelian language, Burlakat
. The band aims to revive border-Karelian songs by reworking them in unconventional arrangements. Their big hits, such as 'Tšiganaizet' and 'Ruskei neicüt', receive a treatment that explores completely new horizons in terms of harmony and vocal part arrangements. The members of Burlakat also compose musical interludes, riffs and even new verses, especially when a few bars of the original folk song are all that is handed down to later generations.
With the lyrics, the group sticks to the traditional text. Burlakat performs border-Karelian songs in two Karelian dialects, Karelian Proper and Olonets (or Livvi). Although on the Finnish side of the border there are only a few Karelian artists and hardly any for whom Karelian would be their main language, the singer with Burlakat learnt Karelian at home. Johanna Koukkunen's
parents are from the part of Karelia that was ceded to the USSR Soviet; her father is from Suojärvi and her mother from Impilahti.
Burlakat have released two albums: 'Tšastuška' (1999) and 'Magie' (2003). The latter has also been released in Germany.
|Informed by the folk music tradition|
The powerhouse behind Burlakat is Pauliina Lerche, who has also carved a solo career. Lerche writes her own melodies and performs a good deal of instrumental music, especially quadrilles: "All the numbers I perform are original, though inspired by Karelian dance and kantele tunes. They are mainly from the region of Karelia that was lost, or from Eastern Karelia."
Although the quadrilles that were danced in manor houses and in society eventually spread around Europe, becoming transformed into national dances, there is something unique about the Karelian quadrille.
"It is strongly influenced by the east – the Russian dance tradition – and the enticements played on the kantele have become accordion music to accompany the quadrille,"says Lerche, who is a virtuoso performer of her own quadrilles on the free-bass button accordion.
Any credible performance of folk music also requires the performer to wear the right clothes. Lerche's concert audiences have come to admire the Karelian peasant feresi costume, and the clothes her mother has made with their tinsel and pearl embroidery on Karelian themes. Lerche's wardrobe is substantial, with four feresis and traditional Karelian footwear, a pair of "tsupikkaat"
and one of "kurpposet". The clatter of these dance shoes is also recorded on disc.
But for a follower of tradition and someone who has been accompanying folk dance groups now for 15 years, Lerche's views are pretty broad, and her first solo disc, 'Katrilli' (2002), also features Indian musicians, electric guitar and programmed drum loops.
In contrast to the lively quadrilles, multi-instrumentalist Lerche is inspired by gentle 15-string kantele melodies, which Karelian players of folk music have improvised for centuries in imitation of the decorative sound of the bells of Orthodox churches. And she can actually sing in the north Karelian dialect. Lerche says her texts are often half traditional or at least reminiscent of the tradition Kalevala-type song.
Pauliina Lerche was also a member of the band Värttinä
when it first started out. A group of young girls barely of school age performed national runes, sometimes with kantele accompaniment, and eventually became Finland's best-known modern folk music band. Värttinä, who hail from the village of Rääkkylä, performed a lot of Karelian folk songs in the North Karelian dialect, but after the first couple of albums the band shrunk in size and started playing more of their own compositions with original words. There were still borrowings from folk music, but in the new Värttinä they tended to come from Ingria and Setumaa (in Estonia). Excellent examples of this are the pieces 'Liigua' and 'Aitara', which owe much to traditional Finno-Ugric female choirs. The Kalevala-style song is nevertheless an important influence on Värttinä's alliterative lyrics.
That is even more obvious in the work of Tellu Turkka
and Liisa Matveinen
, who are two of the major figures in the modernist revival of the Finnish rune song tradition. Tellu Turkka's solo album 'Suden aika' (Time of the Wolf, 1996) featured not only rune melodies but laments. Three years later Turkka recorded with Liisa Matveinen a disc of tunes collected by the 18th century-born, legendary Mateli Kuivalatar
. The collaboration between Turkka and Matveinen has continued in the Suden Aika
quartet, in which the rune singing tradition is complemented more and more by modern compositions and a more daring use of the human voice.
|The Lappish yoik|
The musical traditions of Karelia and Lapland differ quite considerably. The one exception is the yoik of Viena Karelia, an area located between their geographical regions. The yoik is a musical form that shows influence from both regions.
Lapland's original inhabitants, the Sámi, constitute a culturally independent group who have traditionally derived their livelihood from hunting and fishing, and later from reindeer husbandry. The Sámi, who dwell in the northern areas of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia, speak a total of ten Sámi (Lappish) languages, roughly divided into Western and Eastern Sámi.
By far the greatest number of Sámi, some 30,000, speak Northern Sámi, which belongs to the Western Sámi group, which is also the main language used by the Finnish Lapps. In Finland, in addition to the 2,000 or so users of Northern Sámi, there are also a few hundred speakers of Inari Sámi and Koltta Sámi, which belong to the Eastern Sámi language group.
According to the worldwide study of regional song made by ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax,
the yoik, which is a type of music that has developed independently among the Lapps, is closer to the music of the Indians of North America than Finnish or Scandinavian folk music.
The yoik is unaccompanied chanting, in which the performer repeats and varies short melodic phrases, sometimes incorporating a gentle murmuring sound, varying the timbre resonating expressively in the throat and sliding from one note to the next. When we speak generally about the yoik, we are normally referring to the ‘luohti’, whose melodies are based – as is often the case with primitive peoples – on the pentatonic scale. The lyrics are about very everyday matters – reindeer, fells and mountains. People even have yoiks dedicated to them describing them physically and highlighting their character. The yoik is by nature personal and local.
Sámi languages and culture have not always been cherished in Finland, although nowadays, fortunately, Sámi has the status of an official minority language. The policy of assimilation practised by the Finnish state in the 1950s and 60s gave rise to the Sámi movement, and an album of yoiks by Nils-Aslak Valkeapää
which appeared in 1968, was an excellent symbolic gesture for those who spoke for the Sámi language and culture. Now dead, Valkeapää is by far Finland's best known Sámi musician, who was not merely content with reviving the yoik tradition but developed daring innovative musical forms working with various musicians, including Seppo Paakkunainen
. One of the finest works that documents their collaboration is the yoik symphony 'Sámi luondu, gollerisku' (1992).
For the new Millennium the yoik has been updated by the Angelit
(Girls of Angeli), who come from the village of Angeli, in Lapland, Ulla Pirttijärvi
, who left that band to pursue a solo career, and Wimme Saari
. The archaic musical world of the yoik is combined with synthetic sounds and the trendy beat of club music, forming an intriguing and timeless audio landscape.
Wimme Saari did not embrace the yoik tradition until he was in his adult years. During the 80s he was working at Yleisradio (Finnish Broadcasting Company) when he heard radio archive recordings of yoiks by his own uncle – the tradition was thus passed on, albeit via a recording! Traditional yoiks were hard, however, to combine with modern accompaniments, and Wimme Saari had to evolve a new style, the ‘free yoik’, which he exploited in his collaborations with the techno-jazz group, RinneRadio
His family in Enontekiö liked his new style and soon Saari had formed his own band Wimme
, with Jari Kokkonen
on synthesiser and programming and Matti Wallenius
on stringed instruments. On his latest album, 'Gapmu' (2003), Wimme Saari returns to his roots and performs alone with no accompaniment. On the album's 34 tracks he sings yoik in the tradional luohti style, touching on various subjects, including reindeer, the wind, morning coffee, and making holes in the ice!
Saying it in Sámi
Very recently Sámi youth have had their very own Sámi-singing pop idols. That is of course one of the safest guarantees that the Sámi language will not die out. Twenty-year old Mikkal Morottaja
a.k.a. MC Amoc
performs rap and hip hop in Inari Sámi, and 22-year old Tiina Sanila
has released the first ever rock album in Koltta Sámi.
The ghettos of New York and the frozen fells of Lapland might not have a lot in common, but MTV's favourite child, hip hop, has also arrived in Inari. A few years ago, not many would have understood MC Amoc's Inari Sámi flow, as only a handful of young people spoke the language. The situation has changed, however, thanks to the rapper's father Matti Morottaja
, who in 1997 founded a day-care group for Sámi children, where the leaders only speak in Sámi to them. The son too has, through his own example, raised the status of Inari Sámi in the eyes of the youth, although much of his audience comes from Norway, the country where most of the Sámi population lives (around 40, 000).
Tiina Sanila comes from the hamlet of Sevettijärvi in the municipality of Inari, but it is a journey of 140 kilometres to the main village. The Orthodox Koltta Sámi of Petsamo were evacuated to Sevettijärvi during the war, and it is there that the largest community of Koltta Sámi is still found. Sanila's debut album, 'Sää’mjânnam rocks!', appeared in June 2005. The songstress embraces the Koltta Sámi tradition not only in terms of the language she sings in but also the clothes she wears, although she has made tiny modifications to the traditional dress of course – purely in the interests of rock n' roll. Times have changed: Sanila no longer sings about reindeer and fells, but human relationships, girls and boys, and in a very outspoken way.
Translation © Spencer Allman
The Karelian language is often taken to be one of the eastern Finnish dialects, but it is in fact a totally different language. In the Second World War, Finland lost areas of Karelia where Karelian was commonly spoken to the Soviet Union. The language was most alive in the countryside and among those of the Orthodox faith, especially north of Lake Ladoga, in Ilomantsi, Suojärvi and Suistamo, whereas on the Karelian Isthmus around Vyborg it was already dying out by the 1940s. There are approximately 100, 000 Karelian speakers in the Republic of Karelia and Tver oblast in present-day Russia. The evacuees and their descendents that fled from old areas of Finland during the War mainly speak Finnish. Recently, interest in the language has clearly grown, and courses in Karelian have been organised in different parts of Finland. Estimates of numbers of people living in Finland who speak or understand the language vary between 4, 000 and 12, 000.
|Suden aika: Etsijä (Searcher) (2004). Alba NCD 24, Laika Germany 3510193.2|
|Burlakat: Magie (2003). Pilfink JJVCD-13, Humppa Germany 026.|
|Tallari: Runolaulutanssit (Rune song dances’) (2003). Folk Music Institute KICD 80.|
|Pauliina Lerche: Katrilli (2002). RUOCD 102.|
|Värttinä: Ilmatar (2000). Wicklow/BMG 09026-63678-2, Frea Benelux MWCD 4033, Intuition Germany INT 3307, Resistencia Spain RESCD 114, NorthSide USA NSD 6054, MCD Brazil MCD 093.|
|The Tradition of Kantele Vol. 1–3 (recorded 1957–1993). Finlandia Innovator Series.|
|Kalevala Heritage. Archive recordings of ancient Finnish songs from 1905–1967.|
Ondine ODE 849-2.
|The Finnish Lullaby. Field recordings by Erkki Ala-Könni from 1954–1975 of traditional Karelian lullabies. Folk Music Institute KICD 35.|
|Wimme Saari: Gapmu (2003). Rockadillo ZENCD 2079, Northside USA NSD 6074.|
|Wimme: Bárru (2003). Rockadillo ZENCD 2081, Westpark Germany 87095, Northside USA NSD 6074.|
|Ulla Pirttijärvi: Máttarahku Askái (In Our Foremothers' Arms) (2002). Finlandia Innovators 0927-44256-2.|
|Girls of Angeli: The New Voice of North (1997, compilation). Finlandia Innovators 0630-18063-2.|
|Nils-Aslak Valkeapää: Sámi luondu, gollerisku (Yoik Symphony) (1992). With Paakkunainen, Baer, Karelia, Estonian Studio Orchestra. DATCD 11.|
Pauliina Lerche: pauliinalerche.com
Wimme Saari: Marja Konttinen
Text originally published in Finnish Music Quarterly 3/2005.