Värttinä

Värttinä (Finnish for spindle) is a Finnish folk music band which was started as a project by Sari and Mari Kaasinen back in 1983 in the village of Rääkkylä, in Karelia, the southeastern region of that country. In Ilmatar’s Inspirations: Nationalization, Globalization, and the Changing Soundscapes of Finnish Folk Music, our reviewer notes that author ‘devotes a chapter to the band Värttinä. Despite having roots in Karelia and embracing the same song styles that shaped the Kalevala, Värttinä are based in Helsinki, and many of its past and present members have studied at the Sibelius Academy. In addition, Värttinä’s sound is shaped by multiple influences from outside Finland, including Balkan folk music, jazz, and rock. Still, the band presents itself, and is seen by the public, as a purveyor of specifically Finnish music. Värttinä founder Sari Kaasinen, in an interview with Ramnarine [the author], rejects the notion of folk music as something constant: “That is how folk music lives, it changes, it goes forward with people, it changes with people.” A significant political element in Värttinä’s music comes from their reinterpretation of traditional folk song themes in a way that empowers women and challenges traditional gender roles.’

So like so much of contemporary Nordic music, Värttinä is not really a traditional group even if they use traditional material. Be it their first album way back in 1987 or their latest, Utu, they are always worth hearing.

But I’m here not to talk about their recordings, as that’s for another time. Let me direct your attention to the hat trick of interviews that Scott Gianelli did with them, three over, with the newest just done. He started out back in 2003 with their singer, Mari Kaasinen. Scott says that ‘Mari talks a little bit about the history of Värttinä, culminating with the recent release of their tenth album, Iki, and some of the influences which have shaped the band’s output over the years. She also explains the meaning of the album title, and describes a couple of her own songwriting contributions to the album; “Syylinen Syli (Faithless Arms)” originated as a choral piece, and “Nahkarouska (Leather Whip)” tells the tale of a wife who takes a rather aggressive stand against her husband’s philandering. Finally, Mari talks about the new contributors to Värttinä’s music, and tries to explain how the band has successfully endured through all the personnel changes in its history.’

The next interview in February three years later was because Värttinä composed the music for the live version of The Lord of the Rings.He interviewed Janne Lappalainen who plays wind instruments and the bouzouki, and who has been a part of Värttinä since the very beginning. It’s an interesting look at both the music for the live version of The Lord of the Rings and the process of composing, producing, and recording an album while doing so!

Finally he finishes off by interviewing Matti Kallio, who not only is a fine musician but also is the their primary composer and produces their recordings. This interview is particularly interesting as Matti talks in part about his adopted Icelandic home!

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