Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Finnish It Up!: Värttinä and "Päivän Nousu Nostajani"



Do you ever have those time stopping moments when you are listening to music? I can honestly say that Värttinä provided me with one of those times. Megan and I were driving back to our home in San Antonio from a Lyle Lovett/Robert Earl Keen concert at Floore's Country Store in Helotes, Texas in the late 1990s. The radio was on, playing San Antonio public radio's version of a local world music show. Interstate 10 was busy as usual, despite the hour, and the music was nothing that was catching my ear (of course I didn't have a good ear for world music then). Suddenly, a riotous song that sounded like it was teetering between music and cacophony came on the radio. After a moment of "what the hell is this?" I began listening more carefully. It sounded almost Irish, but it definitely had an eastern flavor to it. I couldn't make out what instruments were being used - maybe an electric fiddle along with some crashing percussion. And the voices! Female voices singing in some language that I couldn't identify. And, it was amazing. It was one of those songs that had little elements that surprised you - where you expected something to happen something else did. It made sense and it didn't. And I loved it! It was one of those songs that I didn't want to end, and it did about four minutes after it started. I waited with baited breath to hear what the song was on the radio and when I didn't hear it, I called the radio station to find out what they had played. They couldn't quite tell but with about five songs that they gave me that they played roughly around the time I heard the song I managed to narrow it down to Värttinä's song Vihma. I immediately bought the album - it was my first non-Irish purchase of world music. Their album Vihma was just as fascinating and it was an album that almost ruined Värttinä for me, because I loved it so much other songs from other albums didn't seem the same. Vihma is still the only album by Värttinä I own, as if I am afraid to sully that moment by getting their other works.

Värttinä is a Finnish folk group founded in 1983 by sisters Sari and Mari Kaasinen, who had performed together reading poetry in the 1970s. In 1983, the sisters formed Värttinä and entered a youth arts contest with their poetry reading. They made it into the finals that first year, and the next year changed to singing and won the event. They brought on some male members in 1985 and entered the Kaustinen Folk Music Festival, becoming known as the group that sings high and loud. Many children in their hometown were now eager to join the band, and finally Värttinä had to establish a new group for the youngest children to join. In 1987, at the Kaustinen Folk Music Festival, they were chosen "Ensemble of the Year," and in 1988 they released their first album. In the early 1990s, they moved to Helsinki and began training at the Sibelius Academy and perfecting their skills. The band first performed traditional Finnish folk songs, but in the mid-1990s began playing its own original compositions. Over the years the band has had many forms and lineup changes, and is currently made up of three female vocalists and three acoustic musicians. They have performed worldwide to international acclaim and have released 14 albums, including 3 compilation albums and one live CD. This song, Päivän Nousu Nostajani, is from my favorite, their 1998 CD Vihma. The lyrics, hauntingly vocalized, are from the point of view of a traveling musician