Saturday, July 26, 2014


In Finland, the older folk music form is based on the ancient poem collection called the Kalevala. The form consists of a type of chanting or “poem singing,” which is centered around a trochaic (one long stressed syllable followed by a short unstressed syllable) tetrameter (the first five notes of a scale). The lyrics are alliterative and sung about heroes. These songs were not written down; the singers performed these from memory, either as a solo or with a chorus.

Pelimanni is a type of tonal Nordic folk dance music that was also performed in Finland. Generally, pelimanni relied on the fiddle, clarinet, harmonium (a type of reed organ), and accordions. The polska, polka, mazurka, schottische, quadrille, waltz, and minuet all use the pelimanni style. There is also a type of rhyming sleigh song called rekilaulu that regained popularity in the 1920s, much to the chagrin to the church (although I’m not sure why).

Finnish dance was influenced by dances from France and Poland as well as others from Germany and surrounding countries. The oldest dances were the minuet and the polska. These could be danced by couples or modified as a circle or chain dance. Quadrilles (more or less a French-adopted English country dance) also made their way to Finland. Even though these dances originated from other areas of Europe, Finland adopted them and made them their own. Purpuri are long ceremonial dances, which are actually made up of several smaller dances, especially the ones listed above. Essentially, there are three different areas of Finland, all with their own variations and folk dances: the Swedish-speaking areas in the east (closest to Sweden), Karelia (the area in the southeast near the Russian border), and the rest of Finland. The 1970s saw a boom in the interest in folk dancing, which waned in the 1980s. But it’s common for people to go through these waves of attention to it.

The Sami (also called Laplanders) are an indigenous group that lives in the northern part of Finland. (Actress Renée Zellweger’s mother has Kven [Finnish peasants who relocated to Sweden] and Sami in her ancestry). One of the well-known styles of Sami music is their spiritual songs called joik. At times, it can be similar to Native American music. Hip-hop artist Amoc is known for rapping in the Inari Sami language, which is spoken around the town of Inari. I’ve listened to most of his album Kaccâm. I really like it. He makes good use of strings in the accompaniment. It’s pretty catchy.

Helsinki and Turku were the cultural hotspots of Finland during the 1800s. A German composer Fredrik Pacius wrote the national anthem (“Vårt land/Maamme”) as well as the first Finnish opera. Jean Sibelius – one of my favorite composers – wrote one of his most famous symphonic poems, Finlandia, which played an important role in the fight for independence. It was rewritten with added lyrics, making it an important national hymn. It actually had to go by different names to keep it from being censored by the Russian government during occupation. The classical music scene in Finland was quite substantial. Many notable composers, musicians, and singers came out of this tradition. Opera has especially been a forte in the 20th century.

Rock arrived in Finland in the 1950s, and punk rock followed about 25 years later. One of the early rock bands that had the most influence is Hanoi Rocks. I listened to the album Up Around the Bend: The Definitive Collection.  Their sound shifts from 1980s hair band to 1980s punk rock. They influenced other glam rock bands such as Def Leppard, Poison, Mötley Crüe, and Guns N’ Roses. They were active from 1979-1985, and again from 2002-2009.

One rock band I found is The Rasmus.  Their music sounds a little like Linkin Park (minus the rap, just the rock). I kind of like them, too. And they sing in English. Another rock band I came across is Indica. This band’s lead singer is a female, and they sing in Finnish. Maybe it’s the tambourine that occasionally comes out, but it sounds like a little happier rock, I think. Anna Eriksson’s album Kaikista Kasvoista is pretty good. It has more of a pop-rock feel to it.

The band Apocalyptica is categorized as “cello metal.” This is a new term for me. (I’m wondering why there isn’t a French horn metal yet. I should make this happen.) But apparently, this is basically metal with a strong cello (and occasionally other string instruments) section. I kind of like it. I know I’ve talked smack about metal before, but it’s slowly growing on me. Of course, it’s growing on me at the speed of a glacial retreat, but still.  One heavy metal band I listened to is Amorphis.  Even though they span various styles of metal, they use sections of the Kalevala as inspiration for their lyrics. I’ve always had a problem with what’s called “growling vocals” or “death growl” in metal music, but apparently there are vocal techniques you can use to not totally blow out your vocal chords. (I once had a composition professor who did that.) And this technique goes back to the Viking days. Who knew?

My cousin introduced me to the band Korpiklaani, a folk-metal band. I wasn’t so impressed with one of the folk-metal bands I listened to when I was doing Estonia, but I like this band. They have a hard skateboard punk beat to some of their songs, although a lot of their songs makes me think of Gogol Bordello tripping on acid. I liked the album Manala that I listened to. (It's available through iTunes for $11.99.) They certainly changed my mind about folk-metal.

Finnish musicians aren’t just about rock and metal. There is a small hip-hop culture as well. One rapper I came across that I like is Amoc, who I mentioned earlier. He uses strings and mixes a jazz-blues-soul-funk with standard hip-hop behind his music. And as I mentioned, one of the things that make him different is that he doesn’t rap in Finnish, but in Inari Sami, the Sami variety that is spoken near the town of Inari. He’s pretty good. I listened to the album Kaccâm and was fairly impressed. It’s also available on iTunes for $9.90.

Finland also has their fair share of trance, techno, and electronica DJs. One of my favorites is Darude.  I loved the song “Sandstorm.” I’m also a huge trance and techno fan, so of course the album Before the Storm (where this song is from) piqued by interest. To me, this is the perfect album and perfect kind of music to work to. I also listened to JS16’s Stomping System album. I think I liked most of the songs on this album. A couple of the songs were used in the video game, Dance Dance Revolution. JS16 is also a produced; he produced Darude’s hits “Sandstorm” and “Feel the Beat.”

Up next: the food

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