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Written in Folk Roots issue 123, 1993

VARIOUS ARTISTS - Ensembles & soloists of the Folk Music Department of Sibelius Academy, Helsinki
Kuulas Hetki

Olarin Musiikki OMCD 46 (1993)

Setu Songs

Mipu MIPUCD 104 (1992)

The folk music department in existence for just 10 years at Finland's main music institution isn't the dry, academic, straightjacketing thing that a person conditioned by music schools might expect; in fact, it's probably unique in what it does. To quote its founder and leading spirit Heikki Laitinen, "The most important goals were to learn the old styles of playing and singing and to break through all perceived limits to create the folk music of the future." In other words, to create an avant-garde with roots gained by very intensive experience in regional traditional techniques. Most folk music institutions collect and study; few if any have such an emphasis on the actual creating of music and such a goal, far in advance of mere "revival".
The course lasts about 6 years, and at present there are about 60 students and 50 or so teachers involved - the line between them is blurred, no-one ever seems to really leave; they go off to perform or study a tradition, and come back to teach or learn some more.
     The CD Kuulas Hetki contains 15 tracks recorded at the newly-rehoused department by Janne Viksten. Tellu Paulasto of Hedningarna plays two Ostrobothnian polkas on fiddle; Maria Kalaniemi duets on 5 row accordion with Maija Karhinen on 1-row, and also plays free-bass accordion with Olli Varis on guitar; Arto Järvelä, of Salamakannel, JPP, Ampron Prunni and much else, plays nyckelharpa and sings with Pinnin Pojat partner Kimmo Pohjonen's mbira and vocals on a Tanzanian-inspired piece, and also joins Koinurit colleague Olli Varis and Petri Hakala in a mandolin trio schottische; Pohjonen gives a solo Swedish polska on harmonica; the revamped Pirnales, Uusi Pirnales, contributes "straight-ahead dance music"; Anna-Kaisa Liedes (of the late Niekku, as is Maria Kalaniemi) and Minna Raskinen appear in the vocal ensemble for a game song from Setumaa. There's a goat's horn solo from Virpi Forsberg; a Martti Pokela kantele piece played by Arja Kastinen; two items featuring Outi Pulkkinen's jouhikko, one with the group Turkilla Prostitus and some promising wildness and the other the album's title track for jouhikko and harmonium; a tune from Henan on san-xian played by the department's Chinese student, Tan Longjian, and a two part composition for voices and kanteles by Timo Väänänen.
     There's nowhere else doing what the Department does; and what are evolving are forms of music not found anywhere else, not bound by the restrictions of commerciality, the folk, rock, jazz, classical or any other scene. It's still early; there's much more to come, but on the evidence of this CD Laitinen's vision is becoming reality.

     The Setu people come from the SE corner of Estonia, on its borders with Latvia and Russia; they speak a dialect basically south Estonian but with Russian influence. Setumaa has a thriving traditional culture which is a rich source of stylistic information and material to other Finno-Ugrians, such as those at Sibelius Academy, and has been a big influence on the group Värttinä. Most of these songs are sung by women, mainly in groups traditionally as accompaniment to work, or after it, or for special events such as weddings. There are similarities in sound to Scots Gaelic work-songs - form follows function - as in many societies, songs are a way to mix work on a repetitive group task with exchange of information and ideas. Here, as in western Scotland, there's usually a strong rhythmic impetus, and often the alternation of solo voice and group response. In Setu songs, though, there's a degree of harmony, and more of a sliding, sinuous feel to the singing, with no hint of the "Scots snap". The material was recorded in Värska, Obinitsa and Helsinki in 1990-91 from women of the villages of Värska, Helbi, Obinitsa, Kosselki and Meremäe, and men of Uusvada.

© 1993 Andrew Cronshaw

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