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Värttinä


Country of origin:

Finland

Type of music generally:

Energetic Finnish folk music with four lead singers. World music based on traditional sources, but their approach to it is modern and sometimes venturing toward pop.

Status:

Most recent release, Viena (2015)

See also:

The very nice official Värttinä website

Wikipedia's entry on Värttinä

Comparisons:

There are other Finnish artists with a somewhat similar sound, but I can't name anyone famous enough. Well, Hedningarna had some of the same vocal style while they still had the Finnish singers in the band...nah, that's not a very good comparison either. (jsorva@niksula.hut.fi)

some of the music is similar to muzsikas or vujicics. (woj@smoe.org)

Covers/own material:

Both the lyrics and music draw heavily on traditional sources, but they write much of their own material, especially on the more recent albums.

General comments:

I think they're brilliant. Their music is catchy and energetic (but there are also some mournful songs), their lyrics delightful and lively. Women probably find the lyrics even more powerful than I do, as many of the songs deal with women's (sexual, etc.) freedom as seen by a young village girl. Also, to me, there's an almost magical quality to the old Finnish vernacular they use. It's very hard for me to imagine what their music sounds like to non-Finns, as the singing is such an integral part of the music, but it seems they have worldwide appeal, too. The weakest point of Värttinä is, perhaps, the lack of variety in the songs; while they have been improving as singers and musicians, there have not been any major changes in the musical style of their six albums. I'd really like to hear them try something different for a change. (jsorva@niksula.hut.fi)

Värttinä was incredible live. The music is so bouncy and fun that it jumped along without them. I haven't heard Kokko yet, but was surprised at how much reverb and filters they used on the voices for some of the songs. I thought it was pretty cool and broke things up a lot. (neal)

I love Värttinä, especially Seleniko and Aitara. (Marion)

Värttinä has been a leading group in Finland for a few years and has become quite popular. Unfortunately, some people think that they have compromised their music as well, becoming more 'popular-sounding' in the process. This might or might not be true, but they're still worth checking out. Personally i recommend any of their albums, as long as you remember that they're all somewhat different in content. (jpinola@phoenix.oulu.fi)

This is a group centered around 4 female vocalists and a superb backing band that plays a fusion of Finnish folk music and pop. Despite the fact that the vocals are somewhat shrill, the music is simply amazing. (mlevy@nimbus.ocis.temple.edu)

Värttinä is a pop-folk fusion featuring a chorus of four women wailing in finnish and a top notch group of folk musicians providing the backdrop including such names as kari reiman and pekka lehti (maybe not big names here, but they're venerables in the finn folk music revival). they started out as a huge folk ensemble and have slowly pared themselves down to a trio of vocalists and supporting musicians. at the same time, they have blended their traditional finnish folk beginnings with a strong pop streak making for some pretty intense, wonderful and striking music. becoming more popular-sounding is certainly true, but i don't think that they have compromised their music—they just have changed from a pure folk band to something different. highly recommended by this ectophile. in a couple phrases: virtuoso folk musicians, vibrant four-woman vocals, catchy melodies with a traditional base. (woj@smoe.org)

"Shrill" is not an entirely inaccurate way to describe Värttinä's voices, and I know that some people would rather attend the finals of the Professional Manicurist Association's Invitational Chalkboard Scratch-Off while chewing on aluminum foil, but I can't get enough of them. Seleniko was my introduction (via, needless, Vickie) to Värttinä, but Oi Dai remains my favorite. I haven't yet bought Aitara, though; its sound is much more western-pop-influenced and lacks some of the nearly supernatural astringency (or "shrillness," if you will) that makes Värttinä such a necessity for me. But then, I was buying import recordings of the Bulgarian State Radio and Television Women's Chorus three years before Nonesuch repackaged them for us as Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares. I grew up listening to my great-grandmother and her cronies' voices slice and sear through everyone else's at my father's family's Russian Orthodox church in Youngstown, Ohio. Call it nostalgia or inoculation—or aural cauterization—but whatever the reason, I've never since heard a voice that's too shrill for me. Kind of like someone raised on really hot food, I guess—"Bring on the diamanda diabla peppers and the wuthering hots!"
     But for all Värttinä's is one of the rare musics that penetrates to the center of my brain (an oddly pleasant sensation; makes me think of cold steel and fire at the same time) and I turn to them sometimes for the same reasons I love NIN and L7—forgetting not La Diamanda—don't let me leave you with the impression that their music is anything other than ethereally, magically beautiful. (lissener@wwa.com)

One of the most captivating folk bands that I know. (Dirk.Kastens@rz.Uni-Osnabrueck.DE)

Comments about live performance:

I just got to hear them play the new songs live two days ago... a good experience despite the rather subdued atmosphere. (Outdoors. It rained.) While I still don't think Vihma quite reaches the level of some of the previous albums, it has grown on me after repeated listenings. And performed live, the new songs are as good as anything they've ever done. What I hadn't recalled is how good some of the songs on Aitara (which never was my favorite Värttinä album) sounded...I really have to listen to that one again...
     I wasn't really worried that Sari's leaving would cripple the band on the stage. There, the others can certainly hold their own anyway. I was worried about the quality of the new album, as she had written many of Värttinä's best songs. Fortunately, my fears didn't come true. (7/98, jsorva@niksula.hut.fi)

Recommended first album:

Oi Dai and Seleniko are the groundbreaking Värttinä albums, both are dominated by the vigorous vocal onslaught of the lead singers. Kokko introduces a slightly modified, somewhat mellower sound that allows the instrumental section of the band some audibility, too. Any of these three would be a good starting point. (jsorva@niksula.hut.fi)

the differences between Seleniko, Oi Dai and Aitara are not very large. all three are modern treatments of traditional songs, with the real change being the amount of allegiance to traditional instrumentation, which decreases with time. that said, i think i'd say that Seleniko is my favorite, but Aitara is a close second. Oi Dai isn't too far behind. Oi Dai and Seleniko are pretty poppy and had mucho commercial success in finland. Aitara is more slickly produced than any of the others, but i disagree that it is more poppy. you're probably safe buying any of the three since each is indicative of the other and each is good. (woj@smoe.org)

I find Seleniko more engaging than Aitara. (neal)

Recordings:


Värttinä

Release info:

1987—MIPUCD 103 Finlandia 0630-18062-2 (in Finland)

Availability:

Not too difficult to find in Finland, at least with a bit of searching.

Musta Lindu

Release info:

1989—Olarin Musiikki (Finland)—OMCD 22

Availability:

Not too difficult to find in Finland, at least with a bit of searching

Group members:

Not listed on the CD.The core members of Värttinä plus a large number of other singers/musicians.

Produced by:

Sari Kaasinen

Comments:

The second of the Värttinä albums made with the early, huge line-up. Neither the performers nor the producer are professionals, which is very obvious immediately on hearing the songs on Musta Lindu. All of the songs, except one, are traditional compositions, many of which have been reworked to near perfection on later albums. I practically never listen to this one. (jsorva@niksula.hut.fi)

Oi Dai

Release info:

1990—Spirit/Sonet/Polygram—SPIRITCD 4 (in Finland); Xenophile—GLCD 4014 (in the U.S.)

Availability:

Wide in Finland and at stores in the U.S. that carry indie releases

Group members:

Christer Hackman—percussion
Mari Kaasinen—vocals
Sari Kaasinen—vocals, kantele
Kirsi Kähkönen—vocals
Janne Lappalainen—reeds & whistles
Tom Nyman—bass
Riitta Potinoja—accordion
Sirpa Rantakangas—vocals
Kari Reiman—fiddle
Minna Rautiainen—vocals
Tommi Viksten—guitar, mandola

Produced by:

Riku Mattila

Comments:

Their first album with a "reduced" line-up ("just" eleven people), Oi Dai is, in a way, the first "real" Värttinä album. On Oi Dai, the lyrical and musical power of the band is for the first time fully unleashed. (jsorva@niksula.hut.fi)

oi dai is much more traditional folk-sounding than i remembered it, specifically in terms of instrumentation. yet, the record can still can be considered "pop" in that the music is catchy and hummable. this duality touches on the eternal "what is pop?" debate—is "pop" popular music or music with unforgettable melodies (for lack of a better description)? (woj@smoe.org)


Seleniko

Release info:

1992—Spirit/Polygram—517 467-2 (in Finland); Xenophile—GLCD 4006 (in the U.S.); MWCD 4003 (in BeNeLux)

Availability:

Wide in Finland and in U.S. record stores that carry indie releases

Group members:

Mari Kaasinen—vocals
Sari Kaasinen—vocals
Kirsi Kähkönen—vocals
Reijo Heiskanen—guitar, bouzouki, percussion
Janne Lappalainen—bouzouki, sax, kaval, tin whistle
Tom Nyman—string bass, keyboards, domra
Riitta Potinoja—accordion, keyboards
Kari Reiman—fiddle, kantele, tenor banjo
Sirpa Reiman—vocals

Guest artists:

Janne Haavisto—percussion
Anu Laakkonen—trumpet
Tom Nekljudow—percussion

Produced by:

Hijaz Mustapha

Comments:

This is my favorite Värttinä album, alongside Kokko. Seleniko is the first album on which the band members have written a large number of the songs (still remaining true to the style of the last album). Both production and musicianship have improved a bit since Oi Dai. Nice songs, too. (jsorva@niksula.hut.fi)

These women are irresistible! (vickie@enteract.com)

After many listens, Seleniko has grown on me a lot. It didn't have the instantly catchy quality of Aitara, probably because it's a bit more traditional, but I've really been enjoying it. (neal)


Aitara

Release info:

1994—MIPUCD—302 (in Finland); MWCD—4008 (in BeNeLux); King—KICP 475 (in Japan); Xenophile—XENO 4026 (in the rest of Europe, the U.S., Asia)

Availability:

Wide in Finland and in U.S. record stores that carry indie releases

Group members:

Mari Kaasinen—vocals
Sari Kaasinen—vocals
Kirsi Kähkönen—vocals
Janne Lappalainen—bouzouki, reeds & whistles
Pekka Lehti—string bass, hammond
Riitta Potinoja—accordion, hammond
Kari Reiman—fiddle, kantele, cimbalom
Sirpa Reiman—vocals
Antto Varilo—guitars, cümbüs tanbur

Guest artists:

Anssi Nykänen—Aitara drums

Produced by:

Janne Haavisto

Comments:

The very first signs of the growing role of instrumentation can be heard,but there are no radical changes in Värttinä's style here. There's nothing terribly wrong with Aitara, but—despite a couple of highlights—it doesn't match the energy of Seleniko or the richness of sound on Kokko. A bit of a disappointment for me at least. (jsorva@niksula.hut.fi)

I've listened to Aitara a number of times and am completely enamored with it. It seems like about half the album is a lively and supercharged as the Värttinä track on Hector Zazou's Songs of the Cold Seas. If you like that, you will like at least half of this album, maybe more. (neal)

in aitara they've managed to blend timeless traditional music with modern instruments in an exquisite manner. i don't know how anyone couldn't like this album. the music on this record is what jumped out at me first—it's just plain stupendous. i can't even begin to describe it. the singing is very impressive too: though very different from, say, the bulgarian choruses, värttinä has also has a strong emotional effect on me. it's extremely upbeat, fun, happy stuff. track 9 (forget the title) has one of the most wonderful melodies known to man. (woj@smoe.org)


Kokko

Release info:

1996—Nonesuch—79429-2

Availability:

Wide in Finland and in U.S. record stores that carry indie releases

Group members:

Mari Kaasinen—vocals
Sari Kaasinen—vocals
Riitta Kossi—accordion
Kirsi Kähkönen—vocals
Janne Lappalainen—wind instruments, bouzouki
Pekka Lehti—basses, grand piano, backup vocals
Kari Reiman—fiddle, mallets, kantele
Sirpa Reiman—vocals
Marko Timonen—drums, percussion, loops
Antto Varilo—acoustic and electric guitars, octave guitar

Guest artists:

Janne Haavisto—percussion, loops
Liisa-Mari Kemppainen—voice
Benjamin Lahti—voice
Risto Hemmi—loops

Produced by:

Janne Haavisto

Comments:

This is one of my two favorite Värttinä albums. Instrumentation plays a larger role on Kokko than on earlier albums, although the essence of Värttinä, singing, is definitely still a prominent part of the music. The change is certainly not for the worse, and Kokko an altogether wonderful album. (jsorva@niksula.hut.fi)

Got heavy into Värttinä for a few months when they passed through town. I listened to this a lot, and then suddenly stopped, but they were a blast live, and I think the album will always perk me up whenever I pull it out. (neal)

Kokko seems a bit lacking. More poppy and smooth and even experimental than the previous two albums, not so folky and enthusiastic anymore. (Marion)

It's like Aitara but just a *tad* more "pop"y. Still not as massive as the cut on floating on an ice-flow forever...er.. Hector Zazou's Songs of the Cold Seas, drat! (zzkwhite@ktwu.wuacc.edu)

in the same vein as the rollicking aitara, but i don't think it's nearly as strong. the title track is gorgeous though. (woj@smoe.org)


Vihma

Release info:

1998

Comments:

Metallic chimes and clanking noises that are soon joined by a thumping bassline and short, noisy bursts of samples is not how a Värttinä album is supposed to begin, but that's exactly how the title track starts off Vihma. Only after they start singing can the group be recognized, but after that the sound is of course quite unmistakable. After the rather unexpected beginning, the going gets more predictable, to the minor disappointment of me and everyone else who would have liked to see Värttinä get a little more experimental.
     Founder member/songwriter/singer Sari Kaasinen (now pursuing a solo career) has been replaced by another singer, Susan Aho. As the other members are very accomplished musicians, too, and many of them have a knack for songwriting, this isn't the devastating loss it might seem to be (seemed to me, anyway) at first. It looks as if she has taken some of the joyful spirit (and the liveliest songs) of the band away with her, though. The overall atmosphere on Vihma is rather somber-toned as most of the songs are lamentations over something, usually the loneliness and uncertainty of life, even though this isn't always immediately apparent from the music alone.
     There are some new developments in the sound, like some minor "eastern"-sounding influences in the songwriting occasionally, some new production tricks, and the appearance of two Tuvan throat-singers (who I might have easily mistaken for some strange-sounding instruments if I hadn't read the liner notes) on three tracks, but basically Vihma follows the path set by Kokko, combining the older, more traditional Värttinä sound with modern pop elements. I haven't listened to Vihma enough times yet to be completely certain of my opinion, but at least at this stage I'm not as captivated by the songs as I am by the ones on Kokko (which I really love). Despite the new touches here and there, Vihma is still a "more of the same" CD. Not a classic Värttinä album, but pretty good nonetheless.
     A little detail: this time, the sleeve doesn't have a full translation of the lyrics, just a shortish poem that conveys the general theme and feel of the song. I think this is a reasonably good idea, as the longer translations failed to capture the magic of the original lyrics anyway. (jsorva@niksula.hut.fi)

Complex rhythms and haunting layered vocals. More acoustic and traditional than their last album. (Dirk.Kastens@rz.Uni-Osnabrueck.DE)


Ilmatar

Release info:

2001—NorthSide Records—NSD6054

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Susan Aho—voice
Mari Kaasinen—voice
Kirsi Kähkönen—voice
Riikka Väyrynen—voice
Janne Lappalainen—bouzouki, soprano saxophone, kaval
Markku Lepistö—5-row, 2-row and 1-row accordions, jouhikko
Pekka Lehti—double bass
Kari Reiman—fiddle
Marko Timonen—Galician bass drum, tama, surdo, shekere, klong yaw, bucket, broom, bells, various percussion
Antto Varilo—6 &12 string guitars, cümbüs tanbur, 10-string kanteles, voice

Guest artists:

Hughes de Courson—kantele cluster, piano wires
Gilles Chabenat—vielle á roue on 4 tracks
Ismo Alanko—spell on "Aijö"
Nagy Lucina—lament on "Meri" (recorded in Hungary 1959)

Produced by:

Hughes De Courson

Iki

Release info:

2003—NorthSide Records—NSD6071

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Mari Kaasinen—vocals
Susan Aho—vocals
Johanna Virtanen—vocals
Antto Varilo—6- & 12-string guitars, saz, dobro, fado guitar, kantele, bass kantele, organ
Janne Lappalainen—bouzouki, saxophone, cava, low whistle
Lassi Logren—fiddle, octave fiddle, jouhikko, nyckelharpa, vocals
Markku Lepistö—accordion
Eleanor Churchlow—backing vocals
Hannu Rantanen—double bass
Jaska Lukkarinen—drums, percussion

Produced by:

Phillip Page (Executive Producer)

Comments:

Värttinä's latest album, Iki, is brilliant. It's much brighter than Ilmatar, their last studio album. The main group is down to 3 women now, including only one of the Kaasinen sisters, but the vocals shine as much as ever. There's a playfulness to the album, and it's generally lighter than their recent material, not just in emotion, but in recording. It's not acoustic, but it feels unforced, earthier. The songs are fun. One is about a woman seeking revenge on a philandering husband. Another is about a bride singing about her love. There is also one instrumental, and the first song is repeated as the last. Highly recommended for anyone who is a fan of Värttinä or has any interest in checking them out. (JoAnn Whetsell)

Miero

Copy-protected disc

Release info:

2006—Real World Records—09463-46065-2-3

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Susan Aho—vocals
Mari Kaasinen—vocals
Johanna Virtanen—vocals
Janne Lappalainen—bouzouki, soprano saxophone, kaval, low whistle
Markku Lepistö—2- and 5-row accordions, 10-string kantele
Lassi Logrén—fiddles, jouhikko, nyckelharpa, harmonium, vocal
Jaska Lukkarinen—drums, percussion, voices
Hannu Rantanen—double bass
Antto Varilo—acoustic guitars, electric guitar, guitalele, fado guitar, saz

Produced by:

Phillip Page, executive producer

Comments:

Varttina continues to make great music. Their latest, Miero, combines the light and fresh sounds of iki with the darker sound of Ilmatar. A great album. (JoAnn Whetsell)

Viena

Release info:

2015—Westpark Music—WP87305

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Mari Kaasinen—vocals, kantele
Susan Aho—vocals
Karolina Kantelinen—vocals, kantele, overtone flute

Guest artists:

Matti Kallio—accordion, bansari, vocals
Lassi Logrén—fiddle, nyckelharpa, bowed lyre, vocals
Matti Laitinen—guitar, mandocello, bouzouki, mandolin, vocals

Produced by:

Matti Kallio

Comments:

Viena has a more spacious and more sober sound than recent Värttinä albums, showcasing the vocals more. There are still some fiercely joyful tracks ("Kanaset," the instrumental "Kiri," and "Otavaiset") that highlight rapid instrumental work. The liner notes discuss the group's trip to Viena Karelia (the region that the Finnish national epic The Kalevala came from), which inspired the album. Very enjoyable! (JoAnn Whetsell)

Less percussive, more trad I think, though I don't know their back catalogue well. (k_hester_k@yahoo.co.nz)


Further info:

Their songs also appear on several compilation albums (including the frequently mentioned Hector Zazou's Songs of the Cold Seas), and the band members have participated in various side projects.


Thanks to Juha Sorva and JoAnn Whetsell for work on this entry.

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