FolkWorld Issue 38 03/2009; Article by Walkin' T:-)M
Karelian World Music
Pauliina Lerche, Värttinä & Mimmit
With famous Finnish-Karelian band Värttinä, Pauliina Lerche started her musical career, before becoming an ambassador of Karelian music as a solo artist. With effortlessness and ease she unites her rural traditions with world and pop music, writing all the lyrics and composing the tunes herself. She is a fine singer, and she plays accordion, fiddle, kantele and the mysterious deltar. Pauliina Lerche has a lot to explain.
How did you come to play music, especially traditional Finnish-Karelian music?
I started to play the classical violin when I was four years old. How I came up with Finnish folk music, is quite an interesting story. When I was 8 years old I somehow got very interested in Kalevala type of poems. My parents always read a lot to me when I was a very small child, and I liked very much different kind of books and stories, e.g. old Finnish traditional fairytales but also fairytales from the Middle East.
I wrote a Kalevala type of poem with my best friend and we joined a nationwide competition for children and youngsters performing that poem. Eventually we were chosen for the national finals. There was also another group from the same village where we came from - Rääkkylä, very close to the Russian border. Me and my friend were invited to join this group, and thus Värttinä was founded. This was in 1983, and I was 9 years old.
In the original line-up of Värttinä we performed poems and also sang and played. I also started to play the kantele besides the violin. That`s how I started to sing and play Finnish folk music.
When looking back, what do you think about the time being a member of Värttinä?
Värttinä was my first university to be a professional musician. As I said I was only 9 years oldwhen the band was founded. From the very beginning we did lots of gigs, also abroad. So I learned to perform and I also got used to touring already as a child. We did also two albums. The first one “Värttinä” was released in 1987 and the second one “Musta Lindu” in 1989.
Also Värttinä was concentrating from the very beginning on the Eastern tradition of Finland. I have of course played a lot of Western Finlands traditional music too, but Eastern and Karelian traditions are the most important to me.
What made you pursue a solo career?
I have always loved to play in a band. Maybe it is because I have done it from a very young age. And actually when I started my studies at Sibelius Academy Folk Music Department I was afraid to play accordion all alone. Even though the accordion is my main instrument now, I have played it a much shorter time than the violin and the kantele. But I`m that kind of person if I`m afraid of something I force myself to face the fear and do something for that. So I started to perform on my own. At the first it didn`t went very well. I will never forget one concert which was so awful …
At that time I was also very confused with my music. I had had a band called Mimmit since 1993 but everything went wrong at some point. Pieces fell into place when I started to improvise with the accordion like the Karelian kantele and jouhikko tradition. At that time I also started to compose more instrumental music, inspired by the Karelian tradition of course. And suddenly I loved playing on my own! I just did it the wrong way before but it took some time for me to understand that.
The idea of doing a solo CD came up when I had quite many tunes ready. Also Pekka Lehti (musician, producer, owner of Aito Records) encouraged me to do a solo CD. When I was doing "Katrilli" (released 2002) I didn`t think to have a regular band. In that CD there`s many musicians playing on different tracks, and I`m also playing alone. And after "Katrilli" I continued to do gigs solo. Just before I started to make "Malanja" (released 2006) I started thinking about my own regular band. Still on "Malanja" there is not yet a band playing but once more lot`s of different musicians according what instrument and style each tune was demanding. I already knew that "Malanja" would be published in Japan when I was doing it. My regular band was born actually for "Malanja`s" release tour in Japan, and after that we have had quite many concerts in different countries in Europe and also in Japan. Now the band is working very well, I`ve found the right persons as musicians and also as friends. So we have lots of fun when touring around!
My next CD, which I`m doing at the moment, will be more a band CD as before. Also the same band is playing on the "Mimmit" CD and Mimmit gigs as well as with me under the name of "Pauliina Lerche & Co."
Your songs sound very traditional, but are mostly original. How would you describe your music?
I describe my music as Karelian world music. For me it is very important that my music has strong roots to the Karelian tradition. I have also composed music which wasn`t so traditional sounding but I didn`t feel at home with that music – something was wrong … I have played and sang traditional Karelian folk music since I was a small child, and also have read traditional poetry. So I know the tradition and it gives me strong roots on which I can create something new.
My aim is to popularise the Karelian tradition both abroad and in Finland. Finnish people know too little about their roots and about their own tradition. With the Mimmit CD, because it is a children CD, we have already reached more listeners than one could with a normal folkmusic CD. It is a very good way of “smuggling” the Karelian and Finnish tradition to new listeners that might have very strong prejudices against traditional music. I have already read some reviews in Finland that say, even if you don`t like traditional music you can love this CD! Also when we were chosen for the Emma award nominations (the Finnish Grammy award), it was a big victory for us. We are nominated in the children CD category and now we are able to bring traditional music into this category.
Karelian and Eastern vocal traditions are well known among other Finnish folk musicians. But many think that one cannot make instrumental music in that style. In Finnish traditional instrumental folk music the Western tradition is very strong. But not everyone has to play the same kind of music, I think! So I`m the only one playing accordion music inspired by Eastern tradition. I feel that in Finland among the small folk music circle my music is not considered very traditional, because it is not influenced by a certain Western type of style. But of course in every country there are these small circles which know what is the correct way of doing things … Also in Finland it is very cool in folk music circles to make very modern music or include influences e.g.from tango nuevo or circus music.
You're playing a couple of instruments which are probably not very well known to everybody outside of Finland ...
The kantele is the Finnish national instrument. It is a very old instrument, it might be even 2,000 years old originating back to the Kalevala period. As I told you I started to play the kantele when I was 9 years old. The kantele has never been my main instrument but I love playing it! It is very different compared to accordion or violin. There`s many different kinds of kantele from very traditional oneswith only 5 strings to the ultra modern 39 stringed electric kantele. I play kanteles from 5 to 15 strings.
The deltar is not a Finnish instrument. It is invented by anIraqian professor who lives in London and also in Finland. He has a Finnish wife. It has 10 strings and it`s been built by a Finnish builder. It has quite the same kind of tone than the kantele but it looks like a triangle. I have learned by myself how to play it, just by experimenting with the instrument. I love it`s sound as I love the sound of thekantele.
Now a children's album; I wouldn't have noticed when not being told. How come?
How we came up with the children CD is a funny story. Already when "Katrilli" was released I heard that some children liked the CD a lot, even if it was not made for children. And when "Malanja" was released, the same kind of reaction grew. I heard that some parents were totally fed up with the CD because their children were forcing them to listen to it again, again and again … My husbands brother (his two girls were one of these total fans) said to me to that I would have to do a children's CD. I answered him that I cannot do a children's CD because I cannot write music for children. He said that I had already written music for children but by accident. At first I didn`t think about it very seriously but after some time I started to think why not trying to do a children's CD.
From the very beginning it was clear that we are not really going to change the music, but we keep the music the same as we would doing music for adults. But I wanted to change the lyrics. So many songs are fairytale-like and I have also written songs about all kinds of creatures from Finnish and Kalevala mythology. All the songs have strong roots in Finnish traditions.
Does the word Mimmit means anything?
Mimmit means chicks. It has a positive, energetic and fresh sound in the Finnish language.
For those who like your music, which other Finnish artists would you recommend?
The best concert that I have heard in a long time was a duo concert by Finnish kantele player Eva Alkula and Japanese koto player Tomoya Nakai. They recorded also an album last summer. I think that it is published now but I haven`t heard it yet. But if the CD is anything like theirconcert I can really recommend it from my heart!
As I said, I do my kind of music, so there`s not that much similar music in the Finnish folk music scene. But other artists that I like a lot is the Sanna Kurki-Suonio trio, Maria Kalaniemi, Timo Väänänen, JPP. From the same village where I come from, Rääkkylä, is a new, very nice band coming, called Rämpsäkät, I hope that they will do their first total length CD soon. Also I have to mention an up-coming CD from a band where I play the violin and sing. The band is called Burlakat and we are singing in the Karelian language (it is an endangered language spoken both in Finland and Russia, but more on the Russia side of Karelia). The CD is going to be published next summer.
What's coming up too?
A new baby is coming up! I`ve already started my motherhood holiday and the baby can be born any day now. I did my last concerts a week ago, and also a last studio session for my new CD. Next week we will be mixing it. But after that I will have a total break of music and concerts. I don`t know even when we are going to continue with the new CD. I have already one daughter who is going to be 3 years old this spring and it is difficult to know in advance how it is with two small children. Maybe I can continue working quite soon, maybe not. I try not to make any plans.
But I feel very positive about the up-coming break. Of course the children are so lovely and the most important thing but also I think that for an artist it is good to have a break from one's work. At least for me. When I started working after my first baby was born, I had got many new ideas and new energy during the break. Also when you have small children your time is very limited and you must work very effective. That`s also good, I think!
I would like to wish anybody has a very nice spring and I like to say that I`m very happy that Karelian and Finnish traditional music has friends globally!
(1),(3) from website;
(2) by Bardentreffen 2008.
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© The Mollis - Editors of FolkWorld; Published 03/2009
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