BY Juha Torvinen
An old joke claims that you can get your wife back by playing a country record backwards. Playing a Finnish iskelmä record in reverse would definitely make this happen too. Additionally all worthless things would turn back to gold, and everything longed for would be present instead forever lost or far away.
But what really is iskelmä? One thing is for sure: melancholy is at its core. But there is much more to contemplate if we want to find out what this peculiar Finnish music genre – this iskelmä – is all about. It’s not an easy task, because even the term is as good as untranslatable.
This issue (FMQ 2/2009) casts a light on iskelmä’s history and aesthetics. We will find out how iskelmä has evolved into a genre of its own during the course of the 20th century and how it has become an essential part of the contemporary Finnish music business. Iskelmä’s relationship to Finnish tango and the Finnish tradition of kupletti are being explored.
For many Finns iskelmä is the form of popular music. The genre’s popularity does not, however, mean that it is “easy listening”, or that it simply relies on cheap tricks and musical hooks. Iskelmä’s popularity is bound to its ability to connect to something shared by all Finns; to plug into the collective unconscious of the Finnish people. Exactly because of that only a Finn can truly understand why now and again iskelmä artists outplay pop and rock acts in the Finnish charts.
Of course, to remain popular music has to be accessible to contemporary ears, so Finnish iskelmä has also been sensitive to the wide world of popular music. In contemporary iskelmä we can hear influences of eg. country, rock, pop – even disco.
Nevertheless, that some unexplainable factor – that essential undertone – is always there making iskelmä so Finnish in nature and an essential part of the soundscape of Finnish (musical) identity.