Taking the lament tradition into here and now
The ancient lament tradition (itkuvirsi) is a fascinating one – lots of emotion, lots of tears, lots of interesting old lyrics, but music-wise lots of repetitive melodies in a recitation-like, free rhythm. It has become the speciality of folk musician Emmi Kuittinen, who now presents a whole record built around this material, combining solo vocal moments more close to the real thing with musical compositions. Most of the music is her own, but she also plays around with archive material, using it gently and elegantly. The language used is beautiful in itself, but not always easy to understand even for Finnish-speakers.
The lament tradition is not the most usual base to build a folk music record on, but Kuittinen and her colleagues in Ikuisen ikävän orkesteri (Orchestra of eternal longing) stay true to the general atmosphere of laments. The atmosphere is calm and earnest, listening to each other, not fearing the silence. Instruments like kantele, jouhikko, violin and accordion are present but never take the forefront, which works really well. There is no need for everyone to sing and play and fill up the music all the time.
Also the real thing is included, with Kuittinen sometimes letting her voice go all rough and raw, affected by grief. Her voice does not always sound beautiful, but that surely feels like a welcome experience when surrounded by the slick music production sound of the 2020s. You can recognise all the individual voices of the singers, which feels like getting a glimpse of real life, rather than attending a concert with everything perfectly blended.
Among Kuittinen's solos one definitely stands out: Lament of the Unfairness asks how it is possible that only a few rich guys get all the money in the world, a message delivered in the lyrical and musical language of the lament tradition but throwing a few modern words in the mix – and proving it is possible to use laments to say something important in the world of here and now.
EMMI KUITTINEN & IKUISEN IKÄVÄN ORKESTERI: ITKEN JA LAULAN
Emmi Kuittinen (vocals, kantele, ukulele)
Heidi Haapoja-Mäkelä, Charlotta Hagfors & Minsku Tammela (vocals)
Amanda Kauranne (vocals, bells, mouth harp)
Juulia Salonen (vocals, kantele)
Mira Törmälä (vocals, accordion)
Kirsi Vinkki (vocals, violin, viola, jouhikko)
Kansanmusiikki-instituutti KICD 144, 2020