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Pauanne: archive recordings meet the 21st century

by Simon Broughton

Pauanne is both the name of an innovative Finnish folk trio and the old Finnish thunder god. And like a blast of thunder their music is shaking up the way we look and hear the past, present and future.

Violinist Kukka Lehto, keyboard player Tero Pennanen and drummer Janne Haavisto had already played together before they formed Pauanne in 2017. “We are only a trio but we have 30 or 40 different artists with us,” Tero Pennanen jokes. “Michael Jackson didn’t have such a big crew!”

Pauanne’s USP is combing their sounds with archive recordings featuring the other artists Pennanen is referring to. “We wanted to find a new sound to Finnish folk music and we wanted to use a lot of archive tapes,” explains Lehto via Skype from their home in Espoo. “They’ve found a home with our hammond organ, fiddle and percussion. It seems to have some power in it.”

A striking example on their 2019 debut album might be Maakillinen Voima (Magic Power) which features the cattle calling of Oksenja Mäkiselkä (recorded in 1935). Her repetitive calls are clearly sung by a woman comfortable with her animals. Janne Haavisto’s percussion picks up on the rhythm of her chanting and Lehto’s violin plays a melody which doesn’t imitate but complements the singing. Later other cattle calls are combined in an archival polyphony of voices from all over Finland. 

Pauanne’s debut album won a Finnish Emma (Grammy) award and the Newcomer of the year award at the 2020 Finnish Ethnogala.

There are other bands using archive songs in their music, for instance Trad.Attack! in Estonia who incorporate the recordings into a pounding folk rock. Pauanne are much more left-field.

Rauta (A Charm for Power over Iron) uses a voice (recorded in the 1950s) intoning an ancient spell to safeguard a protective wall. “We were reading old folk beliefs in Finland which were funny and strange. But we also realised that people often think in just the same way nowadays,” explains Lehto. “With the Rauta song it was just like what Trump was saying about building a wall along the Mexican border.” Ancient Finland meets 21st century America - hence the ethno-futuristic costumes for the photos!

A dialogue with singers from the past

Kukka Lehto started playing classical violin as a child, but then decided she wanted to learn to improvise and, aged 17, went to the Helsinki Pop and Jazz Conservatory, and then to the Folk Music Department of the Sibelius Academy “where you really have the freedom to do whatever you want”.  She is the folk element in the band, whereas Pennanen and Haavisto come from the pop scene.

Tero Pennanen is from a musical family and says he’s been playing Hammond organ since he was about five. “I have a mint condition Hammond B3 from 1954. But it’s as heavy as hell.” He has a lighter, remodelled B3 which is more convenient for gigs. “Is the sound different on the original?” I ask. “Of course, he says.” Lehto says she can’t hear it, but he can. He has the Hammond B3 in his blood.

Percussionist and producer Janne Haavisto is probably best known for his work with Finland’s #1 surf band Laika & The Cosmonauts and Finnish rock icon J. Karjalainen.

Lehto, who chooses the archive recordings and writes most of the music, tries to put herself into the mind of the old singers. “I guess we are trying to have a dialogue with them. But it’s unequal, because we don’t know if they’d want to be part of some political songs. We appreciate these singers very much and we hope from the bottom of our hearts that they want to be here doing cattle calls in today’s folk music.”

There was one piece, which included a Sámi song, which they couldn’t release in the end. “I desperately fell in love with that tape and I was crying when I found out that we couldn’t use it,” Lehto admits. “It was impossible to know if that person would want to have their yoik included, because they are a very personal thing. It’s a paradox because we don’t want to be polite in our music, but we want to respect the archival singers and players of course.”

An exciting side-project

Pauanne have just released a new album Barely Ann-Mari with Finnish actor and singer Irina Björklund. Björklund clearly comes from a far less radical aesthetic than Pauanne, her last album Ce soir tout peut arrive… was a breezy collection of popular Finnish songs performed in chanson-esque French. Tero Pennanen has worked with Björklund for a decade and played on her last four albums. “Irina is so pop, I was afraid we’d have to go and buy a new blender to make it work,” chuckles Pennanen. 

Björklund is the heroine of Peacemaker, a new TV drama currently being shown Finland and soon to be seen in Scandinavia and North America. Peacemaker is a compelling, action-packed 10-part series about conflict resolution set in Turkey, Syria and Spain. It tells the story of (fictional) peace negotiator Ann-Mari Sundell, played by Björklund who’s worked as an actress in Finland, North America and now France.

Björklund’s English songs on Barely Ann-Mari are from the point of view of her character. On the album, there’s a very different archive tape. The song Peace is a Question of Will includes Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari, speaking when he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2008: “What I am feeling now can only be compared with the joy I have felt when seeing the changes that peace has brought to the life of the people…when faith in the future returns.” Pennanen explains that they wanted to use one of their ‘trademark’ archive recordings and “Irina had the idea of the Nobel Prize speech. It’s like 30 mins long, but we took just two parts of it.” With a gentle melody, the song juxtaposes the speech, ethereal choral voices and a softly bowed lullaby on violin and piano.

Clearly Barely Ann-Mari is an exciting side-project for Pauanne, but they continue creating new songs in the non-formulaic Pauanne formula. Some of these will be aired on the upcoming Finnish tour with Irina Björklund.

Irina Björklund & Pauanne: Barely Ann-Mari record release tour in Finland Oct 16-31, 2020.

Featured photo: Aki-Pekka Sinikoski

Peace is a Question of Will by Irina Björklund and Pauanne