When Celenka released their début album in 2015, I was immediately captivated. They present an ingenious and skilfully executed blend of musical ingredients: Finland and Karelia on the one hand, brash Balkan boisterousness on the other. What is very special is their intimate, chamber music approach: instead of a massive wall of sound, we have ensemble work whose every detail can be felt, from trumpet yelps to harmonium pedal sounds.
The varied elements brought together by three strong musical personalities combine in a wide scale of expression and a brilliant constellation of colour. For all that the band draws on a profusion of influences, the colours do not run together in a lukewarm fusion. There are raucous dances with shifting metres, but there are also melancholic melodic arcs and soft moods.
Most of the tracks are based on archival material, recordings made of women folk singers around Karelia, sung in Karelian, Veps, Finnish and Russian. Some original numbers and a couple of Serbian and Bulgarian tunes are added to the mix. The archival material links the disc to a historical continuum, but it is entirely possible to enjoy this exhilarating music without knowing anything about its backgrounds.
Singer and kantele player Emmi Kujanpää is a Finnish folk musician specialising in Bulgarian folk singing and adept at combining the two worlds. Jarkko Niemelä on trumpet and Eero Grundström on harmonium are equally at home with meditative melancholy and energetic dances. Grundström (known for his work with Sväng, Suistamon Sähkö, Maria Kalaniemi & Eero Grundström, Juuri & Juuri, etc.) brings his considerable multi-talented skills to the table. Perhaps the most surprising and at the same time most delightful individual track is Työväenlaulu [Workers’ song], reminiscent of the rap aesthetics and more politically inclined approach of Suistamon Sähkö. Apart from everything else, Grundström is an accomplished rapper, and what is particularly arresting is a stanza about the status of artists, regrettably on point in the context of the current pandemic – its ending translates as “Is culture a career or a cancer?”
Celenka: Villoi varsa
Nordic Notes NN150, 2021
Translation: Jaakko Mäntyjärvi