Timeless pelimanni music with fire and dedication
The folk group Enkel’s third album, Love Hurts, takes its name from a loose English translation of the name of a traditional polska tune from South Ostrobothnia. ‘Kipiä polska’ is one of the album’s treasures and crystallises something essential about Enkel’s musicianship: not only is there humour in the arrangement, but plenty of space is given to the baroque pomp of the polska tradition. The first time I heard it, I was sure that there was a harpsichord on the tune, but the sound stems from the breadth of the ensemble playing and Maija Pokela’s innovative approach to playing the 15-string kantele.
The quartet’s versatile use of instruments gives it an outsized sound. Enkel’s line-up features Leija Lautamaja on 3-row accordion, Miia Palomäki on 2.5-row accordion and Iida Savolainen on viola, with everyone on occasional vocals.
Their repertoire is made up of pelimanni string tunes from various parts of Finland and Ingria, including dance tunes and rhyming songs, along with the group’s own compositions. Originals such as Lautamaja’s poetically meditative ‘Twin Flame’ draw vibrantly on traditional aesthetics.
The rambunctious traditional ‘Joenlaskua’ gets an extra kick from a list of Finnish rivers compiled by Savolainen, which is sung at high speed, whisking the listener along on a splashy river rafting trip. The late pelimanni legend Konsta Jylhä’s composition ‘Pelimannin kaikuja’ gets one of its best interpretations, making me feel like I’m sitting at the Pelimanni restaurant in his home village of Kaustinen, listening to a conversation as each instrument takes its turn.
The album evokes the timelessness of folk music in many ways. In songs such as ‘Valat,’ a delightful mazurka, the joy of freedom and sincere romantic sentiments are expressed in the same words as centuries ago. ‘Portti,’ a poignant traditional Ingrian tune, could be right out of today’s headlines, as boys are taken away through a marble gate, headed off to fight on the front. Its final syllable, sung with a voice that is nearly breaking, is unforgettable.
Besides the interpretations, each song’s instrumentation has been carefully thought out. It’s tantalising to try to hear how the sounds are formed – is that a plucking sound from the kantele, pizzicato from the viola or the popping of accordion buttons? Listening to this album, you really feel close to each musician and her instrument – for example, a properly timed and measured stamping of feet expands the bass frequencies of ‘Kantelepolkat’ so that the song literally gets under the listener’s feet as well.
This is an album full of hits guaranteed to work over a timescale of a couple of centuries – into the past, to the origins of pelimanni music, and in the future as well.
Enkel – Love Hurts
Nordic Notes / ENKEL 2022
Translation: Wif Stenger