Musicians from Finland seem to have a particular aptitude for creating music that’s based in ancient tradition–hurrah for Finnish runes!–while at the same time being comfortably modern–hurrah for Finnish metal inspired by Finnish runes! For a good overview, visit
National Geographic’s introduction to Finnish music.

There are essentially two kinds of traditional Finnish folk music: “Karelian,” which is mainly based on ancient Finnic myths, and “Pelimmani,” which is German/Slavic dance music.

Karelian music, originating from the eastern Finnish region of Karelia, is based on old Finnic stories and epic tales, especially the Kalevala, which is a 22,795 verse Finnish epic. Listen to a rune from the Kalevala, featuring our hero, Väinämöinen, engaged in battle. (Let tell you all about the Kalevala.)

Pelimanni is Nordic folk dance music that originated in Central Europe in the 17th century spread all over Scandinavia and Finland, replacing songs based on the Kalevala as the most popular folk tradition. By the 19th century the pelimanni music’s characteristic fiddles, clarinets and accordions had become widespread, backing dances that were mainly for couples, like the polska, the mazurka and the schottische. Another popular instrument in pelimanni is the harmonium, a free-standing organ-like instrument. You can see some pelimanni-style
harmonium in action here
. Watch Finnish accordionist Maria Kalaniemi and her band perform perimanni tune, “Kuhmoo päässä.”


Finnish folk dancers will surely have a mazurka and a schottische in their repertoire, but after the formal presentation, when they really cut loose, they’ll be just as likely to dance Finn-originated dances based upon jazz dancing and the foxtrot known as humppa and jenkka. [Watch an outdoor, windy but fun demonstration of the humppa. Enjoy a humppa version of Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid” by Finnish humppa masters, Eläkeläiset. You’ll
also enjoy the jenkka, which is reminiscent of “the bunny hop.” Watch a Finnish jenkka
, and watch a Swedish jenkka here. We may very well be unable to avoid trying this dance in class.]

In addition to Karelian and pelimanni forms of Finnish folk you may encounter REKILAULU, which is a form of “rhyming sleigh singing” that developed in the 17th century that was bouncy, clever and initially opposed by many churches in Finland. Listen to rekulaulu singer Arthur Kylander perform “Lumber Jäkki” in 1928 and to contemporary duo Pinnin Pojat, who are helping keep the rekilaulu tradition alive, perform “Joka pojan toive” (the comments section of the video includes the lyrics in Finnish and in English if you’d like to sing along).

In class we’re going to listen to Finnish folk vocal quartet LOITUMA perform “Levan’s Polka.” Loituma, known for their inventive interpretations of Finnish folk tunes, base many of their songs on the Kalevala and the Kanelatar, a mid-19th century selection of poems also compiled by Kalevala-compiler

Elias Lönnrot. They are also known for their use of the Finnish plucked zither known as the kantele. Watch Liotuma perform Listen to them perform the 1930s Finnish polka, “Ievan’s Polka” live and a capella. Now watch them perform the super-rockin version.

Despite a long tradition of Central and Northern European dancing, today perhaps the most popular dance in Finland is none other than the tango. The tango? Yes, that tango.

Why do Finns, a people not known for their outward displays of emotion, love to dance the tango? 60 Minutes reporter Morley Safer asked this question as part of a report on what he describes as the “clinical shyness,” the “almost terminal melancholy” of the emotionally reserved Finns. Safer suggests dancing the tango gives Finns a structured opportunity to break barriers and connect with one another, physically and otherwise. He also notes that
the Finnish tango diverges from the often-baudy Argentine version by mainly featuring melancholy minor keys and lyrics, often drawn from Finnish epic tales, that are drenched in sorrow. [Let Germany’s “Let’s Dance” introduce you to the Finnish tango: Close contact! Don’t smile! Five years of practice?! | Watch an unsmiling yet graceful couple dance the Suomalainen Tango]



Finland’s best known composer of classical music is JEAN SEBELIUS, who based his Romantic-era nationalism on Finnish folk traditions like the Kalevala. His 1899
composition Finlandia inspired Finland’s independence movement in the early 1900s, and he is still beloved in Finland today. Watch Lim Kek-tjiang conducting Evergreen Symphony Orchestra in a performance of Finlandia.

In Finland, Schlager music, which we heard when we were learning about the music of Germany, is known as ISKELMÄ. It’s essentially melodic dance music, performed in dance halls primarily for members of Finland’s older generations (though iskelmä tunes have been known to appear in Finnish rock). [Watch OLAVI
VIRTA perform iskelmä hit “Hopeinen kuu,” a Finnish version of an Italian song, “Guarda che luna” (“Look at That Moon.”) | Watch JARI SILLANPÄÄ perform “Satulinna.”]

Finns love to rock! In 1950s Finns embraced pounding drums and jangling electric guitars of American and British rock music, and since then Finland has been home to a confident
“Suomirock” (Finnish rock) scene. While many of the better known bands sing in English, Finns also enjoy rock with Finnish lyrics. Then again, who doesn’t?

Watch 1960s Finnish psychedelic rockers BLUES SECTION perform “Hey Hey Hey and Call Me On Your Telephone
— Blues Section spawned the ’70s progressive rock band WIGWAM (watch them prog themselves through “Grass for Blades.”)
— Watch ’70s and ’80s Finnish blues-rockers HURRIGANES perform “Get On.”
— The best-known Suomirock band of the ’80s was HANOI ROCKS. Watch them perform “Don’t Never Leave Me” (the song really kicks in at about 1:30)
— Through the ’90s and early 2000s LAIKA & THE COSMONAUTS was a popular Suomirock band that played in the Finnish style known as rautalanka, which is melodic instrumental music performed on electric instruments that is a bit too hard to be considered pure folk music, but is not distorted or discordant enough to truly be considered rock. Watch Laika & the Cosmonauts perform “New York ’79.”

In class we’re going to listen to Suomirocker Irwin Goodman sing one of his many classics, “Poing Poing Poing.” Born Antti Yrjö Hammarberg, “Goodman” (also known, according to the wikipedia entry about him, as “Rock-Williams,” “William White,” “Andy,” “Rudolf Holtz,” “Hamppari,” “Bob Mersey” and “Bill Black,”) was a Finnish protest singer whose songs from the ’60s and ’70s became increasingly satirical and critical of the government. “Poing Poing Poing” may not have been one of his most politically astute works, but we can’t imagine a more awesome video.



The Sami people are the indigenous inhabitants of Arctic lands in the far northernmost parts of Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russia’s Kola Peninsula. Today the Sami are known for their fishing, fur trapping and reindeer herding, and also for their tradition of sitting in saunas, but be kind to them and don’t know them as “Lapp,” which is a derogatory term. See wikipedia’s entry on the Sami people for an explanation. [Though it does refer to the Sami readily as “Lapps,” the website “” offers an introduction to Sami culture and traditiosn.]

Lately the Sami have also become known worldwide for their distinctive music–YOIK! Yoik is a primarily vocal form that is unique to the Sami which, “like the Sami people,” says this helpful introduction to Sami yoik, “has been misunderstood, ridiculed, appropriated, and even threatened.” As the site explains, yoik differs from Western music not only in its distinctive scales, and in the fact that many yoiks are “non-linear,” meaning they don’t have the same kind of beginning/middle/end structure common to most Western songs, but it also serves as much of a social function as it does a musical one: “[yoik] can serve as a tool for sharing memories, for community building (both within a family and within society as a whole), for personal self-expression, to calm the reindeer or frighten the wolves, or even to transport one between worlds.” Last week in class we listened to music by the most popular Norwegian Sami singer, Mary Boine. (While reading about the Sami and yoik, listen to her mesmerizing “Goaskinviellja.”) This week, let’s meet Finnish Sami yoiker, Wimme (pronounced “VEE-meh,”) who is known both for his solo yoiking and his work with other artists like electro-jazz band RinneRadio (and apparently with dancers who feel very comfortable on the ground). For an idea of what Wimme can do on his own, watch him joik at the 2002 Nordic Roots Festival.


Comments are closed.