The contemporary folk music emanating from Scandinavia in general, and Finland in particular, has branched out from home-grown traditions to incorporate a great variety of musical styles across the globe, from Western pop and rock to Balkan and Middle Eastern folk music. The Finnish band Vilddas goes even further than most of their compatriot folk performers in this regard. Their lead singer Annuka Hirvasvuopio is a native of Utsjoki, the northernmost city of Finland, in the heart of Lapland.
Hirvasvuopio writes and sings in Sámi, the language of the indigenous people of the far north of Scandinavia. She also often sings in the “Luohti” tradition, a particular style of Sámi singing which features a pentatonic scale and describing a particular subject vocally, but often wordlessly. Part of this tradition is an improvisational form of wordless singing called joiking, popularized by the Finnish Sámi singer Wimme. The band’s other main composer and singer, Marko Jouste, plays lute, adding distinctly Eastern and Medieval flavors to the band’s sound. Three of the band’s other members, wind player Mikko Vanhanen, bassist Risto Blomster, and percussionist Karo Sampela, have also performed in the Finnish and Balkan folk/ jazz/rock outfit Slobo Horo, and had earned a reputation for eclectic experimentation long before they joined Vilddas. Ari Isotalo puts the finishing touches on the Vilddas sound by playing a variety of percussion instruments with names like tapan, def, klong-yaw, caxixis, and (I’m not sure I want to know what this really is) frog. On their second album Háliidan, Vilddas attempts a number of different experiments in cultural cross-pollination and succeeds more often than not, creating their own distinct and highly enjoyable sound in the process.
The album opens with “Háliidan/Vuolgge Fárrui (I Want You/Come with Me),” one of three two-part songs on the album. This is the album’s most rock-influenced song, featuring solid drumming from Sampela, although Vanhanen’s ney-flute and Hirvasvuopio’s joiking evoke very primitive imagery as well. The band breaks into an extended jam in the second part of the song. On the next song, “Boadán Du Lusa (I Will Return),” Hirvasvuopio sings about the desire to return home from her journeys. Much more Eastern in its feel than the opening song, “Boadán Du Lusa” flows effortlessly thanks to Blomster’s steady bass playing and multiple layers of percussion. Marko Jouste takes over the lead vocals on the jazzy “Go Moai Leimme Mánát (When We Were Kids),” the album’s longest song. This song showcases the band’s musical flexibility, with Vanhanen performing an excellent solo on soprano saxophone, backed up by the steady rhythm section of Blomster and Isotalo. Vilddas then covers well-known Norwegian Sámi singer Mari Boine with “Vilges Suola (A White Thief).” Anybody familiar with Boine’s music will have little difficulty recognizing the style, although the original version (off the Real World album Gula Gula) doesn’t match the Vilddas version’s intensity. Hirvasvuopio brilliantly captures the anger in the songs lyrics, which respond to the condescension and exploitation the Sámi people face from the rest of Scandinavia and Europe. Propelled by Jouste’s driving, aggressive lute playing and Vanhanen’s primal ney-flute, “Vilges Suola” is the strongest track on Háliidan.
The next song, “Moarseluohti,” translates as “The Luohti of a Bride.” In this brief a cappella song, Hirvasvuopio combines a handful of words with some joiking to portray a new bride. This song leads directly into another song in the Luohti tradition, “Lásse-Ádjá Luohti (The Luohti of Lásse-Ádja).” The lyrics describe a reindeer running across the tundra, and the dark, heavily percussive musical backing captures the image perfectly. The next song, “Ohcejohka,” describes a mid-summer night in one of the Sámi villages. “Ohcejohka” features the most Asian-sounding musical backing on the album, provided mainly by Vanhanen’s clarinet. Jouste puts down the lute in favor of a mandolin for this one song, further distinguishing it sonically from the rest of the songs on the album. “Dánses Lille Sárá (Dance Little Sárá)” is the albums most energetic number, featuring some rapid-fire singing and joiking from Hirvasvuopio and a driving lute from Jouste. Jouste then plays a brief instrumental “Dolla (Fire),” which segues into the catchy romantic song “Dola Mun Cahkkehan (The Fire I Light).” Despite the Eastern feel provided by the heavy percussion, and aided by guest fiddler Pekko Käppi, this song is the most melodically accessible to Western ears. Háliidan closes with “Irggástalan,” a rock-influenced song featuring lead vocals and an electronically enhanced lute performed by Marko Jouste. Hirvasvuopio’s joiking over Jouste’s singing provides a unique counterpoint in this song.
Although still a relatively new band on the Nordic music scene, Vilddas have quickly established themselves as a musical force to be reckoned with. Very few contemporary musical acts could attempt to cover as much musical ground on one forty-minute CD, and pull it off as successfully. The instrumentalists complement their flexibility with no small amount of skill, and Hirvasvuopio provide the band with a strong voice and a charismatic presence up front. Háliidan more than holds its own among the new releases from some of the genre’s heavy hitters, including Värttinä’s iki and Väsen’s Trio. Any fan of Wimme or Mari Boine will find much to like here, as will anybody looking for quality new Nordic or Finnish music, or fresh, eclectic world music in general.
(Wood Productions, 2003)