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55 f Kaustinen Reborn


Finland’s legendary folk music festival has turned the recession to its own advantage by refocusing on its local strengths. Words & pics: Andrew Cronshaw.


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he music of the villages of Kaustinen parish, in the wide farmlands of western Finland, is now more creative, skilful and alive than ever before, and


the festival celebrates that, resounding with locally-made melodies which have over the last few years become ever more strikingly distinctive among northern European musics. This year Kaustinen Folk Music Festival remembered why it has something very special.


The area has been known in Finland since at least the mid 19th century as ‘the home of music’, principally for its local traditions of fiddling and kantele playing. 43 years ago, the people of Kaustinen invited others from across Finland and a few from abroad to join them in a festival, and so they did, in large numbers. It con- tinued as a big, week-long festival, still strongly centred on the local music and dancing to it, spiced with musicians, bands and folkloric dance ensembles from across the world, its audience a healthy mix of incomers and locals, from the smallest children through socialising, fiddling, dancing teens to the most elderly, in a safe, relaxed environment. Most visitors stay with local families in their homes, or camp in their gardens, and this ties the event even further into local life.


Hannu Saha playing kantele


In 1974 Finland’s national Folk Music Institute had set up within what had become a permanent festival site centred on a big circular tent-covered open arena and utilising the surrounding music-orient- ed high school and other buildings. Initial- ly housed in the fine old log-built tradi- tional house that had been relocated in Kaustinen and named Pelimannitalo (‘the Folk Musicians’ House’), the Institute later moved across the road into the big high- tech national Folk Arts Centre, opened in 1998, whose concert hall is in a cave tun- nelled into the hill.


Folk music, the festival, the Institute, dance, and music education became a major aspect of Kaustinen life and econ- omy, but never a tacky tourist industry type of thing. The old traditional wed- dings, with their fiddle, harmonium and bass bands, died out, but the music and the bands didn’t. New music, in local style with local references, was constant- ly being written, most famously in the mid 20th century by the leader of the wedding-band Purppuripelimannit, Kon- sta Jylhä, later by harmonising fiddle band JPP, and, partly because of the remarkable teaching work of JPP’s Mauno Järvelä assisted by the next gen- eration of his family, there’s now a del- uge of brilliant melodic fiddle-centred


Alina Järveläof Frigg


music being created by a slew of young Kaustinen musicians and bands more numerous and skilful than any of their predecessors.


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The music they’re making now, while much developed from the polkas, waltzes and marches that characterised the earlier music and very well aware of present-day worldwide musics, has an utterly Kausti- nen identity, melodically, in rich-toned vio- lin harmonising and a particular ecstatic thrill way up on the thin high top string (for probably the most highly-developed form of the latter, hear Esko Järvelä of Frigg, Tötterssön, Baltic Crossing, JPP, Tsuu- mi Sound System or any of the myriad bands he’s currently in). The Kaustinen sound has arrived at its highest peak yet, and a unique distinctiveness from all other fiddle/ violin musics.


eanwhile, though, having sailed unaffected through Finland’s early 1990s reces- sion, in the last couple of years the Festival and the


Folk Arts Centre have been going through considerable economic and local-political crises. These, while painful, have resulted in what might emerge as a very necessary and ultimately healthy hard look at economics, the way the fes- tival does things, and what its aims are.


Terhi Puronaho


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