Hedningarna, Karelia Visa (Northside, 1999)  

It's an odd thing -- one of the words which keeps coming to mind when I listen to this CD is "evocative." But that raises the question, what exactly does it evoke? And I can't really give you an answer, as I am not of Nordic origin and have never visited the area. So, it is indeed an interesting phenomenon to listen to a CD of a Swedish band travelling to the now-Russian province of Karelia, collecting the songs from that region to include on this recording, and to find it both exotic and evocative at the same time. Ah, the mysteries of music…

A previous Hedningarna CD that I had the pleasure of hearing (Kaksi!) had far more of a folk-rock feel, which I believe is more typical of the band's style. On this album, however, they have chosen to interpret the pieces in a more traditional, acoustic style. This may be due to the respect they afford the material, which is localised to the Karelia region, on the border between Finland and Russia.

In fact, the members of Hedningarna stayed at the homes of the local people, from whom they learnt the tunes, and they have stayed reasonably true to the melodies they were given. Their arrangement skills certainly weren't disregarded in the process, though. The result is a recording that will easily appeal to lovers of that overly-general term "world music".

The opening track "Veli / Brother" sets the tone with its moody, mysterious feel. Yet, it also has a hopeful air about it which is apparent even without reading the lyrics (in both Swedish and English) concerning a lost brother.

The rhythms and format of these songs generally go in different directions than a Western ear may expect, which of course is part of its attraction to many people. The lyrics are also not restricted to the rhyming couplets so prevalent nowadays, with themes ranging from the joy of singing to an ode to Ukkonen (Thunder God). Even though many of the subjects are universal, the structure of the lyrics is unique enough to stand out. I particularly like the concept espoused in "Alkusanat / The Beginning Words" -- "When a wise one is the singer / she knows when to end her song, too / A good song ends at the right time / A short song is a song with beauty". Here is a band that practices what it preaches!

The combination of expected instruments such as fiddles, flute and accordion along with hurdy-gurdy, lute, Swedish bagpipe etc (even a ubiquitous didgeridoo) and the entirely suitable vocals of Sanna Kurki-Suonio and Anita Lehtola, make this a thoroughly impressive CD. What's the best way to describe it? Hmmm… what about "evocative"?

[Michael Hunter]

Visit Northside Records and Hedningarna