Sunday, 29 September 2013

Polkabilly Rebels

by Veli-Matti Järvenpää, J. Karjalainen, Mitja Tuurala and Tommi Viksten

In case you were ever wondering — which I doubt — whether Finnish folk music could possibly mix with hilbilly, here’s the answer. Or maybe not. For the most part, it sounds like American old-time songs, just sung in Finnish. Out of twelve tracks, only three could be reasonably called polkas (or polkkat?): Kauppias Intiassa, Vingelska (the only instrumental piece here) and Karjalan poikia. So what? It is all jolly good stuff. I can imagine these guys playing in a pub (which they probably do) and people actually dancing to this music.


This album is dedicated to the memory of Jenny “Jingo” (Viitala) Vachon (1918—2009), a Finnish-American musician, artist, writer and local historian. According to the liner notes, or, rather, the short commentaries to the songs, “Jingo made American songs out of Finnish songs and vice versa”.

If you want to sing along, the lyrics are there. For the benefit of non-Finnish speakers, the lyrics are translated to English too (while many of the texts originated as Finnish translations of American folk songs, as, for example, Wabash Cannonball, which was translated from English by Jingo Viitala).

I am not quite sure whether Polkabilly Rebels is just the name of the album or also the band. The CD cover has the names of the four musicians on it. Amazon and some other sources, including Wikipedia, list Polkabilly Rebels as one of J. Karjalainen solo albums. But then Amasa Blues is presented as “A Polkabilly Rebels original”. To be sure I don’t forget anybody, here are the complete credits:

    J. Karjalainen: vocals, guitar, 5-string banjo and fiddle
    Veli-Matti Järvenpää: 1- and 2-row button accordion
    Mitja Tuurala: upright bass
    Tommi Viksten: electric guitar
    Marjo Leinonen: vocals on Hopeinen veitsi (The Silver Knife)

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Fantasiatango 2

by Johanna Juhola

I’m still to listen to Juhola’s 2010 record, Fantasiatango. In the meantime, I got hold of Fantasiatango 2. My it’s good. Very different from her debut album, Miette, and probably as good. (The more I listen to Miette, the more I like it. Let’s see.) As the name suggests, it is mostly tango, with numerous twists. I like these little descriptions for the songs:

Summer is my religion. I run outside into the tropical night. Winter can’t catch me, no sir! I don’t want antidepressants; just give me some of that Vitamin D – light therapy! (Bipolär tango / Bipolar Tango)
It’s –32 °C: the wind whips my face and snow blankets the streets, the cars and my thoughts. I want to be under a palm tree. Time for a last-minute departure to Tenerife! (Etelän kaipuu / Longing for the South)
I start to suspect that she’s a tad unhappy with Finnish weather.

Bipolär tango, featuring Swedish rapper Promoe: I don’t understand a word but who cares, it’s great anyway.

Friday, 20 September 2013

African Textiles Today

by Chris Spring
The history of indigenous African art has been misdirected by Western aesthetic preferences, which give an undue pride of place to figural or abstract sculpture (a pre-eminently patriarchal art) and less visibility to the role of textiles, decorative arts and performance arts (pre-eminently matriarchal arts) in the construction of indigenous identity.
Sylvester Okwunodu Ogbechie

There is no question that humans came out of Africa. Naturally, human culture came out of Africa too, but we Westerners tend to ignore this fact. The West, above all, values literature, painting and sculpture, while Africans are more concerned with oral tradition and the subject of this book: cloth.

Cloth in Africa is much more than “just” a material for clothing. Cloth served as a currency until minted coins replaced it in the last century. Protective gowns or shirts may be decorated with Quran inscriptions, or have numerous charms sewn into them, or both. The kanga, which often bears subtle (or not so subtle) slogans in Kiswahili, is a powerful communication instrument. Cloth is also a means of declaring the social status:

Sometimes the only true measure of a man’s status in life is revealed after his death, as is still the case among the Kuba people of the Kasai region of the southern Congo Basin, where the fine cloth which a chief or high-ranking official has accumulated throughout his life is shown to a wider public for the first time at his funeral.
Last but not least, textiles serve as historical documents. In short: if you want to understand anything at all about African culture, you’d better have a serious look at the African textiles.

On more than one occasion, the author points out that the indigenous-ness of any tradition is not a particularly helpful concept. I like the story told in Chapter 3: in the 19th century, the Dutch embarked on producing the printed cloth imitating Javanese batiks. The textile proved to be not too popular in Indonesia but appealed to Ghanaian soldiers employed by the Dutch. Then a Scotsman sets up a company in Glasgow and pirates the Dutch, um, imitations. In the post-colonial times, textile factories were established in West African countries, but now the production is threatened by cheap Chinese copies of... the “West African” designs!

The author, Chris Spring, is a curator at the British Museum; the book is published by The British Museum Press. Perhaps unsurprisingly, most of the beautiful textiles illustrated in the book are from the British Museum collection. African Textiles Today also includes shots of artistic installations, for example Nike v Adidas by Hassan Hajjaj and Space Walk by Yinka Shonibare, as well as documentary and street photography. The last chapter shows textiles through the eyes of African photographers such as Seydou Keïta, Oumar Ly, Malick Sidibé and Jacques Touselle.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Portuguese Irregular Verbs

by Alexander McCall Smith

Unlike its sequels, Portuguese Irregular Verbs has no plot to speak of as it is a collection of more or less independent stories featuring the trio of German academics. Meet Professor Dr Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld, the author of a seminal work on Portuguese irregular verbs, simply but majestically entitled Portuguese Irregular Verbs, and his two colleagues, Professor Dr Dr (honoris causa) Florianus Prinzel and Professor Dr Detlev Amadeus Unterholzer.

Ah, to be a philologist! To work in an (apparently spared by crisis) academic Institute and travel the world! In this book, von Igelfeld finds himself in Switzerland, Ireland, Italy and Goa (by special invitation of J.G.K.L. Singh of Chandighar, author of Dravidian Verb Shifts). I could swear that I have met him, or maybe his identical twin, a biologist, in all these places.

That evening, after he had taken a refreshing drink of mango juice on the main verandah, von Igelfeld ventured out onto the road outside the hotel. Within a few seconds he had been surrounded by several men in red tunics, who started to quarrel over him until a villainous-looking man with a moustache appeared to win the argument and led von Igelfeld over to his cycle-driven rickshaw.
‘I shall show you this fine town,’ he said to von Igelfeld as the philologist eased himself into the small, cracked leather seat. ‘What do you wish to see? The prison? The library? The grave of the last Portuguese governor?’
Von Igelfeld chose the library, which seemed the least disturbing of the options, and soon they were bowling down the road, overtaking pedestrians and slower rickshaws, the sinister rickshaw man ringing his bell energetically at every possible hazard.
The library was, of course, closed, but this did not deter the rickshaw man. Beckoning for von Igelfeld to follow him, he took him through the library gardens and walked up to the back door. Glancing about him, the rickshaw man took out a small bunch of implements, and started to try each in the lock. Von Igelfeld watched in amazement as his guide picked the lock; he knew he should have protested, but, faced with such effrontery, words completely failed him. Then, when the door swung open, equally passively he followed the rickshaw driver into the cool interior of the Goa State Library.
The building smelled of damp and mildew; the characteristic odour of books which have been allowed to rot.
‘Here we are,’ said the rickshaw man. ‘These books are very, very old, and contain a great deal of Portuguese knowledge. The Portuguese brought them and now they have gone away and left their books behind.’

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Love Jazz 1966—1977

by Various Artists

In 2007, while visiting Turku, I wandered into a music shop and, on a whim, bought a CD of a hitherto unknown to me musician released by a hitherto unknown to me label. The musican’s name was Pekka Pohjola. (Sadly, he died in 2008.) The label, already long-dead, was Love Records. I don’t remember exactly what was the reason I bought the album, Pihkasilmä kaarnakorva, but it is most likely that I was intrigued by the combination of a stained glass-inspired cover art with the Love Records somewhat risqué logo:

The fact is, after listening to the CD in my hotel room, I rushed back to that shop and bought another Pohjola album.

Six years later, at the Porvoo city library, I discovered quite a lot of Love Records catalogue, including Love Jazz 1966—1977. From the liner notes of the album:

It might actually be easier to list who didn’t record for Love Records. In spite of this fact, and considering the musical background of the founders, Love Records published surprisingly few jazz albums. However, what lacks in quantity is made up for in quality. Love Jazz 1966—1977 is not aiming to be an inclusive cross-section of the jazz produced by Love Records, but focuses instead on some of the more swinging pieces. The compilation contains established jazz classics, a few lesser known, but all the more lively pieces, and a couple of rare treasures.
One of these rare treasures is Haka Blues by The Otto Donner Element All Stars. It is one of my favourite tracks here, together with Stella By Starlight Paquito D’Rivera and his Cuban-Nordic band featuring “the great Dane with the never-ending name”, Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen, and Deodatoesque Grandma’s Rocking Chair by Olli Ahvenlahti — listen to the funky bass line by the very same Pekka Pohjola to whom I owe my acquaintance with Love Records!

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Edward Trencom’s Nose: A Novel of History, Dark Intrigue and Cheese

by Giles Milton

I found this book entertaining enough, albeit not as much as According to Arnold. The problem is, I couldn’t care less about its protagonist. In spite (or maybe because) of his obsession with his dead ancestors, he is just plain boring. I loved the language though.

I was not able to check whether all the cheeses mentioned in the book really exist. At least toulomotyri appears to be genuine. But I was sorely disappointed that neither majorero nor any Finnish cheese were in Edward Trencom’s cellar.

Elizabeth had an absolute abhorrence of impinging on other people’s territory. Indeed, there was a side to her that was peculiarly English — not in the patriotic sense of flag-waving and hymn-singing and cabbage that’s been boiled for so long that it’s no longer green. It was more the fact that she valued more than anything else in the world the much underrated virtue of respecting one another’s space.

She fully understood why commuters on the train to London liked to hide behind the vast acreage of The Times. After all, she thought, didn’t everyone have the right to a few snatched moments on the way to work, simply enjoying the privacy of their own company?

Monday, 2 September 2013


by Kimmo Pohjonen, Samuli Kosminen and Kronos Quartet

I borrowed this DVD from Porvoo City Library. While I am here, I have to use it — it’s not that you get to hear a lot of Finnish music outside of Finland.

Kimmo Pohjonen, however, by now is known worldwide. “Jimi Hendrix of the accordion”? What nonsense. There’s very little in common between Pohjonen and Hendrix — apart from their awesomeness, that is. If I had to make comparison to a rock guitarist, I’d rather go for a live one, namely, Robert Fripp. (And, by the way, KTU, the project of Pohjonen and two former King Crimson members, Pat Mastelotto and Trey Gunn, is alive and kicking and will give two concerts in Poland later this month.)

On Uniko (recorded live at the Helsinki Festival in 2004), Pohjonen and Samuli Kosminen collaborate with Kronos Quartet to create a fantastic soundscape. It is developing slowly but surely. The virtuosity is there all right but there is no display of virtuosity. Just organically-grown music that you want to taste forever.