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Homegrown Plus: Kardemimmit

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Four women stand outdoors in a field of wildflowers.
Kardemimmit (l-r): Anna Wegelius, Jutta Rahmel, Maija Pokela, Leeni Wegelius. Photo by Jimmy Träskelin, courtesy of Kardemimmit.

Welcome back to the Homegrown Plus series, in which we present Homegrown concerts that also had accompanying oral history interviews, placing both videos together in an easy-to-find blog post. (Find the whole series here!) We’re continuing the series with one of Finland’s favorite folk bands, Kardemimmit. The American Folklife Center was very happy to co-sponsor this concert with our friends at the Embassy of Finland.

Kardemimmit is a quartet consisting of Maija Pokela, Jutta Rahmel, Anna Wegelius, and Leeni Wegelius, four women who sing and play kantele. The kantele is a zither or plucked psaltery, and is the national instrument of Finland. The Kantele comes in several size, and Kardemimmit mostly play 15-stringed and 38-stringed versions of the instrument.

Kardemimmit has been playing together since 1999, when they came together in music school at the Music Institute Juvenalia in their home town of Espoo. In their music you can hear the Finnish reki-singing style, 19th century dance music, the Perhonjokilaakso kantele playing style, Eastern Finnish archaic improvisation, and ancient runo singing. Their singing has a strong foundation in Finnish, Eastern European, and Scandinavian traditions.

Four women sit outdoors in a field of wildflowers.
Kardemimmit (l-r): Anna Wegelius, Jutta Rahmel, Maija Pokela, Leeni Wegelius. Photo by Jimmy Träskelin, courtesy of Kardemimmit.

Kardemimmit is considered a pioneering kantele band: they have been the Kantele Association’s band of the year and won the International Kantele Competition. Kardemimmit has toured extensively in Europe, North America and Japan. The group has released five albums, one of which was published by The Rough Guide. Their 2012 album Autio Huvila was chosen as the Finnish folk album of the year.

After the concert and the interview, I’ll put in links to some further Finnish resources you can explore.  But by now, you’re ready to watch the concert. See Kardemimmit in the player below!

In our conversation, I spoke with Anna and Leeni Wegelius about Finnish traditional music, the education system in Finland and its support of music, the importance of the kantele, the history of Kardemimmit, and their surprising connection to…The Spice Girls.  Watch it in the player below!

You can find both of these videos with more bibliographic information on the Library of Congress website, with the concert here at this link and the interview at this link.

When we premiered these concert videos on Facebook, we also provided some links to additional Finnish resources that might interest anyone who enjoys the concert:

AFC has many recordings online in Finnish on the Library of Congress website. In Michigan in 1938, Alan Lomax recorded 71 disc sides from Finnish American musicians, including singing, kantele playing, button accordion, and harmonica. Find all of those recordings at this link!

In 1939 in California, Sidney Robertson recorded 16 songs in Finnish, and took photos of the singers. After the concert, find those materials at this link.

There are also Finnish materials from American Folklife Center collections on the University of Wisconsin website. In 1937, Sidney Robertson Cowell collected Finnish folk music in Wisconsin, and some of her recordings can be found in the collection at the link. (Visit this link and search for “Finnish” to find them!)

In 1940 Helene Stratman Thomas recorded Finnish singers in Wisconsin, and her recordings can be found in the collection at the link. (Visit this link and search for “Finnish” to find them.)

In Finnish tradition, there is a mythological story about the origin of the kantele, the traditional zither played by Kardemimmit. In Finland’s national epic, Kalevala, the mage Väinämöinen makes the first kantele from the jawbone of a giant pike and a few hairs from Hiisi’s stallion. The music it makes draws all the forest creatures near to wonder at its beauty. Later, after grieving at the loss of his kantele, Väinämöinen makes another one from birch, strung with the hair of a willing maiden, and its magic proves equally profound. In 1939, Sidney Robertson recorded John Soininen singing two songs about the kantele from Kalevala. Find those and his other recordings at the link!

The American Folklife Center has more materials relating to Finland that are not yet online. Consult our Finland collections guide at this link.

As Always, we thank you for watching, listening, reading, and exploring! The American Folklife Center’s Homegrown Concert Series brings music, dance, and spoken arts from across the country, and some from further afield, to the Library of Congress. For information on current concerts, visit the Folklife Concerts page at Concerts from the Library of Congress. For past concerts, including links to webcasts and other information, visit the Homegrown Concerts Online Archive.

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