YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Originals From Start to Finnish


When the Finnish group Varttina started out in 1983, its 15 singers were adolescent girls. When the folk band released its first albums in the early '90s, the sound could be compared to that of Bulgarian women's choirs, only peppier. Or maybe "Alvin & the Chipmunks Sing World Beat."

Today, the group's four female singers and six "roots and rock" musicians have offspring of their own, and the addition of drums and saxophone to the mix makes it difficult to compare Varttina's sound to anything.

"It's not 'trad,' it's not folk, it's in no way a revivalist band," said manager Phillip Page. "It's a contemporary band with Karelian roots. They're forging ahead in very adventurous ways." Karelia is a former Soviet republic east of Finland.

The group also is forging ahead with a 10-concert tour that began last week in Canada and ends back there Aug. 11. On Monday, Varttina performed in the Global Village at the Olympics in Atlanta; Saturday promises a pair of shows at San Juan Capistrano Regional Library.

Varttina's inaugural release, "Oi Dai," became the biggest-selling Finnish folk record in 20 years; the subsequent "Seleniko" hit the top spot on world-music charts. "Aitara" crossed the line into pop. All were on the Xenophile label.

On the group's next album--its first for Nonesuch, due in October--every composition is original, and according to violinist and cimbalom player Kari Reiman, every member of the group contributed either lyrics, melodies or arrangements.

"That's one of the strongest points of this band," Reiman said by phone from Helsinki. "Everybody is doing something!"

Several personnel changes have contributed to the band's artistic shift. Reiman views every one of those changes as a plus for all concerned; members who departed did so to follow other musical pursuits, and those who stayed still feel their influence.

He considers the legacy of former members as "idea books, books of ideas . . . different ways to see a song. We have had very creative players, and we still use those ideas. I am very grateful to the old members--but I also think this is the best lineup ever."


Saxophonist and bouzouki player Janne Lappalainen is now the youngest member of the group, at 25. Kari Reiman is 41. "I am the senior member," he said.

That shift in average age also means that the current members have more responsibilities than the young girls in the original group.

Founder Sari Kaasinen (who won't be on this tour) and bassist Pekka Lehti have two children each.

Meanwhile, accompanying Reiman and his wife--vocalist Sirpa, an original member--on the tour will be their 10-month-old daughter, Milja, who could be heard crying in the background.

"Jet lag probably means new problems," Reiman said. "But it's nice to have the whole family, and I can't imagine leaving her at this age."

* What: Finnish folk-pop band Varttina.

* When: 7 and 9 p.m. Saturday

* Where: San Juan Capistrano Regional Library, 31495 El Camino Real.

* Whereabouts: Take Interstate 5 to the Ortega (74) Highway exit and head west. Turn right on El Camino Real.

* Wherewithal: $3 to $6.

* Where to call: (714) 248-7469.

Los Angeles Times Articles