Karelia Visa
(NorthSide, 1999)

I bought this CD preparing to be surprised; after all, I'd never heard their music before. I was intrigued by its base in runosong (a traditional Scandinavian style of music, the blurb said), and by its conceptual similarity to Steeleye Span, who also update the sound of traditional British folk forms. I liked Karelia Visa immediately based on the sound, and even more when I had a chance to read the liner notes and the lyrics.

Runosong is a non-rhymed form of poetry, similar to that used in the sagas and older English works like Beowulf. The songs are sung in Karelian, and there are English translations in the liner notes. They are all very catchy, and I find myself humming them unexpectedly, even without knowing the lyrics.

Hedningarna's combination of modern and traditional instruments (and the odd didgeridoo!) is effective in setting off the old songs. It adds an almost hypnotic, circular rhythm that complements the lyrics' structure and flow, while making it more interesting to those of us who can't follow the words themselves without the translations in hand. I found it interesting that the two songs I liked best musically, without knowing the words -- and hummed most often -- had the lyrics I liked best when I looked; they captured the feel of the songs in a way that comes through even without conscious knowledge of Karelian. (These songs are "Metsän Tyttö/Forest Maiden" and "Mitä Minä/What Do I Sing.")

The booklet included has complete lyrics and translations, and some information on runosong and Karelia, a land that spans the border between Russian Karelia and Finland. The photographs that illustrate it are wonderful, and the outdoor ones capture a winter so deep that it can give one a chill, even during a heat wave! It's beautiful to look at, and increased my appreciation for the music.

I recommend this CD to world music lovers as well as fans of updated Celtic music who are interested in exploring a similar style based on different ethnic roots. And I bet you'll catch yourself humming!

[ by Amanda Fisher ]

Buy it from Amazon.com.