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There are two major traditions of folk music in Finland, namely, music of the Kalevala form and Nordic folk music or pelimanni music (North Germanic spelman, "player of music") of which the former in considered the older one. Its most important form is called runonlaulanta ("poem singing" or chanting). This type of singing used to tell stories about heroes like Väinämöinen, Lemminkäinen and Kullervo. A form of rhyming sleigh singing called rekilaulu became popular in the 17th century. Despite opposition from most of the churches in Finland, rekilaulu remained popular and is today a common element in pop songs. Since the 1920s, several popular Finnish performers have used rekilaulu as an integral part of their repertoire. Pelimanni music is tonal, and is the Finnish version of the Nordic folk dance music. It came to Finland from Central Europe via Scandinavia starting in the 17th century, and in the 19th century the pelimanni music replaced the kalevaic tradition. Pelimanni music was generally played on fiddle and clarinet. Later, also harmonium and various types of accordions were used. Common dances in the pelimanni traditions include polska, polka, mazurka, schottische, quadrille, waltz and minuet.

Early in the 20th century, the region of Kaustinen became a center of innovation for pelimanni music. Friiti Ojala and Antti Järvelä were influential fiddlers of the period. Konsta Jylhä and the other members of Purpuripelimannit formed in 1946 became perhaps the most influential group of this classical period.
Iskelmä (coined directly from the German word Schlager, meaning hit) is a traditional Finnish word for a light popular song. Georg Malmstén started his career in the 1930s. After World War II and pre-rock music era, such names as Olavi Virta or Tapio Rautavaara, for example, were among the most popular male singing stars in Finland. From the late 1960s, Irwin Goodman (a.k.a. Antti Hammarberg), combining iskelmä and protest songs, would gain popularity with the humorous tunes penned by Vexi Salmi. In the sixties also popmusic emerged where Finnish artists started to translate foreign hits in spite of just singing them blindly in bad English. The first personal texts were written by Juice Leskinen and M.A. Numminen (later Tuomari Nurmio).

In the seventies progressive rock groups like Wigwam and Tasavallan Presidentti received critical acclaim outside Finland. Hector, Juice Leskinen, Dave Lindholm and many other successful artists of the 70s sang their lyrics in Finnish, a trend that has continued to this day. The International Folk Music Festival, established in 1968 in Kaustinen, was a major event in the popularization of Finnish folk. The 1970s saw further revival of Finnish folk music. Well-known Finnish folk music groups of today in the Kaustinen tradition include JPP, Frigg (although part Norwegian) and Troka. A group more focussed on the singing traditions and the kantele is Värttinä. Another important folk musician of today is accordionist Maria Kalaniemi. 1996's critically acclaimed Suden Aika by Tellu Virkkala saw a further return of runosong to the Finnish music scene.

The punk movement arrived in Finland in 1977 and had a great influence on the Finnish youth culture, Pelle Miljoona being the most famous Finnish punk singer. Terveet Kädet also started the hardcore punk-wave in Finland. Another popular band, Eppu Normaali, also started during this time period, (later to change its style from punk to rock and become the most popular Finnish band to date). Singer / songwriter Tuomari Nurmio started his career at this time with his first four albums being extremely popular. Of course also eighties popmusic was made in Finland for instance by Pave Maijanen, the band Dingo (which was produced by Maijanen), Eve and Leevi & the Leavings.

At the same time, Finland also had a massive Ted movement of Elvis and rockabilly fans. Best internationally known for this (in foreign eyes somewhat strange) movement are the Sleepy Sleepers aka The Leningrad Cowboys who found fame with their own feature film by the hand of Aki Kaurismaki’s film The Leningrad Cowboys go America (89). Like al other Scandinavian countries Finland has it’s metal scene although it’s less extreme and outspoken then the metal scenes of Norway and Sweden. Prove of this is that an act like Lordi can make it to the mainstream public by winning the Eurovision in 2006. Highly original is the symphonic metal group Apocalyptica who start out by playing Metallica cover songs as cello quartettos. They also perform at the Eurovision as the entre act in 2007.

Though Finnish bands tend to write their lyrics in English as to leave their music open to countries outside of native Finnish boundaries the eighties and nineties had their share of Finnish sung popmusic. 1980s most favoured artists were punkish Dingo and heavy-hearted Yö, both singing their lyrics in Finnish. In the underground, Ismo Alanko, considered by many as the foremost Finnish rock lyricist, gained a legendary status with his punkish groups Hassisen Kone and Sielun Veljet. in the 1990s bands such as Apulanta, Absoluuttinen Nollapiste, Miljoonasade, Ultra Bra and the shamanic art-punk group CMX have success with rock music with Finnish lyrics. And singing in English still can result in typical Finnish popmusic as 22 Pistepirko proves.

Recent artist mixing rock, electronics and traditional are Maija Vilkkumaa, Regina, Anssi Kela and PMMP, who are very popular in Finland. More intellegent pop with a female touch is made by Chisu and Jenni Vartiainen. On the alternative avant-garde side multi-instrumentalist Mika Rättö is active since mid-nineties with folk/jazz/rock group Kuusumun Profeetta. He makes the step to a wider audience with the trio Eleanoora Rosenholm who deliver an intriguing musical trilogy about a homocidal housewife at the end of the years zero. He also becomes active in the rock-band Circle. At the end of the decade Arto Tuunela breaks through with his band Pariisin Kevät.

In the field of more electronic music, Jori Hulkkonen, as well as Jimi Tenor, have had underground succes worldwide since the turn of the century. The indisputable pioneer of Finnish electronic music is Erkki Kurenniemi who built his legendary DIMI synthesizers in the late 1960s and early 1970s.




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