The Finnish folk group Värttinä has been a major player in the world music scene for over 30 years. “Viena” marks their fourteenth album, and it is a beautiful combination of both old and new.
The lineup of singers has always been a constant evolution for Värttinä, from the band’s early days as a 15-singer children’s vocal group to the three-women trio of recent years. Folk singer and ethnomusicologist Karoliina Kantelinen is a new addition to the group. Her voice blends perfectly with the other two singers, Mari Kaasinen and Susan Aho.
To me, “Viena” felt like a return to Värttinä’s roots, yet still with a modern twist. The album is primarily acoustic, featuring predominant sounds of guitar, accordion and fiddle. There are slow, ballad-like songs like “Taivasranta,” “Kelo” and “Kokko.” And the upbeat songs like “Kanaset,” “Ukonlammas” and the instrumental “Kiri” will get your foot tapping. The acapella “Raijan Joiku” features the tight harmonies and “shouting” singing style of classic Värttinä.
This album also features a remake of “Oi Dai,” the title song from their 1991 album “Oi Dai.” This song features an intro on a kantele, a traditional Finnish string instrument. The new instrumentation and trio of voices brings a bright yet haunting sound to this song of close harmonies and Eastern European sounds.
With this strong trio of women and fresh folk sound, Värttinä is poised to continue as a impactful band in world music for many years to come.