Aallotar's music is an exploration of one tradition from two perspectives. Sara Pajunen – Finnish-American – and Teija Niku – a Finn – use their common musical heritage as a starting point for original “chamber-folk.” Together they create new sounds that reflect their contemporary cultures and shared roots.
One could say the duo Aallotar began already in the early 1900s, when Niku’s and Pajunen’s families lived in neighboring regions of Finland. But while Pajunen's ancestors crossed the Atlantic during 'Amerikan kuume' (American fever), Niku's ancestors stayed in Finland. This separation is the impetus for the music of Aallotar. How does tradition morph in an environment of assimilation - or in the same environment over 100 years’ time? How do two cultures grown apart add variation, compromise and depth to collaboration and artistic expression?
Niku (accordion/vocals) spent her Finnish childhood playing folk music on accordion and later received a masters degree from the Sibelius Academy Folk Music Department. Minnesota-born Pajunen (violin/vocals) studied classical music as her main focus, but also played Finnish folk music with a children's group that toured United States, Europe and Australia. Sara has earned classical music degrees in both the United States and Finland and currently studies in the Contemporary Improvisation department at New England Conservatory.
Aallotar’s debut album ‘In Transit’ was released in 2014 and impressed with tender chamber folk, lilting melodies and the intimate harmony of the two musicians. German label Nordic Notes is now releasing the ensemble’s second album, ‘Ameriikan laulu’ (Song of America).
Recorded in November 2017 in Helsinki and released June 15 2018, the topic of emigration takes up a large space in Ameriikan laulu, and Niku and Pajunen play with differences in musical tradition in the US and Finland. The title refers to a song dedicated to Teija’s great-grandmother Amanda Jemina Helenius. Helenius travelled to the new world as a 16 year old. She married Aappo, also born in Finland, and years later they returned to live in Aappo’s home village of Karsikas in Haapavesi, Finland. Almost 80 years later Teija was born in this same village.
The album also features a traditional waltz from Kuortane, where Sara's great-grandfather Henri Saari was born in 1881. Henri worked for a while in Sweden in the timber industry and emigrated to America in 1905. His future wife, Gustava, sailed to Boston from Finland and the two later met and settled in Minnesota. In contrast, the Saari family did not return to their old home. Sara was born just 10 miles from where Gustava and Henri ran a boarding house for iron ore miners in Northern Minnesota.
On ‘Ameriikan laulu’ the two musicians are also influenced by childhood memories. ‘Sininen Uni,’ a children's poem, was set to music by Tapio Rautavaara, a Finnish athlete and singer. Teija's mother regularly read her bedtime poems, including the story of Sininen Uni - which was both frightening and soothing for a little girl. Sara found herself listening to Tapio's music for comfort after returning to the US after living in Finland for many years.
In Finland everyone knows the song of the forest flowers ‘Metsäkukkia,’ common to both musician's childhoods. In the United States the song is not known outside Finnish-American circles, so audiences are often enchanted by the beauty of the melody. Aallotar rearranged the song and also proved a certain creativity in the translation, enabling non-Finnish speaking listeners to partake in the story.
Since its formation in fall 2013 Aallotar has made numerous appearances in the US, but also performed at leading European festivals such as the Kaustinen Folk Music Festival in Finland and Sounds of the North in Gdańsk, Poland. Aallotar continues to explore the differences and similarities of Finland and Finnish America through their music, taking inspiration from tradition while pushing at boundaries. Their lithe instrumentals and beautiful vocal harmonies in both Finnish and English demonstrate how gracefully traditional and modern folk music can speak together.
released June 15, 2018
All music arranged and produced by Aallotar
1. AMERIIKAN LAULU Niku, lyrics trad.
2. JOULUKUU Niku
3. OCTONE Pajunen
4. METSÄKUKKIA trad. & Pajunen, lyrics Aune Onerva Haarla / translation Pajunen
5. TALLARI trad.
6. TUUDITTELE TUULI trad. lyrics trad. / translation Pajunen
7. KUDOS & KUORTANE Niku & trad.
8. SININEN UNI Tapio Rautavaara & Pajunen, lyrics P. Mustapää
© & Ⓟ Nordic Notes / Aallotar