Arto Jarvela & Kaivama: Folk Fiddle at it’s Finest

Paul Whyte


This coming Friday, January 11, the violinist Sara Pajunen will be playing with multi-instrumentalist Jonathan Rundman as the Finnish folk duo KAIVAMA. The band’s name pulls from the Finnish word “kaivaa,” which means to delve or dig. The Northland has deep Finnish roots and it seems fitting for them to be playing up here. The band claims in a press release, “KAIVAMA grew up in Northwood’s cultures of long winters, lakeside saunas, rugged terrain and solitude.” As a Northern Wisconsin kid myself, I can relate.
On this particular album that the band was nice enough to mail to me, the duo teams up with the renowned Finnish fiddler Arto Jarvela who has been a leading musician in this specific genre for over 30 years. Pajunen and Rundman started creating music together after a last minute call to form a project so they could play a Finnish folk festival a couple years back. They hardly new each other going into this project, but it seems to have been a worthwhile endeavor on their part.
I’ll start by saying that this album captures something very real and anyone with an appreciation for music should be able to quickly realize that this is world class musicianship. I’ll admit that I’m not an authority of traditional folk music, but I can say I’ve always really liked composers like Vivaldi who worked heavily with violin arrangements; “Four Seasons” is one of my favorite musical works to this day. On a more local and contemporary aspect, I’ve been quite impressed with Gaelynn Lea’s violin work with Snobarn and Murder of Crows lately. For anyone who likes the sound of violin music, this is a must listen to album.
It seems fitting to describe this music as being in a way more classical, although it is technically Finnish folk fiddle music which is backed by Rundman on guitar, harmonium and mandolin. Vocals are all but non-existent on the tracks, there’s some random harmonies, but no actual words or lyrics. By comparing this to classical, I mean that it is almost completely instrumental and doesn’t follow a standard “verse/chrous” flow in anyway. These songs are masterfully composed and with the experience of Arto Jarvela backing this recording, it comes as little surprise.
It’s a little difficult to express in words what is going on with this album. It’s more or less swirling layers of gorgeous violin tracks between Jarvela and Pajunen with Rundman backing up these tracks as a multi-instrumentalist. It’s soothing and mesmerizing at the same time.
There are slower songs like “Blooming Prairie” that have the feel of a waltz which is backed by piano but just the slightest amount of uneasiness creates a feeling of intrigue which offsets it’s overall lightheartedness.   
Songs such as “Norman Borlaug Polka” move at a little faster pace, if the guitar was distorted it could almost make a good Celtic-punk song, of course in this case it would be Finnish. The difference between Celtic and Finnish fiddle is slight by my ear and it’s hard to really describe what the differences are. Both are pulling on a lot of similar aspects in my opinion but there is definitely something subtly different. It’s as if it is Celtic fiddle, but there’s just certain notes that remind me of a more Eastern European/Gypsy sort of sound at times.
One of my favorite tracks on this album is “Aamuyon Valssi,” the parts with plucked notes on the violin are simply awesome and beautiful. This and most every song on the album is nothing short of a truly amazing listening experience that goes beyond words.
Overall, KAIVAMA takes on the old and puts a mild modern twist on it. Their sound is fantastic and although there are certainly artists out there that specialize in the genre, this is an example of traditional folk violin at it’s finest. The show at Beaner’s is a little up there with $10 tickets in advance and $15 at the door, but I’d say the show will be well worth it for anyone with a true appreciation for classical, traditional or violin music.


Paul Whyte

A South Shore native and University of Wisconsin-Superior journalism graduate. Lifelong musician, and former open mic host. Passionate about the music scene and politics.

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