Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Sound track of Finland

Flowers, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Last Sunday I did something I thought I would never, ever do - I gave music recommendations about Finnish artists. (My problem with bad recommendations applies also to the other direction, namely music recommended by others to me. I probably still have a Girlshool cd I can't stand listening to.)

Today while listening to radio I realized I had forgotten something essential in my short list of Finnish artists. There was a Finnish Christmas song being played, the music was quite traditional and you could imagine the words would be telling about a family gathering around the Christmas tree, children happy opening their presents, everyone full of good will. Well, the song was traditional all right, telling about a Finnish Christmas.

The lyrics tell about a feast where the skis received as a present lie broken on the floor, there is vomit on the shirt, and a girl and her little brother are escaping, guided by the Christmas star, towards grandmother. The title of the song is appropriately "To grandmother at Christmas" (lyrics in Finnish).

As background, you should note that the notorious Finnish alchohol consumption peaks at Christmas. And that it is extremely unevenly distributed.

The Christmas song I heard was made by Leevi and the Leavings: "... a Finnish rock-band that operated from 1978 to 2003. The band consisted of Gösta Sundqvist, Risto Paananen, Juha Karastie and Niklas Nylund. Sundqvist was the leader of the band, he composed and wrote all the band's songs as well as being the vocalist. Sundqvist was also an interesting character, he rarely gave interviews or appeared on television, although he hosted a radio program for YLE."

Leevi and the Leavings have made the best rock lyrics in Finland, and if there ever will be a movie which captures Finland, the sound track will contain their songs.

For foreigners [not understanding the Finnish language] it is not apparent that the catchy tunes and choruses provide an extreme contrast with the tragicomedic lyrics. Their music is highly recommended. And if the originals are not available, there is also a rather nice cd from 2007, "Melkein vieraissa – Tribuutti Leevi & The Leavingsille", the songs performed by current Finnish artists.

The photo here has little to do with music and Leevi and the Leavings, except that it was on the way from this flower shop that I heard the song in question.

Update: I'm currently playing Leevi and the Leavings (I have ten of their cds), and I once again recognized the genius of Gösta Sundqvist in writing lyrics. But it is also interesting to note how certain things can be said very concisely in the Finnish language, which probably tells a bit of our society: skis received as present (lahjasukset), vomit on the shirtfront (oksennusta rinnuksilla). Each of these phrases brings forth powerful visions, not always pleasant.

Update 2: Apparently this was the 500th posting at Light Scrape. I noticed it too late to say something more topical, but this is milestone nevertheless. Using Google with the phrase "leevi leavings 500" returned this tidbit: a list of the top 500 Finnish popular songs. Although I'm bad at making music recommendations perhaps this helps.


Andreas said...

Congratulations! It's funny, I always had the goal to get to big numbers with my blog, and my titles included numbers from the very beginning. Does that tell something about me? I don't know and I don't know if I want to know :)

Nice composition.

It's pretty tragic that so much good music is not understandable to me, and that's probably one reason why I use and like English so much. There's an incredible amount of English music and literature available, and not only from English speaking artists. From past learning 15 years ago I understand just enough Spanish to know if something interests me, and thankfully I have people who can translate it. I understand even less Italian and French, but there are speakers available as well.

Juha Haataja said...

Indeed - English is a good compromise for everyone. Even as Finland is a two-language country (Finnish and Swedish), we tend to use English in (work) situations where Swedish might also be appropriate.

Years ago I wrote some textbooks in Finnish (on programming, numerical methods etc.), but later I have thought that writing in English instead would have provided a vastly wider audience. Good Finnish is not always better than bad English.