(Bafe's Factory Records)


The musicians of Finland are world renowned for creating an impressive range of world class instrumental music. Due to its inherent complexity, Finnish vocal music is often overlooked in this regard but a relatively recent Finnish artist—singer-songwriter and kantele player Vilma Timonen is in the process of correcting that with the 2015 CD release of Drops by Vilma Timonen Quartet. Supported by three fine musicians, Vilma is in fine form on Drops, the nine track that features the VTQ music gently embellished by her Finnish lyrics. Speaking to about the Finnish aspect in the vocal music on her new CD, Vilma explains “For me, music tells stories with or without words. I have been very much inspired by Finnish Rune singing language, that has been a musical mother tongue in our country. I am fascinated how syllables sound, melt to each other, and how the language sounds and feels in expressions. This is why I also write lyrics only in Finnish. The language is extremely rich, filled with colors and various shades of expression. We are actually working with getting English translations of the lyrics.” Earlier albums by VTQ featured a number of instrumental-based tracks with Vilma’s kantele prominent in the mix, but on Drops, Vilma sounds resolute about bringing the Finnishness forward in her vocal music. There are several instrumental tracks on Drops, but for the most part, Drops wins over the listener by combining the strong instrumental kantele presence in the VTQ sound with an even more unique sense of Finnish pop and folk vocal music. Music listeners who enjoyed the earlier, mainly instrumental, albums by VTQ will appreciate the way Vilma has brought her Finnish vocal sound into the mix. Overall, Drops is a fascinating spin for World Music fans, Finnish music fans and music listeners interested in the time honored kantele and how it applies to the sound of 21st century pop music. / presents an interview with

: Can you tell us where you’re from originally and where you live now and what do you like best about it?

Vilma Timonen: I was born in the capital area in Finland and have been living here most of my life. Even so, I feel very much that my roots are actually in North Carelia, in the Eastern part of Finland. Both of my parents are from a small town called Nurmes and I have spent a lot of there with my grandparents. That is also where kantele came into my life since my grandfather used to build kanteles and it was my grandmother who took me to my first courses to learn how to play it.

mwe3: Your new CD is called Drops. In your English liner notes, you metaphorically compare Drops with drops from the water or river of life, which is very deep. Is our life like a long river that moves us through all kinds of terrain and scenery? Your song titles are kind of thought provoking too.

Vilma Timonen: I think these ideas appear to me very clearly when I get familiar with music of different eras and places. It is amazing how many aesthetic similarities one can find from musical traditions that have existed on completely opposite sides of the world or in different times. Our Finnish kantele music for example relates very much in many ways for example to West African kora-music, some styles in North East Asia and so on. Similarly, songs and texts are universal in many ways. People have been expressing feelings, telling stories and so on pretty much in similar ways no matter where their origin is. For me, this is something never-ending, always existing... a flow, a river of music that is there and every person is able to jump into the flow and relate to it. No matter in which time or place people live...

mwe3: In addition to Drops I listened to your earlier instrumental albums which combine Finnish folk music with jazz and pop. Did you record vocal music on your earlier albums as well? Finnish is a difficult language to learn! What make the Finnish language good for lyrics and is there a way to explain your lyrics in English? Maybe next album you could write English translations.

Vilma Timonen: For me music tells stories with or without words. I have been very much inspired by the Finnish Rune singing language that has been a musical mother tongue in our country. I am fascinated how syllables sound, melt to each others, how the language sounds and feels in expressions. This is why I also write lyrics only in Finnish. The language is extremely rich, filled with colors and various shades of expressions. I don’t think I could express myself in the same way using a language that is not my own.

We are actually working with getting English translations of the lyrics. It has not been an easy job since I wanted to have similar kind of poetic way of expressing things also in English lyrics. Luckily we found a good person to do that so we hope to have English translations already this week on our web page.

mwe3: Who plays with you in the VTQ band and what instruments do they play? How long has the band been together and what is the chemistry like between the members of the VTQ? When you record, how do you and the band work out the song arrangements?

Vilma Timonen: For me, music making is always about communication. In the Vilma Timonen Quartet there are 4 members who work collaboratively. I bring most of the ideas and themes but everyone has a strong contribution in the process. I am very lucky to have found 3 amazingly skillful musicians to work with me. And not just amazing musicians but incredibly wonderful, respectful and nice people as well!

Topi Korhonen plays trumpet, guitar and mandolin, Jaakko Kämäräinen plays bass and Tuomas Timonen takes care of percussion. All of them sing as well. The sound of our band is created together as every musician brings their unique talent and vision to the process where our new music is being born.

mwe3: Tell us about the Finnish instrument, the Kantele, that you play on your albums and in concert too. When did you start playing the Kantele and can you tell us something about its unique sound, its lore and legend in Finnish folklore and how the Kantele fits into the Finnish Kalevela?

Vilma Timonen: Kantele is one of the most traditional instruments of our country. We can’t tell for sure but there are estimations that at least for 2000 years an instrument called kantele has been existing in our culture. As I mentioned earlier, this instrument came to my life through my grandparents. The sound is really unique with open strings resonating freely.

In Kalevala there is a story of how the very first kantele was made. The story tells that when Väinämöinen, the great hero in the stories, played, everyone would come to listen and he could control the whole nature by just with his playing. Otherwise, the stories tell how the world was created so I guess Kantele has been a very important thing in our culture since it is given this very big role in our epic stories!

mwe3: One track on Drops was written by you and Jaakko Kämäräinen. It’s a very cool wordless track with some cameo vocals by you called “Basantapur”. What can you tell us about that track?

Vilma Timonen: I am currently doing my doctoral thesis about music education in Nepal. I travel to Kathmandu quite often for that work and I had just returned back to Helsinki a few days before the big earthquake this spring. All the wonderful squares (Basantapurs) in Kathmandu valley have become familiar to me and I have fallen in love with their wonderful atmosphere.

In the morning of 25th of April I was working on a theme with my kantele. All the sudden I started having messages from all over the world that something is happening in Nepal. I opened my computer and one of the first pictures I saw was this beautiful Basantapur Durbar Square in Kathmandu where all the amazing temples had collapsed. I was devastated and also it was horrible since I could not reach any of my friends and colleagues for few days since the connections were not working. I wanted to name the song to honor the people and beautiful culture of Nepal and also making that song was my way of dealing with all the emotions caused by the earthquake.

mwe3: Track 9, “Paasto” closes the CD out. Can you tell us something about that song? It’s an interesting instrumental track.

Vilma Timonen: This beautiful melody is composed by our bass player Jaakko Kämäräinen. It tells a story of hope and trust for the future in a very beautiful way!

mwe3: Do you have some personal favorites among the songs on the Drops CD? Track 3 “Tuuli” is another cool song. Is there a way to describe that song to non-Finnish music fans?

Vilma Timonen: I think it is impossible to list my favorites. Every song is unique to me and meaningful in different ways. “Tuuli” tells a story of when sometimes we think there is something beautiful somewhere but then when you really open your eyes, you might discover that it was just an illusion and just something you wanted to see and feel but is not real after all...

TUULI Säv & San Vilma Timonen / WIND, comp. & lyrics Vilma Timonen

I thought the wind was on its way, I felt its glance upon me. I took it for my own. I wanted the feeling to come, to come with words and magic. I thought a ship would come, with words and magic, with great wishes. What I thought, I didn’t get. What I felt, didn’t exist. What I planned to do, I never returned to. Where I wanted to go, never happened. I looked at your face, listened and waited. I wanted to feel it – to hear the great words rain upon me – to fall into them and disappear.

Luulin tuulen tulevaksi
Kuulin katseen kohdallani
Otin omakseni
Tahdoin tunteen tulevaksi
::Sanoin taioin saapuvaksi::
Luulin tuulen tulevaksi
Kuulin katseen kohdallani
Otin omakseni
Luulin laivan saapuvaksi
Sanoin taioin saapuvaksi
Suurin toivein tulevaksi
Minkä luulin, sitä en saanut
Minkä tunsin, sitä ei ollutkaan
Minkä aioin, siihen en palannut milloinkaan
Minne tahdoin, sitä ei tullutkaan
Katsoin kohden kasvojasi
Kuuntelin ja odotin
Tahdoin tuntea sen
Kuulla lauseet laatuiset
Sanat suuret satavaksi
Niihin kaatua ja kadota

mwe3: How influential do you feel Finnish music is? How do you feel Finnish music has changed and has changed you over the years?

Vilma Timonen: Finland is a musical country for sure. We have very good music education systems and musicians are supported in many ways. In my opinion the best thing is the diversity. All musical genres are equal in many ways and they also support one another. In recent years, Finnish music has also found its way to international markets in various fields and this is something I am especially happy about.

mwe3: What other Finnish and other non-Finnish composers do you listen to for fun and inspiration? Are fun and inspiration two different things in music? Who are some of your favorite Kantele artists?

Vilma Timonen: I am a great consumer of Finnish music. I don’t separate my favorites according to musical genres and I find inspiration in all of them. To me it is always touching when I can hear a personal approach to music making. Nice examples of this are for example Verneri Pohjola and Timo Lassy in jazz, Pekka Kuusisto in the classical music field, various pop artists, Kimmo Pohjonen, Antti Paalanen, Pekko Käppi and many others in folk music, Helsinki Cotonou Ensemble in world music… there’s too many to mention!

I think when it comes down to kantele music, it is great that so many musicians have found a unique approach to the instrument. Everyone has a special sound. Eva Alkula, Kardemimmit, Maija Kauhanen, Ida Elina, Duo Unaja, just to mention few, are all doing amazing jobs at the moment in their work with the kantele.

mwe3: Tell us about your trip to WOMEX this month. Can you explain to us what WOMEX is and what were a couple of the highlights for you? Were there a lot of Finnish artists there?

Vilma Timonen: Womex is a very important happening. It brings people together from all over the world. Musicians, promoters, festival organizers, labels and journalists gather together once a year. We are marginal in our own countries but all of a sudden when you look around the world, the platform where you can work is huge.

I go every year and the Finnish delegation is growing bigger each year. We also have really good spirit among us. Everyone helps each other and we feel that success for some is a success for us all. This is great and gives a lot of good energy and a nice boost for continuing the work that can sometimes be very lonely too.

mwe3: Do you have plans to take your music further outside of Finland? There must be hundreds of places to play your music around the world. Where would you like your music to be heard and appreciated next?

Vilma Timonen: I have been very fortunate to have been able to travel with my kantele a lot. I enjoy very much getting to know new cultures and people. We are currently working hard to find venues and festivals around the world for our music. I know there are a lot of kantele fans in Japan, the USA and Germany for example and I hope they will find our new music as well.

mwe3: What do you like to do outside of music? Do you have hobbies or causes you devote time to or it is music 24/7?

Vilma Timonen: My work is very social and I work intensively with people. To have a balance I have almost a daily routine of jogging on my own and doing yoga. Both of these activities give me a lot of energy and help me to be focused, strong and healthy both physically and mentally.

mwe3: What plans do you have for more writing, recording and producing music into 2016? I know Drops just came out but have you been thinking yet about future releases?

Vilma Timonen: This year has been quite productive concerning albums. My other band Saaga Ensemble ( released an album in February, my band for children ( released an album in August and now Drops is coming out in November.

So now it is time to focus on finding audiences for the new music and on giving energy to playing gigs and helping people to find our music. And I am really looking forward to playing the Drops album live for people!


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