Poropetra - Interview with Virva Holtiton - June 2005

Thank you very much for providing Sheol Magazine with your CD. By the way, what´s the title of the CD? (I can´t see it in the booklet.)

-It is in the booklet. It's name is simply "Poropetra". It's easy and natural way to make your first -MCD self-titled. ;) 

It´s really a very different kind of music for me here, because, you know, in Germany we don´t get to hear Finnish folk music that often. It´s really a treat for my ears to hear such soulfull spiritual music from the heart of Finnland. There is a review about the album on Sheol Magazine, but for the readers who still can´t imagine what it sounds like > how would you yourself describe the sound of your music, and who are the people who might be interested in listening to that kind of music (from the rest of Europe I mean, besides the Finns)?

-I would consider our music both modern Finnish folk music and ethnic kantele-rock music. It's pure and it's very honest music, which is closed to nature and our hearts. You can hear the legacy of our forefathers in it - with an echo of the future. I've noticed that many kind of people are interested in our music - and not only in Finland! If you like modern or traditional Baltic-Finnic folk music (Nostatus, Sinimaniseele, Tshakku, Värttinä), ethnic folk rock music (Atalyja, Myllärit, Oort, Pohjannaula, Tarujen saari, Vägilased, Yat-Kha) or folk metal (Korpiklaani, Metsatöll, Skyforger, Zalvarinis), I can recommend Poropetra's music to you!

What are the lyrics about (as they are in Finnish language plus one song in Estonian I of course haven´t got a clue about the content). Is there a concept behind the music/lyrics or is each song about a different subject?

-The lyrical concept of our music is straight continuum to an old Baltic-Finnic folk songs. In "Poropetra" -MCD the song "Salon sahti" is a drinking song, "Saare piiga" is an epic song and "Tunturikukka" is a love song. In our forthcoming "Sinihirwi" - album we have a pleasure to introduce you also some spells, invocating songs, legends, traditional dances, songs to children, laments and more love songs. Our lyrics are from the lived life itself and from everything which surrounds it. 
-"Saare piiga" is the only song I've written in Estonian. I made that song during the time I lived in Estonia. As a respect to my history, I left it in Estonian. All other Poropetra - songs are written in my native tongue - Finnish. The Finnish runo-singing - style is born from the base of the Finnish, Karelian, Estonian and Votic languages. You run with the feet you learned to walk, you sing with the tongue you learned to talk.                 

Is your music typical or average Finnish folk music or is it different from other folk from your country (if so, what´s the difference exactly)?

-The root of our music is in ancient Baltic-Finnic folk music, in Finno-Ugric runo-singing tradition and in kantele-playing tradition. In this base we mix influences from throat-singing and from modern metal. We want to preserve primeval Finnish folk music tradition along with ancient Finnish folk instruments, but also we dare to create something new in it with modern elements. I think it's unic how we combine different things in our music. We're able to capture different feelings into our songs, and that's the thing which makes Poropetra's music one of it's kind.

How close are you to the Finnish folk music scene in general and personally? It seems to be an important part of your life!?

-I don't see, if there is an actual "scene" in folk music in Finland. But I know many Finnish folk musicians and folk bands and I listen good traditional Finnish music every day. The folk music and traditions are more a way of life to me. I've always been fascinated by the languages, folklore and history of the Finno-Ugric peoples. And I'm totally self-taught as a kantele-player and runo-singer. I train my kantele skills every day. Those traditions are one with my life.   

How far does your own music reflect Finnish traditions and nationalism? How important are these traditions and what do you think is it that makes Finnish people so proud of their own country? You know, some European countries tend to achieve a mixture of all cultures and beliefs (being really open-minded) and their traditions get lost with time, while the Finns still follow them passionated. Where might this difference in priority come from? Which of the 2 views seem more progressive to you?

-As I already said earlier, our music is straight continuum to old folk songs. Our songs are part of my own life. Our goal is to upkeep kantele and runo-singing traditions and develope them further. Only in that way the tradition preserves, lives and breeths. And there's nothing nationalism - related in our music. I don't like that stuff.
-Actually it's quite opposite here in Finland. Many people are NOT aware of their own roots in here. There's much lack of knowledge in Finland. Specially among young people, which makes me truly worry. If you're playing silently kantele in the train or in the bus, people wonders what are you doing and asks: "What's that instrument you're playing?" And you answer: "It's kantele. Our national instrument, isn't it."
-I've noticed those things in many well known Finnish messageboards. Only a few weeks ago I went over long and painfull discussions. People made their totally own misleading conclusions concerning Finnish folk music and traditions, and got upset when I told how the things REALLY are. I've been lived many years deeply devocated into our folklore, and I do got annoyed and frustrated when someone - without ANY knowledge about the subject - comes to teach daddy how to f**k. This very same thing I've seen also in few Finnish "Poropetra" - reviews. I had to explain those writers what is OUR OWN folk music tradition!! It was really frustrating, can you imagine? 
-I lived a year and half in Estonia, and there the situation is totally different. There people are proud of their culture, and you can see it in every day life. I could enjoy folk music happenings in every warm spring day as I wandered in the marketplace of Tartu. In Estonia I really started to learn kantele playing and people inspired me and couraged me to do my own music. I have much Poropetra fans in Estonia - they even wanted me to do more songs in Estonian! In Estonia kantele for example may be a common add even among with usual rock band! And if you ask me, the best combination between metal and folk music is Estonian band Metsatöll's "Hiiekoda" - album. And in Estonia there's still preserved the knowledge how to build old instruments. My own 12-string kantele is made by Rait Pihlap, a very skillfull and talented Estonian kantele maker. They don't make such a kanteles here in Finland
-Luckily I've sensed that the situation here in Finland is in the way to become better. People are discovering their roots and the records of brand new fresh folk music groups can be more and more often found in communal libraries. And in which direction this kantele tradition is about to develope, it's only honour and pleasure to take a part of it! Along with Poropetra I have to advertize Frostheim Kuuraparta's band Nostatus and Aslak Tolonen's Nest. Their work and devocation with kantele has inspired me much in my own music.

Are the other 2 band members (Frostheim and Hittavainen) fixed members? Or is it your own project and they just helped out with this particular project? Which instruments do they play within the band? Are they involved in the songwriting?

-Hittavainen and Frostheim have been a permanent members of my band since the day I found Poropetra in autumn 2002. Their role is very big in our music. Hittavainen records, produces, mixes and masters our works. We made "Poropetra" -MCD in Hittavainen's home studio and "Sinihirwi" -CD will be forged to be exist in both Frostheim's and Hittavainen's residences. In "Poropetra" -MCD I made the vocals, kanteles and percussions. Frostheim did the backing vocals and Hittavainen played all other instruments (violin, guitars, bass, jouhikko, torupill, mouth harp, mandoline, pipes).
-In our new forthcoming "Sinihirwi" - album our line-up is doubled. We have now six members in our band. I play kanteles (both 5-string and 12-string kantele) and some minor percussions and I do most of the vocals, and all throat-singing vocals and some yoik too. Hittavainen plays violin, jouhikko, torupill, mandoline, mouth harp and pipes. Frostheim's role is now bigger: he plays double kantele-tracks with his 12-string kantele, some guitar tracks and he also sings in most of the songs with me. We have now a true ethno drummer, Aapo in our lines; he makes all the major ethno percussions (djembe, udu and bongo drums) and even some didgeridoo and Tibetan singing pot. And we have also two beautiful women in our band too: Peikko-IP plays most of the guitars and bass lines, and Elsa does the vocal-parts with me and Frostheim.
-All Poropetra members are needful persons in our band. Without them this wouldn't be possible. They all have free hands to arrange their own instruments. They are all talented musicians and my very good friends. It means lot to me to play with them. I'm very satisfied in all the work they're done to Poropetra. I want to play with them as long as I can keep kantele in my hands.
-I write almost all the music and lyrics in Poropetra. But every help is needful, and if someone comes up with a song that would fit into our concept, we'll use it. In "Poropetra" -MCD I had the main melody of "Tunturikukka" and the lyrics, but I didn't get any forward with it, so Hittavainen finished it. In our next CD "Sinihirwi" there's one Frostheim's song and one Peikko-IP's song. We also use some traditional Finnish folk lyrics and traditional Baltic-Finnic folk melodies in "Sinihirwi" -CD.
Line-up in "Poropetra" -MCD:
Virva Holtiton: vocals, throat-singing, 10-string kantele, shaman drum, mouth harp, percussions.
Hittavainen: guitars, bass, violin, jouhikko, torupill, mandoline, pipes, mouth harp.
Frostheim Kuuraparta: backing vocals, humming.
Line up NOW (31.5.2005):
Elsa: female vocals
Virva Holtiton: vocals, throat-singing, 12-string kantele, 5-string kantele, electrified 5-string kantele, shaman drum, hands, maracass, cattle-calling bells
Hittavainen: violin, jouhikko, mandoline, torupill, pipes, mouth harp
Peikko-IP: acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass
Frostheim Kuuraparta: vocals, 12-string kantele, electric guitar, hands
Aapo: bongos, djembe, udu, didgeridoo, Tibetan singing pot, rain stick

Please could you tell us non-Finns something about the traditional Finnish instruments you use on your CD (names, what do they sound like, what do you know about the history of those intruments etc.) and why do you use especially those? Are they hard to get in Finland nowadays or are they still easy to find all over the place?

-I tell you about our key instrument, which is - what a surprise - the kantele. It's stringed instrument classified as a being a member of the zither family. It's Finland's national instrument. It has a somewhat two thousand years old history in Baltic-Finnic and Baltic music culture. Kantele has many forms and names among the peoples who live in that area: Finns have kantele, Estonians have kannel, Latvians have kokle, Lithuanians have kankles, and one form is also Russian gusli. I use actually kannel - because of my own 12-stringed kantele is made in Estonia!
-The oldest kantele-type is the 5-stringed kantele. It was hollowed out of a piece of wood either from abow or below. The version hollowed had a separate lid. Before the advent of metal strings these were made of twisted horse-hair. Finnish folklore records also maiden's hair. In later times strings were made of copper or steel wire. The instrument was tuned to a pentatonic scale corresponding to the first five notes of the major or minor scale. 
-The hollowed kantele was replaced in time by the kantele made of separate boards. The number of strings grew and the technique of playing changed. All this happened a couple of centuries ago. The chest-type kanteles are diatonically tuned, and there are numerous traditional ways to play them.
-In the 1920s the kantele underwent a revolution with the invention by Paul Salminen of a tuning mechanism rather similar to that of a concert harp. By means of levers it is possible to produce chromatic notes and modulate to different keys. By chromatic concert kantele you can play anything from folk music to classic.  
-There's a three ways of playing kantele. In Finnish-Karelian region the kantele was chiefly played by "picking" the strings, but in the Baltic region kantele was played by playing rhythm: the other hand pulls gently some strings down and other hand plays the rhythm. And from the last one has developed the mixed style, from which you can play rhythm and same time "pick" the strings. I prefer mainly rhythm and mixed style, but I also use time to time "picking" style too. So my own playing style is in all areas a mixed style of Finnish and Baltic traditions.
-It was already very clear even from the first moments that kantele would be the dominating instrument in Poropetra. Kantele-playing was the most natural way to bring out the real ancient feeling of Finnish folk music. I didn't want to learn for example accordeon, because it's so much newer add in folk instruments. The first accordeon was made in Germany in 1822, so it's a "baby" comparing it to a "old man" - kantele - which is at least 2000 years old and stricktly our OWN traditional instrument. Many of its structural features make the kantele unique of all instruments of the whole wide world.
-For a metalhead I could recommend to listen the music of Metsatöll and Skyforger. They use a lot kantele in their music. Finnish metal bands are not used so much kantele, but I know that Ensiferum, Moonsorrow and Korpiklaani have some kantele in their records. Actually Frostheim plays kantele in Moonsorrow's "Verisäkeet" album in the track "Jotunheim" and I play kantele in Korpiklaani's "Voice of the Wilderness" album in the track "Kädet siipinä"! ;)
-In Finland you can get your own kantele for example from Lovikka (
http://www.lovikka.com), Soitinrakentajat AMF (http://www.soitinrakentajatamf.fi) or Koistinen (http://www.koistinenkantele.fi). But you can get your own unique kantele made by primeval ways from Estonia - from Kandlekoda (http://www.kandlekoda.ee) - much cheaper!
-A side of kantele we do have other Baltic-Finnic folk instruments too in use. From older instruments I'll name the jouhikko (a bowed harp), torupill (Estonian bagpipe) and mouth harp. From newer folk instruments we use violin and mandoline. I don't know their history so well, as I know kantele's history, but they do share the very same function: to build the true atmosphere of the old Finnish folk music. 

I think I heared the word "Poropetra" in the lyrics of "Salon sahti". But maybe I´m totally wrong. What does the word mean?

-You heard right. In the song "Salon sahti" there's a couple of times mentioned "Poropetra". "Poropetra" is ancient Finnish language and means "The Elk of Hiisi". "Hiisi" is also ancient Finnish language and means "the sacret forest". So, one might say that "Poropetra" means "The elk from the sacred forest". As you can see, one Finnish word can mean even six words of English language!
-The Elk of Hiisi is one of the most best known Finnish-Karelian mythological animals. It has also called by the name "Sinihirwi" ("The Blue Elk" in English), which is - how surprisingly - the name of our new album. Elk of Hiisi was the magical blue elk, which was always been hunted by the most best hunters, who never catched the animal. Finally the great hunter Vuojolainen (in "Kalevala" Vuojolainen is replaced by Lemminkäinen) hunts the Elk of Hiisi so patiently, that Elk of Hiisi climbs up to the sky, Vuojolainen still after him. They are there still: ancient Finns had the signs of the zodiac for a hunter and for an elk. The myth about the sky-elk lives also in the folklore of the all peoples from Lapland to Siberia. Our forthcoming epic song "Sinihirwi" will tell you this ancient legend of Poropetra, the Elk of Hiisi!  

Is your songwriting based on already excisting folk music tunes of your country, or are all these your own independend ideas?

-Both and. Mainly I prefer my totally own tunes, but in "Sinihirwi" album there is used some real folk tunes too.  

What´s the inspiration for your music (instrumentally and lyrically) and what are the places you write your music? What I mean is, does the environment have to have the right ambience for you before you can write good music or can you do it no matter where you are?

-I wander often in the forests of Hämeenlinna, which is inland town situated in centre of South-Finland. In nature I get the ideas and then the primeval music flows through me. But I can do good music in my home too when the feeling and the mood is right. 
-The lyrics will always come first. It's easy to snap just the right atmosphere from the lyrics in writing the music. Sometimes it may take a months without no songs at all, and sometimes I may write four songs in two days! I don't stress about it: the songs just come, when their time is right.
-I also have sometimes very crazy ideas, how I want to arrange my songs. It's important to me to have fun in music making. When I truly enjoy during the song-writing process, I believe that other people enjoy the final versions too. 

If you could write the music for a book (to make a film out of the book), which book would that be and why?

-It would be my own book. I'm working on with my first novel, which deals with magical realism, dark humour, adventure, sex and Finno-Ugric myths. It's placed in my very own world and only I can create a perfect musical background to it. I'm written lyrics, poems and my own stories since I was 10-years old, and it's also one way to express myself and my own feelings. I love writing in rich Finnish language, I adore so much my own native tongue. I hope that in some day I'll get my work published.  

Are there any other band projects you are working on? What kind of style is it? Have you ever thought about trying something really different? What I mean is music which has absolutely nothing to do with folk in any way?

-I'm involved in one ethno project, which is actually our ethno drummer's project. It's quite a stone-age - kind of music based on djembe drums, didgeridoo and throat-singing. It's good to make something totally different for time to time; that's how I'm more interested in my own music making too.
-And I honestly want to help people and participate with bands and persons, who have same kinds of feelings and who make music even slightly related to folk music. I can give something from me to others, and others can give something from themselves to me too. If you're in need of throat-singing vocals, kantele or runo-singing lyrics, I'm here ready to co-operate! :)

Are you working on the new Poropetra album already?

-Yes, we're working on with the the new Poropetra album "Sinihirwi". Whereas the first "Poropetra" -MCD showed the warm and yellow side of us, the new "Sinihirwi" -CD will show the colder and bluer side. The songs itself are simpler and more closer to real folk songs, but in same time the arrangements are much heavier, and more proggressive. I call them as "an electrified folk songs". In the same side along with metal-influenced arrangements, there's also two songs, which only have singing in it, and one "man and kantele" - song. The concept is forced to expand in every possible directions! Altogether there's fifty-fifty acoustic and electric songs in the album.
-I think I can recommend "Sinihirwi" to a metalheads. There's much heavy guitar riffs in it. And in the spirit of proggression, I used also some electrified kantele in some songs. I managed to capture the magical and shamanistic sound of kantele into a form of electric. So you can expect to hear some electrified and distorted kantele riffing along with electric guitars! In "Sinihirwi" one can sense all the music I've been liked during my lifetime. You can hear even some doom metal - influences in it!
-I also use more throat-singing in "Sinihirwi" - album than in "Poropetra". There's few songs, where the throat vocals are in dominating position. Throat-singing is actually a part of Tuvinian folklore, and I learned the singing style in accident. When I thinked how it would fit into my songs, I immediately said to myself: "You MUST use this in your music! This is HEAVY!" We don't need the basic and usual growling/grunting vocals - we have throat-singing! 
-Now we've recorded all kanteles, some percussions, and all vocals by me and Frostheim, and some guitars. Everything else is yet unrecorded, so there's much to work still ahead. I don't give you any particular day, when the CD is done. Maybe in the late of summer or the early fall. I'll inform all the updates and info in my website. 

How can anyone interested in your music get the CD (contact info)?

-You can contact me by e-mail. You can send all "Poropetra" - related post into e-mail address
poropetra@luukku.com You can also visit in my website, which is in address http://www.hirwenkota.cjb.net There's both Finnish and English version of it. "Poropetra" -MCD is still available in the price of 6,50 Euros (includes postage).

Thanx for taking out time for this interview.

-Thank's to you! :)

(Virva and Frostheim with their kanteles/ used with permission of V.Holtiton):


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