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 artistsinger-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 mwe3.com 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 Vilmas 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. www.facebook.com/vilmavtq
presents an interview with
Can you tell us where youre 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
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.
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 dont 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
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?
Timonen: Kantele is one of the most traditional instruments of
our country. We cant 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. Its 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.
Track 9, Paasto closes the CD out. Can you tell us something
about that song? Its 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
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 didnt get. What I felt, didnt
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.
Kuulin katseen kohdallani
Tahdoin tunteen tulevaksi
::Sanoin taioin saapuvaksi::
Luulin tuulen tulevaksi
Kuulin katseen kohdallani
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?
Timonen: I am a great consumer of Finnish music. I dont
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
theres 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?
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
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
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 (www.saagaensemble.com)
released an album in February, my band for children (www.satujasoitosta.com)
released an album in August and now Drops is coming out in
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!