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18 janvier 2007

Tonight's Top Stop: Varttina

Finland may seem like a long way away from the mystical world of Middle-earth, the land created by J.R.R. Tolkien in "The Lord of the Rings," but the country's folk music apparently sounds just like the sort of jams Frodo and Co. would shake a hairy toe to — at least the way Varttina plays it.

The 23-year-old band, led by singers Susan Aho, Mari Kaasinen and Johanna Virtanen and bouzouki player and saxophonist Janne Lappalainen, was pegged to contribute to the soundtrack to the stage version of "The Lord of the Rings," which debuted in Toronto last year and is slated for Broadway in 2007.

"A couple of producers from the show were looking for interesting sounds, and they were going through a big stack of world music records, and, just by chance, they came up with our 'Ilmatar' album, and they felt it would be ideal for the show,"
said Lappalainen by phone from Finland.

was composing music for "Rings" as it was recording its new CD, "Miero," the group's first for Peter Gabriel's Real World label, and Tolkien's world affected the sound of the nine-piece band.

"The original idea was to make a kind of darker, more sinister record than the records we had done," Lappalainen said. "We had done such happy, up-tempo music, and we wanted to do something different from that, mostly lyrically."

The band got its start and made its name by reviving Finnish folk songs, but over the past few years Varttina has moved away from traditional music. "Miero" features 13 original songs, and while the music is still built around luminous Finno-Urgic female singing traditions, Varttina's string instrument and accordion-based songs incorporate a wide range of influences, from jazz to rock to classical.

"The band has existed for such a long time that it needs to evolve, it needs to go forward,"Lappalainen said. "We need to keep creating new things, and it feels like a very natural thing to start composing original music for the band. It makes the music more personal when you're playing your own tunes rather than singing the traditional stuff."

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