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Jaakko Laitinen & Väärä Raha

Playground Music
Review by Cliff Furnald

Listen "Supermarketin parkkipaikalla"

Finland is no stranger to cultural fusions. Russia, Sweden and Germany have all made their political incursions over the centuries, just about everyone has dropped by for a visit at one time or another. So it stands to reason that this linguistically isolated country would absorb a lot of music as it passes by. Balkan music is one of the things that seems to really stick, and the 1970s and 80s found dozens of Finns adopting the sound, from Slobo Horo's high energy Balkan pop to Piirpauke's jazz interpretations. Maria Kalaniemi has a fondness for it in her repetoire. Others have found it ripe for musical satire.

Then there is band leader and vocalist Jaakko Laitinen, from the northern city of Rovaniemi in Lapland. With his band of horns, bouzouki, accordion, bass and percussion called Väärä Raha, the influences fly fast and loose on a series of original songs that bounce from wistful romance to dire insanity. You'll hear classic Balkan brass, the hyper-foxtrot of the Finnish huumpa, Russian balladry, and the rigid tango that has made summer nights in Finland famous.

The key to their latest recording, Näennäinen, however, lies as much in the lyrics as the musical hybrids they are delivered on. And for that, the usual auto-translations were never going to delve deep enough into the interesting poetry that Laitinen lays out. Sadly, there are no translations in the notes to this Finnish release, but the author was kind enough to do some for me.

"Supermarketin parkkipaikalla" is a standout, musically and lyrically, in its satirical look at consumerism as apocalypso.
The hopeful family gets out of the station wagon
The mum is following as the father moves confidently like a king.
In the supermarket parking lot
There is a crowd and a buzz.
In the supermarket parking lot
You can hear the shackles clinging,
That's death rattle of our society.

Laitinen and company flirt with Russian romance, reminiscing about wandering the wrong paths and never seeking "Kultainen keskitie" (the golden middle road). Those were the days, my friend?

Listen "Kultainen keskitie"
If you could fill my glass with five centiliters of drink
I could tell you a story
A bit messy but incomparable to anything,
especially if we put in some Lapland extra

Everything started so
that I was born into this world
and so started my journey towards the coffin,
My fate boldly toasted his glass
and whispered: "we are going together now"

They take a walk in the park, reminiscing (but not too seriously) about lost love and "A Bouquet of Flowers," and the lively Balkan beat continues.

Listen "Kukkakimppu kainalossa"
Do you brothers still remember my beautiful friend?
are the stars rotating - or just my head?

I am not feeling any bitterness even that she left me
not many ever get to love anyone so beautiful

A bouquet of flowers under my arm
I am strolling around in summer night
This is the time when lovers are at work

And they visit the middle east with their take on a phrase heard in so many traditional and popular songs, "Aman Aman."

Listen "Aman Aman"
World is dreaming but I was again unable to sleep
I am whispering your name until the early morning
Aman, aman - love can
Aman, aman - move mountains

In its twelve tracks, Näennäinen tackles the mythical underwater beasts of our genetic forefathers, tells epic love stories, confronts mortality, offers tales of wanderers in Lapland, and generally delves into the cosmos around us, all delivered by a high energy band and a passionate singer. - CF

Find the band online.

All audio ©2016 Jaakko Laitinen & Väärä Raha
Photo: Anne-Salmela


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