One country I have not posted any traditional music from is Sweden, and now that the northern hemisphere has passed into winter, and that seemingly unending series of all manner of holidays is upon us, I thought I’d head back to Scandinavia for some authentic folk music from a local 78 label. Additionally, I’ve added a little bonus record this week, but more on that below.

Radiotjänst is the name of the state-run Swedish radio network which began broadcasting in 1925, and began releasing 78s in the late 1930s, many of them folkloric. Today’s selection is a medley of two traditional fiddle pieces for two performers from Sweden’s southernmost region, Skåne (or Scania). Carl-Eric Berndt, on the fiddle (fiol), was from Lund, and began collecting folk songs and melodies from Skåne in the 1920s, with several being published in Sweden in the late 1960s. Accompanying Berndt is Richard Isacson, who is apparently playing the local Skåne fiddle known as the träskofiol, or the clog fiddle. The clog fiddle is a fiddle actually made from a worn wooden shoe (see a photo here). The two tracks here, “Svingedans” (literally “swing dance,” after Mårten Sjöbeck) and the “Polska” (not to be confused with a polka, which is in 2/4) are part of the continuing tradition of folk dance music in southern Sweden. They were recorded January 21, 1950.

Carl-Eric Berndt & Richard Isacson – Svingedans; Polska

In addition, I’ve added a piece from Finland this week. Now, I think you could imagine that it might take considerable convincing for me to post a classic Christmas song. These songs are relentlessly played in virtually every store that opens its doors during this season. At least in my part of the world, they are played at every event, they are used to sell meaningless products, they hammer and hammer and hammer away at you until your wallet is drained and you cease to recognize that you’re supposed to be celebrating. Heaven help you if you don’t happen to be Christian – the pervasive nature of these songs must seem positively bizarre.

Yet, as much as I try to resist, I am struck by how beautiful the well-worn melody of “Silent Night” can sound when played by Ulla Katajavuori, a virtuoso of the Finnish zither, the kantele. The kantele is Finland’s national instrument, and prototypes date back approximately 2,000 years. Traditionally, it is played on the lap.

Ulla Katajavuori was born in 1909 in the coastal town of Rauma and studied kantele under Paul Salminen at the Helsinki Conservatory. She always recorded as a soloist, never as an accompanist, believing that an orchestra would drown the kantele’s intimate qualities. The arrangement for this piece was by her husband, Eero Koskimies. Katajavuori died in 2001. This piece was recorded March 24, 1949.

Ulla Katajavuori – Stilla Natt

Thanks to everyone who has continued to visit Excavated Shellac in 2009. Here’s to 2010 – there will be more. Just you wait!

Technical Notes
Label: Radiotjänst
Issue Number: RA 174
Matrix Number: Rtj 3248

Label: Cupol
Issue Number: 4275
Matrix Number: 1515

Thanks, as always, to TK.
To hear more Ulla Katajavuori, check Volume 5 of the Secret Museum series.

I hadn’t posted a record from Oceania in nearly a year, so I thought I’d post both sides of this little gem (totaling three little gems) from the Kingdom of Tonga. Although similar to the majority of the music of Polynesia, much (though not all) Tongan music has been influenced by the presence of visiting and colonizing Europeans, who first arrived in Tongan waters in the early 17th century. Over time, Tongans adapted some aspects of their folk songs and lyrical poems to these outside influences, while strongly preserving other types of their traditional music. Interestingly, Tonga is the only Polynesian nation that was not formally colonized by a European country. Part of the British Western Pacific Territories until 1952 (and occupied by the United States from 1942-1945), it remains a constitutional monarchy, and has been continually governed by indigenous Tongans. Deeply rooted traditions still thrive, such as the faikava, the traditional kava drinking party where men drink kava for hours, talking and singing.

These three short tracks were sung by the female duet of Tupou and Fakaua, two ladies-in-waiting of the Tongan queen Sālote Mafile‘o Pilolevu Tupou III, who reigned from 1918 to 1965. The young duo were invited to the UK in 1954 and stayed sixteen days. They performed traditional songs for Queen Elizabeth, and recorded six sides for the company on their trip. These feature simple ukelele and guitar accompaniment, the two most common musical instruments used throughout Polynesia. What I enjoy about these pieces, besides the sweet melodies themselves, is the hushed style of vocals. It’s as if someone snuck the duo into a recording studio late at night, and they were trying to keep their voices down, and as close to the microphone as possible.

Palu Vava’u Tupou & Veiongo Fakaua – Taio
Palu Vava’u Tupou & Veiongo Fakaua – Vanavana
Palu Vava’u Tupou & Veiongo Fakaua – Fakopo Oka To E Takapu

Technical Notes
Label: HMV
Issue Number: JO. 411
Matrix Number: OEF.273-1A/OEF.274-1A

Expect another post in the next week or two!

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