kiviI am making a point to post more recordings by phenomenal women artists in the near future, but for the moment I’ll quickly turn toward this obscurity, one of the more rural performances (and performers) I’ve ever heard when it comes to early Finnish music.

Erik Kivi’s given name was Erkki Lähteenmäki, though he was also known as Erkki Kiviranta. He was born in 1881 in what was once an area called Alastaro, and is now part of the town of Loimaa, in western Finland. According to sources, he moved to the United States in 1907, right in the middle of what is sometimes called the “Great Migration” of Finns, a period of time where tens of thousands were escaping an oppressive “Russification” process in the country.

After arriving, Kivi apparently made a living as a joiner – a wonderful, semi-obsolete term for a skilled carpenter that specializes in joining permanent woodwork, particularly inside a house, such as stairs, benches, windows, and shelving, for example. Those same sources state that he was possibly itinerant, at one point living in Oregon. If so, it might have been in the town of Astoria, which had a high concentration of Finnish-Americans at the time. Also, one of his recordings directly references Fitchburg, Massachusetts, another community with many Finnish immigrants – perhaps he spent some time there as well.

In other words, there’s little about Kivi that I could find out, except for his musical output. Kivi only recorded in the summer and fall of 1926. In a total of three sessions, he recorded a total of 19 tracks, virtually all of them pretty tough to find on disc. This is from his first session, on August 9, 1926 in New York, and has two subtitles. On the record, “Porin Poika” is listed as “The Boy from Pori,” but in the ledger it’s listed as the “Hobo Fishing Song.” Regardless, Kivi gives us his trademark salty vocal and rural sound.

Also, a Victor engineer thought it important to note that when Kivi was trying out songs for Victor in July of ’26, a month earlier, he was using a “toothpick violin.” Whether he brought it back to the studio for his sessions perhaps we’ll never know, but if he was a skilled carpenter, he certainly could have made a violin out of toothpicks!

Kivi at some point returned to Finland and became a violin maker by trade. He died in 1954 in the town of Tammela.


Thanks to generous listener Samuli Koponen, we have a direct translation of the lyrics! For more information, please see his comment below.

[….] A shoemaker without proper vest and all.
I’m Kalle Murto and I was born in Kiviniemi.

There was a friendly looking chap walking down the street,
his wife was big from the inside. Me, Kalle, I was young and single and unlike the old guy, I still had all my toes intact.

I’m from the city of Pori, that you can read yourself from my passport. I’ve travelled to all corners of Finland, now’s my chance to move on and take my travelling sack with me.

I went to the harbour in Reposaari, to see if I’ve collected any fish in my net cast there. I didn’t have to wait for long to catch some fish from the sea.

I’ve been fishing here and there, I’ve seen both rivers and lakes. There have been times when I caught nothing at all.

I went to a bar in Reposaari and met Santeri Karvakoski there. I asked him where was Hilma Hammar, he took me straight to her room.

I was walking up the hill in Kotoniemi and I had a coin in my hand. I gave that money to my grandpa, that took the sail out of my ship.

Erik Kivi – Porin Poika

Label: Victor
Issue Number: 78882-A
Matrix Number: BVE-36110-1

There are a few more excellent Kivi tunes online. Collector Michael Robertson has one on YouTube, and there’s one on the “Patchwork Europe” collection on the Wergo label.

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.


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