Erik Kivi – Porin Poika

May 6, 2015

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.

Postscript:

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

Notes
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.

6 Responses to “Erik Kivi – Porin Poika”

  1. Sam said

    thanks for another classic. I’ve often seen hardingfele players tune the sympathetic strings with a bamboo skewer, or long matchstick: maybe erik was tuning with a toothpick…

    • JW said

      Yes! Could very well be, and probably more logical than having an entire instrument made out of them 🙂

  2. Samuli Koponen said

    Tremendous music, nothing short of that! As I’m a native Finnish speaker, I’m able to provide a translation for your collective entertainment.

    The song is a typical folk lyric piece in that the text is filled with surreal wordplay and floating verses. There are seven verses and seven choruses, the first verse being the one I can’t properly decipher. This is how the song goes, without rhyming that is:

    ” [….] 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.”

    In the original sung text the most striking verses are “his wife was big from the inside” in the second verse, “I asked him where was Hilma Hammar, he took me straight to her room” in the sixth chorus and “I gave that money to my grandpa, that took the sail out of my ship” in the last chorus. They’re all part of the rhyming and create a surreal mood when taken just for the literal meaning.

    The wildest of all the rhymes in the song has to be the one about the old man’s wife being described as being “big from the inside”. The meaning of that has been left open in the original sung text. Erotic rhyme maybe…

    The one in the sixth verse about Hilma Hammar is an example of a straight rhyme. “Hammar” rhymes with “kammari” which means “chamber” or “room” in older use of Finnish.

    The last chorus creates a maritime mood as a ship actually sinks in the Finnish rhyme.

    • JW said

      Samuli! This is tremendous! Thank you so much for taking the time to do this. I would like to add your translation to the body of the post – it really adds a lot. Thank you, again.

      • Samuli Koponen said

        You’re very welcome, Jonathan.

        Incidentally, when is “Excavated Shellac – Reeds” due to be released?

  3. JW said

    Hi Samuli – hopefully soon, a test pressing has arrived and has been approved by the engineer. Will let everyone know when I know more!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: