I 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.
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.
Update, November 2021: Courtesy of Jan Myers, we now have photos of a genuine Erik Kivi violin, made in Fitchburg, Massachusetts (also indicating that he lived there for a time)! She states that “There is a makers label inside the fiddle which can be viewed through the left F hole. It clearly gives his name and where he made it.”