Kaivama: Lighting dark winters with Finnish folk music

Rehearsing together
Sara Pajunen and Jonathan Rundman rehearse at Pajunen's home in northeast Minneapolis, Minn., on Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2012. Pajunen and Rundman have been playing as the Finnish-American folk music duo Kaivama for more than two years. They have performed throughout the United States and Canada
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

Minnesota's winter darkness can throw a blanket over our spirits. So, a bouncy tune inspired by Finnish folk music is a welcome antidote. It comes from a Minnesota-based duo called Kaivama dedicated to preserving and expanding the Finnish folk music tradition. And as we speak, its two members are tuning up for their midwinter tour.

• Photos: Click on the slideshow link at right

The group's name, Kaivama, comes from a Finnish verb meaning to dig, delve or excavate. Which makes sense. Co-founder Jonathan Rundman and partner Sara Pajunen mine the rich veins of our region's Finnish-American music tradition, and they happen to come from regions that know a thing or two about digging. Pajunen is from the Iron Range city of Hibbing, and Rundman is from Ishpeming on Michigan's mineral-rich Upper Peninsula.

They come from different musical backgrounds, however.

Thirty-two year old Pajunen, who plays violin, is classically trained at the University of Minnesota and in Finland. Rundman, 41, is a former rock 'n' roller and popular song performer who taught himself guitar and keyboard, with a big dose of sacred and secular tunes from a long line of professional musical family members.

Musical instruments
Jonathan Rundman plays below a selection of instruments at Sara Pajunen's home in northeast Minneapolis, Minn., on Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2012. Rundman plays a variety of instruments while performing with Pajunen, including a harmonium, piano and guitar.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

"The women were the church musicians and my grandpas were the tavern musicians," Rundman says.

The two discovered their mutual interest in Finnish folk music a few years ago when they first crossed paths. They formed Kaivama two years ago. And while the fan base for Finnish folk music is small in this country, they've found connections in Finland and elsewhere via the World Wide Web.

"It's how we're able to learn tunes, by sharing demo recordings online. It's how we're able to find instruments like this. It's how we've been able to book concerts," Rundman says.

Finland's folk music tradition is wide and deep, going back hundreds of years with plenty of polkas and other upbeat tunes. But there's also a lot of soulful minor key laments, a style Pajunen says she likes.

"It has a little more depth, somehow," she says. "It's someone's personality, their family background, the way their life has evolved. But I appreciate happy music too."

To hear the complete interview with Kaivama, including some of their music, click on the audio link above.

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Online: Kaivama start an Upper Midwest swing Jan. 11 in Duluth at Beaner's Central Concert Coffeehouse.

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