Finnish-American musicians Sara Pajunen and Jonathan Rundman of the folk duo KAIVAMA grew up in Northwoods cultures of long winters, lakeside saunas, rugged terrain, and solitude. The landscapes of their childhoods echo in the music of their new self-titled debut album, available June 7, 2011. Alternately ancient and modern Finnish influences reveal themselves in KAIVAMA's sound: icy whispers, danceable rhythms, joyous melodies, sleek construction, primal drones, and poppy hooks all interplay as Pajunen and Rundman explore the music of their ancestors.
With only eleven months separating their first tentative live performance and the release of their accomplished debut CD, Pajunen and Rundman have been swept up in a whirlwind of interest and opportunity. Immediately upon KAIVAMA’s first public appearance, word of the young Minneapolis-based neo-traditionalists reverberated throughout Finnish communities in America and the band began receiving invitations to perform nationwide. Finland’s YLE public radio network requested early KAIVAMA demo recordings for airplay. Audience-member videos of their performances were featured on America’s only Finnish-language TV show, Suomi Kutsuu on WLUC TV6 in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The duo had tapped into an unforeseen demand for fresh, energetic music rooted in the Finnish-American experience.
KAIVAMA was born out of necessity when the duo accepted a short-notice plea from a talent booker at a Finnish festival in South Dakota. Barely acquainted at the band’s launch, KAIVAMA made up for this lack of personal history with a wealth of musicianship. Sara Pajunen’s skills as a violinist have earned her degrees from the University of Minnesota and the Helsinki Conservatory in Finland. Multi-instrumentalist Jonathan Rundman has toured the US and Europe as a troubadour songwriter, collecting raves from publications such as Paste, Billboard, and The New York Times.
Both raised in Finnish-immigrant epicenters not far from the shores of Lake Superior, Pajunen’s hometown of Hibbing, MN and Rundman’s own Ishpeming, MI are famous for vast open-pit iron ore mines. The band’s name reflects this spirit of excavation. “Kaivama” is a Finnish word stemming from kaivaa: to delve or dig.
With their first months of gigs behind them, a calendar full of upcoming concert dates, and an ever-growing list of original compositions, KAIVAMA began collecting material for a CD release. Snow settled on Minnesota as the band-of-two set up recording equipment in their homes, experimenting with studio technology and adventurous arrangements. The album's 14 tracks are drawn from the traditional fiddle-tune repertoire of Western Finland, contemporary pieces by current Finnish fiddlers, and seven songs written or co-written by Pajunen and Rundman.
Sara Pajunen's unique fiddle playing is the common thread of the album, a meld of technique and nuance. Jonathan Rundman adeptly adds various instruments to each track, from rollicking acoustic guitar to a WWII-era foot-pump harmonium to his Grandfather's tenor banjo—and some famously American textures thanks to a vintage Hammond organ and Wurlizter electric piano. Pajunen’s classical training and flirtations with avant-garde string arrangements blend with her dedication to the Finnish pelimanni fiddle tradition. Rundman mixes the harmonic structures of Nordic hymnody with a rough Americana sensibility and hints of '70s-era progressive rock. With guest-star master fiddler Arto Järvelä of legendary Finnish folk group JPP appearing on two tunes, KAIVAMA's first album is a landmark debut, and a worthy bridge between a new Finnish-American generation and the time-honored music of their heritage.