When the lights turned on, Sinikka walked on stage and began strumming an instrument that most of the audience had never seen before. "If someone is wondering what kind of instrument this is, it's a Finnish instrument, a kantele," Sinikka said. The kantele is a string instrument that is played in the areas where Finno-Ugric languages are spoken. Sinikka plays a concert kantele that has 39 strings and can be tuned in all keys providing five octaves of possibilities. This intriguing instrument has a magical yet fragile sound, dancing between old and new styles.
Markku Ounaskari joined her on the drums, where he used innovative techniques such as scraping a symbol with the end of a drumstick. Sinikka and Markku highlighted works from her ECM debut Starflowers, which features songs inspired by the nature poems of Norwegian Hans Børli, who was a woodcutter by day, and an incredibly prolific poet by night. "Hans Børli, he was a forest man," Sinikka said, "writing poems in the night. He used pictures of the forest in the night." Sinikka's vocals recall both rune songs and kveding (a traditional vocal technique), while she integrates modern poetry and personal emotion.
After beginning with a traditional song, she sang a piece in English: "The tree that grows upside down." Next, she sang a Finnish rune song. "It's about longing," Sinikka said. "It's a kind of Finnish forest blues. For love and even for sex. Finnish people are so direct."
Many of Sinikka's songs focus on the relationship between people and the natural world. The unique sound is a blend of folk, jazz and classical elements. The songs had a mysterious and haunting quality. She was nominated for a Spellemannspris (Norwegian Grammy Award) for her recordings of medieval ballads, "Strengen var af røde guld" and "Lille Rosa."
Sinikka was born in Kirkenær in southeastern Norway in 1961 to a Norwegian father and a Finnish mother. She studied piano, guitar and contemporary folk song, before discovering the instrument kantele in 1981, which quickly became her primary musical interest along with singing.
Sinikka's home of Finnskogen was populated by the Forest Finns in the 17th century. She identifies with this national minority group since her mother immigrated to Norway from Karelia. The Finnish language is no longer spoken in the area, but Sinikka keeps the culture alive through her music. She sings the old rune songs to preserve the dialect and poetry that is rooted in an ancient shamanistic forest culture.
Her new release is entitled "Starflowers". This first recording with ECM Records allows her to reach an international audience. In a DAILY TELEGRAPH review, Mark Hudson describes the new album as "cool, stark and baleful in tone - Sinikka creates a mood that is timeless and mysterious, yet distinctively modern - redolent of Joni Mitchell at her jazziest or Björk at her oddest." The event was coordinated by the Norwegian department, the department of music, Student Activities Association and the Nordic Roots Festival. "We feel it is important to expose our students to all sides of Norwegian culture, and to do that it is so wonderful to have a variety of visitors from Norway," Professor Margaret O'Leary said. "In the past we have had everyone from folk musicians, to authors, to jazz musicians, politicians and royalty. St. Olaf is in a very special position. It is a place Norwegians know about and want to visit."
After the concert, Sinikka autographed copies of her Starflowers album for eager fans. "I can get a pink card for this?! That's amazing!" an excited music major said.
Sinikka encouraged aspiring vocalists and musicians to surround themselves with music that they enjoy and to follow their passions. "Music is very influential," Sinikka said. "Start learning nice music."
She answered questions about the kantele and spoke Norwegian with Norwegian students. "What a great college you have!" Sinikka exclaimed.
Visit Langeland's website for more information and upcoming tours at http:www.sinikka.no.