Folk’ Avant Brings the Kantele to a Contemporary Audience
The Kalevala, or “Kalewala” is an epic poem composed by the Finnish physician Elias Lönnrot in 1835. The poem, now regarded as the national epic of Finland, features a character named Väinämöinen. Finnish folktales often characterize Väinämöinen as a shaman, mage, or demigod. The character is believed to have served as an inspiration for Gandalf in J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. In the Kalevala, Väinämöinen kills a colossal pike. From its jawbone, he fashions the first kantele—a plucked string instrument of the Baltic psaltery.
The misfit relative of the lute and—more distantly—a harpsichord, the kantele is a bit of an oddball in the evolution of European chordophones (string instruments). While the kantele is deeply rooted in Finnish folklore—for fans of Star Stable Online—its roots run deeper still. In the poem, Väinämöinen strings his kantele with hair from the devil’s gelding. Smaller, more traditional kanteles may have only five strings while concert kanteles have up to 40. Since mythical mounts are hard to come by, modern musicians make do with horsehair.
Who are Folk’ Avant?
185 years after the world first learned of the kantele’s legendary origins, one Nordic folk band leads the charge on its contemporary revival. Founded in 2014, Folk’ Avant is a supremely talented trio composed of Anna Wikenius, Maija Pokela, and Anna Rubinsztein.
The band’s sole Finnish member, Pokela’s performance on the kantele pays homage to her heritage, putting her combined bachelor’s and master’s degree in folk music from Uniarts Helsinki’s highly-acclaimed Sibelius Academy to good use. Rubinsztein adds flavor on the fiddle while both “Annas” join in on vocals!
Their music presents a playful and curious balance of grand expressions, delicate melodies and restless enthusiasm. Their traditional Nordic roots bring rich and captivating nuances to each performance. All at once, a song may sound warm, yet distant; moody, yet hopeful; energetic, yet wistful.
Folk’ Avant has shared their unique blend of traditional and contemporary grooves across Jorvik and beyond! The band has played at major Swedish and Finnish festivals, performing on tour in Spain and Moscow.
Their latest single, The Light Ride, introduces a new generation to the eclectic sounds of Nordic folk music. In collaboration with Star Stable Entertainment, the band has truly re-contextualized the kantele for contemporary audiences.
The musicians behind Folk’ Avant
Anna Wikenius, vocals
Maija Pokela, kantele and vocals
Anna Rubinsztein, violin and vocals
Singles by Folk’ Avant
Jorvik Lullaby, 2020
The Light Ride, 2020
Valedale Hymn, 2020
Want to learn more about Folk’ Avant? Visit their website!
Snodgrass, Mary Ellen. Encyclopedia of the Literature of Empire. United States, Facts On File, Incorporated, 2010, pp. 161-162.
Tëmkin, Ilya. (2004). Evolution of the Baltic psaltery: a case for phyloorganology?. Galpin Society Journal. 57. 219-230. 10.2307/25163802.