Karelian Balsam for Your Ears

Nils-Aslak Valkeapää (1943-2001) has been an important figure to modern Sámi culture. Just as crucial is Santtu Karhu (Aleksandr Medvedev) to Karelian culture. He was born in 1967 in Belomorsk by the White Sea, where his grandparents had been deported. Santtu´s mother belongs to the generation that lost the Karelian language, but Santtu learned Livvi  (Aunus Karelian)  from his grandmother. They didn´t teach Karelian at school those days, and still teaching is quite poor – children learn just some songs and phrases.

How should a Karelian rock-band sound like? That was the question when Santtu started his own Talvisovat-group in Petrozavodsk in the late 80´s, at a time when the Soviet Union was collapsing.  They had of course heard Finnish bands, but from the very beginning Talvisovat had original Karelian elements . They used instruments not so familiar in rock, like jouhikko and bouzouki. Santtu Karhu & Talvisovat have made several albums, most of them on the Hot Igloo -label in Ruukki, a small town near Oulu.

Santtu´s lyrics are sometimes provocative. It´s of course a kind of  political statement to start singing in Karelian, when the language and culture are in danger. The Livvi language is quite near Finnish, and some lines can be understood by a Finn, like: ”Eib ole lämmin Moskovan kämmen. Se silmih sylgöy sit nahkan nylgöy.” (”It´s not warm, that palm of Moscow. They spit to your eyes and then skin you.”) Rock music can still be meaningful!

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