Saturday, March 19, 2011

Helmi Levyt

An interview that I did a while back with Arwi Lind of independent record company Helmi Levyt was published recently in the New World Finn. The New World Finn is a Finnish-American quarterly which I recommend you subscribe to. The Finnish-American press has a long and colorful history and is worth supporting financially.

Here is the article, but if you prefer, please check out page 25 of this pdf.

Independent Finnish Label Produces Wide Range of Musical Styles In Its RecordingsHelmi Levyt is an independent Finnish record label which was founded a few years back by Arwi Lind when he was living in the city of Savonlinna. Their first record was released in 2004. Since then they have released over 40 recordings, most of which are full-length albums. The recordings have been released in a variety of formats – both on vinyl and compact disc of course but also surprisingly a few releases have also been on cassette. Helmi Levyt has achieved quite a bit of notoriety in Finnish music circles during its short existence. The recording artists that have worked with Helmi represent a wide range of musical tastes and styles. The boozy and meditative jazz and roots influenced stylings of Muuan Mies and the melancholic and often spiritual songs of Joose Keskitalo come to mind immediately when I think about the music released by Helmi, so does the modern and minimalist singer/songwriter Sami Kukka. The fact that the same label that released an album of Jaakko Eino Kalevi’s electronica has also released a recording of traditional Ingrian-Finnish songs sung by former Red Army Choir member Arvi Kemppi is a testimonial to the Helmi’s commitment to great music, regardless of genre.

A while back I had a chance to sit down with Arwi Lind, the founder of Helmi Levyt:
Willie Lahti: So why did you found your own record company?
Arwi Lind: Ever since I was a child, records have been really important to me. Some people are into movies, some people are into video games - I was really into records. When I was a kid I’d make my own recordings on cassette tape and then design covers for the tapes. I guess that ever since I was small the idea of having my own record label was somewhere in the back of my mind. When I was living in Savonlinna I realized that I had a lot of spare time, life wasn’t terribly hectic. My oldest daughter Hilkka had just been born and it seemed to be the right time to start working on something creative – a project that could be released to the public. At the same time I began to get to know Joose (Joose Keskitalo) and we started to collaborate musically. This collaboration began to head in a more serious direction than I had initially planned - at first it didn’t even occur to me that our project would turn into something serious - we had went in to the project with a less-than-professional, almost haphazard attitude towards things.

WL: Does Helmi Levyt have a particular mission or philosophy that you follow or are you just making things up as you go along?
AL: I’d like to answer this question by saying “yes we do”, but I guess we really don’t. In a way I guess we trust our instincts. Of course we are pretty particular about what we want to record and release – there are definitely things that we want to bring forward to the public. I guess that I can say that my thought process doesn’t really work in a orderly way, I don’t plan things out so far in advance that I could claim to have a particular mission.

WL: I’ve noticed that a lot of the records released by Helmi seem to embody the somewhat elusive Finnish mentality (which I won’t even attempt to define) in one way or another. It comes through most obviously in the music of Muuan Mies and Joose Keskitalo. Is this a fair assessment in your opinion?
AL: I think that a lot of our artists capture aspects of Finnishness, or at least I hope so. Going back to your question about our mission, one thing that is important to me is that the roots and background of the artist comes through in the recording and since our artists are Finnish, of course their own experiences should be present in the music. To me it is important that Finnish musicians/bands sing in Finnish. It is our language and of course ones feelings are best expressed in your mother tongue.

WL: Helmi Levyt has released records that cover a wide range of genres and styles. Can you identify a common thread that makes the folks in this diverse group “Helmi artists”
AL: A lot of folks seem to have the opinion that our wide range of releases do have something in common. I think that it has to do with the attitudes of our artists to music and how music should be made. If you take a look at our whole catalog and the broad scale of artists that work with us you might not find a “common thread” so to speak. With the major record labels focusing on “idols”-type formatting, making new music, and being willing to experiment has become the responsibility of small, independent record labels. The common thread could also be this idea of Finnishness that we’ve been talking about. The lyrics that have been written by Helmi Levyt artists like Joose Keskitalo, Ismo (Puhakka) from Muuan Mies, and Sami Kukka are also really important, and in my opinion these guys are among the most daring and vital lyricists in Finland right now.

WL: Do you follow any particular philosophy when putting a record together?
AL: I think it is really important that a record is treated as its own entity. Everything is important - the packaging, the cover art the liner notes, and of course, the actual recording itself. I think that an album should be designed to listen to from start to finish - it’s not just about one hit song with a bunch of filler. I also think it is important to keep things simple and moving - not getting caught up in going overboard on a particular project.
WL: What kind of projects do you have in the works?
AL: Well, we’ve got a new Joose Keskitalo ja Kolmas Maailmaanpalo ”live” recording coming out soon and Joose’s next studio album is in the works. Inarinveljet is also working on a record, and we’re planning on going into the studio with Sami Kukka in the spring. We’re also working on a project with Finnish reggae artist Profeetta. Basically I guess that we’ll be putting out about 4 releases this spring and hoping to put out just as many in the fall.

Helmi Levyt can be found on the internet at their own site The site is available only in the Finnish language at this time. Some of their albums are also available through A few of their releases are also available on If you want to get further acquainted with this great little record label just search “Helmi Levyt” on YouTube where there are plenty videos featuring their musicians.

Three albums from Helmi Levyt worth checking out:
text by Mikko Siltanen (translated by Willie Lahti)

Arvi Kemppi’s own story is an interesting one. He was born in Soviet Ingria in 1932. When he was 10 years old his family was sent to Siberia by Stalin. In 1952 they were able to return home thanks to intervention by Otto Ville Kuusinen (who was then chairman of the presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Karelo-Finnish SSR as well as a member of the Politburo). After his return from Siberia, Kemppi performed as a soloist in the Red Army Choir. When he reached retirement age in the 1990’s he moved to Finland and continued singing (often performing in market squares and subway stations in Helsinki).
This album is composed of old Ingrian-Finnish songs. The songs are representative of the old Finnish folksong tradition, which Kemppi, in his own way, was able to contribute to.
Arvi Kemppi died in 2008, just before this record was released. Fortunately a portion of his unique music was preserved for future generations.

Joose Keskitalo is a central figure in the Helmi Levyt catalog. His artistic influence can be heard in some of the other recordings by Helmi artists - he has done production work for a number of them.
Keskitalo’s own music is difficult to define. One can find the influences from folk music, old hymns, and American blues. He doesn’t want to do the same thing twice – he always tries to find a new way of doing things.
This record features Keskitalo’s band Kolmas maailmanpalo. This collaborative effort brought about a fine album, which can be considered to be one of his best so far.

SAMI KUKKA: MENEN VETEEN (I’m going to the water)
Sami Kukka released his first album during the second half of the 1980’s, but the time back then was not yet ripe for acoustic, Finnish-language folk. Fortunately both the man and his music were “discovered” again after the turn of the century, thanks to in part to Joose Keskitalo.
Kukka’s fourth full-length album Menen veteen has a summery theme about it. The music is extremely quiet and fragile – in one word, beautiful. It is in no hurry to get anywhere and the music stands on its own. Comparisons to the British singer-songwriter Nick Drake are easy to understand, there are numerous similarities in their individual styles.
The record was produced by Samuli Kosminen, known for his work with the Icelandic group Múm. Kosminen is also responsible for the percussion and sound samples on several of the tracks on the album. Other musicians featured on the album include the violinist Pekka Kuusisto as well as Pekko Käppi on the jouhikko.

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