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My aching heart longs for you, April’s Viola

01/04/2011
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Let’s talk about schlager.

Each country has its own version of something like schlager. A type of music that is a massive thing inside the culture but barely causes a blip in the radar elsewhere in the world. It’s a form of music that has something inherently cheesy and cringy to it, but which also carries something so integral to the country’s ethos and feeling that it’s almost patriotic to listen to it. The old people love it and the young people hate it, but eventually everyone will find themselves listening to it on the car radio and not minding it, maybe even singing along to it.

In Finland this sort of music is called iskelmä – and I suppose schlager is the accepted translation. It’s cheesy, lovelorn pop songs sung by softly-voiced singers. The production is cheap and full of standard sounds that no one dares to deviate from no matter how dated they are. Sometimes the songs express the quiet, beautiful melancholy that lives within the very soul of the nation’s people. Other times, they’re inanely happy, irritatingly catchy pop songs with hooks that seem to force their way into your head. It all sounds a bit same and a lot of it is rather… forgettable, but some golden classics live on from decade after decade and become a part of everyone’s musical upbringing.

Like everyone, I used to hate it but these days that fiery passionate rage of youth has dissipated from within me and my feelings have grown warmer to the cheesy pop tunes of schlager. Perhaps it’s a form of homesickness or pride of one’s own country now that I’ve been away from the place for a while, but it feels nicely familiar and homely. Nothing wrong with little easy listening pop now and then.

Why bring this up? Today, Viola have decided to change course and surrendered their true calling: schlager. Their debut schaler song – “Elämän iskelmä” – has slightly higher production values than your typical schlager song (whether this will revolutionise the genre or flop terribly, remains to be seen), but they have captured the feel of the genre and sound like they were born to make 50+-old audiences slowly dance in smalltown festivals. The boys have a bright future ahead of them as mainstays of Iskelmäradio.

The post on the official site contains a nice enough sampling of classic schlager should you decide to wander there. However, it does lack the Greatest of Them All, the evergolden “Anna mulle tähtitaivas” by the legendary Katri Helena (my mother’s favourite singer, by the way) which I shall post here for everyone to enjoy.

MP3: Elämän iskelmä

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