Finnish band Kardemimmit explores womanhood through music


Photo courtesy of Katariina Salmi

KARDEMIMMIT – The Finnish female quartet is returning to NMU with their modern spin on traditional Scandinavian music. Their performances include both singing and the music of the kantele, the Finnish national instrument.

Madoline Plattenberg, Features Editor

Twin sisters Leeni and Anna Wegelius, the latter of whom is the producer of the Finnish band Kardemimmit, both recall the very first time they saw the Milky Way during their last U.S. tour.

“We were in a beautiful little town called Peoria,” Leeni said. I remember I was so tired, I did not even have much energy to look at it, but it was so beautiful. It was a surreal moment being in Colorado and seeing the Milky Way there.”

Born and raised in Espoo, Finland, the Wegelius sisters said they are not able to see the starry galaxy from their homeland due to how low it sits in the sky.

“Sometimes you feel thankful for what you get to see,” Leeni said. “It is not usually the moments that you wait for, but something else that comes along the way that you did not even expect to happen. And those kinds of moments, I think they are beautiful.” 

As they look forward to touring and experiencing moments like these once again, the Finnish group’s next destination is Marquette.

The Wegelius sisters said they are ready to share the silvery tones of kantele, the national instrument of Finland, in harmony with their vocals.

“We always like to come to Marquette whenever we have a chance because I think the audience has been really enthusiastic and the community is invested and involved in these kinds of events and that creates a really nice atmosphere for us,” Leeni said.

Kardemimmit [kʌr-deh-mim-mit] will perform at NMU as part of the Beaumier Heritage Center Concert Series on Saturday, Sept. 17 at Reynolds Recital Hall at 7:30 p.m. Tickets cost $10 for the general public and $5 for students and anyone under 18 years old. Learn more about Kardemimmit at their website and visit NMU Ticketing to purchase tickets for this event.

The band will be playing songs from their newest album, “Sister, Do You Recall?” followed by a mix of pieces from their old repertoire to combine with the string orchestra, Anna said.

“There will be some very unique pieces that have never been anywhere and actually, we are quite excited to play with a string orchestra because we have not done that much,” Anna said. “So it is a special program just for Marquette.” 

The album “Sister, Do You Recall?” is strongly themed on being a woman and a girl and the ups and downs and of feminism.

“This is everything from like witchcraft to girlhood, the title we think binds nicely together with our career, the themes of the album and with sisterhood,” Anna said.

Kardemimmit’s background is in Finnish folk music and their teacher specialized in Finnish kantele tradition, Leeni said. 

“We have learned since we were really small about the Finnish tradition and when we were in our early teens everybody discovered world music on top of that,” Leeni said.

The group takes influence from the Finnish, Eastern European and Scandinavian singing traditions, particularly the Finnish reki-singing style, Eastern Finnish archaic improvisation and ancient runo singing, Leeni said.

She said the band is in charge of their own music — writing, composing and arranging lyrics and producing.

The Finnish female quartet group began 22 years ago in 1999, officially founded in 2000 in the musical institute Juvenalia and is composed of Anna and Leeni Wegelius, Maija Pokela and Jutta Rahmel. 

“In our teens, it was really important for us to connect by music, we were big fans of many bands, and we went to concerts together,” Leeni said. “So music was a social world for us and we also wanted to make an occupation out of music.” 

The Wegelius sisters said they started to learn how to play the national instrument of Finland, the kantele [kʌn-teh-leh], by the age of five and eventually learned to sing as a group by the ages of 11 to 13 years old.

The kantele is a diatonic instrument, only capable of making major scale notes and is an important symbol of Finnish national identity, Leeni said.

As they both learned the instrument, Leeni said they gradually moved from a five-string kantele to 10 strings, eventually moving up to 36 strings — which is an entirely different instrument in itself.

So the small kantele and the big kantele are two totally different instruments, so of course, it took quite some time to master both of them,” Leeni said.

Their teacher is responsible for teaching the pair how to sing and for coming up with their group name, Anna said.

“It is like, Kardemumma is a spice used a lot in Finnish baking, and mimmit is a word for girls with a bold nature,” Leeni said. “In 2002, we were really into Spice Girls, so that is why the name is kind of like ‘Finnish folk Spice Girls.’” 

The group, Anna said, does not use sheet music and composes and arranges solely by ear. The quartet initially rehearses together, she said, then separately for vocals and instruments before rehearsing together to combine everything.

“It is such a process that we do together, it is maybe different than many other bands, but our system is good,” Anna said. “It goes through a ‘machine’ and comes out as Kardemimmit music, so it works for us.”

After not being on tour for more than two years, Anna said they will still need to utilize masks and keep a distance from their audiences to keep everyone healthy. The quartet previously performed at NMU in 2017 and 2019. The Wegelius sisters said they hope tour life has not changed much and is looking forward to engaging with their audiences once again.

“I think it is all about the connection between people,” Anna said. “It is important to us that there is no high barrier between the audience and the performers.”

The first song on Kardemimmit’s new album, released on Sept. 9, is entitled “The Witch is Born”, and is strongly influenced by Kate Bush’s song “Waking the Witch.”

“We are really influenced by [Kate Bush] and there is plenty of influence from many of our favorite artists that are more known than we are,” Anna said. “I think there is a common ground for anybody who likes a little quirky or pop music, so if you are into music like that, you should come because I think you will find something you like.”