The eight tracks on Finnish duo Hurja Halla’s debut album, Riitti, demonstrate that effervescent Nordic acoustic folk music, with an experimental touch, is in very good hands by young musicians keeping it relevant, vibrant and alive. Based in Joensuu, Hurja Halla consists of two consummate multi-instrumentalists, Janne Ojajärvi and Liisa Haapanen, who compose their own music and lyrics. Between the two, we hear many colors offered by cello, harmonica, percussion, jaw harps, overtone flutes, wooden horn, didgeridoo, jouhikko and voice. During production, I might have encouraged them to use a few more joyful sounds and effects from nature.
The overtone flutes are Finnish long flutes. And, what is the jouhikko, you may ask? It’s a traditional, two- or three-stringed bowed lyre from Finland with horsehair strings. Because it has no fingerboard, its strings are stopped by touching them with the back of one’s fingers, knuckles or nails. It is heart-warming to note a revival in playing jouhikko. Both Haapanen and Ojajärvi also perform as soloists, as well as with other bands.
Riitti is dedicated to all forests, and the music of Ojajärvi and Haapanen has clearly been inspired by the mythology and nature of the north. While Hurja Halla does seem to employ much in the way of electronica, loops and synthesized sounds, their trancelike beats and atmospheric tunes impart organic, earthy sonic reflections. To learn more about their inspirations, merely look at the English translation of these tracks, meaning Fierce Hall, Curl (remastered), Rum, Ice Age, Ritt, Mårranfest , Death Poem, and Outro. At track 3, “Rammi” (Rum) has nice character with dialogue between the flute, percussion and voices. Similarly, “Jäänala” (Ice Age) has a compelling, but somewhat repetitive, vibe. “Mårranfest” is an alluring mix of both quirkiness and cleverness in its use of jaw harps, didge, flutes and more.
The haunting vocals employed in the last two tracks are particularly eerie and implicitly acknowledge life’s impermanence. Riitti is a short album, but as in nature, nothing material lasts forever. Hurja Halla’s music encourages a freedom, independence and release of one’s spirit. At the same time, they paradoxically allow us to hold on to the very thing inspiring their music, the natural source of their songs. I may sure to listen again on the spring equinox. The beautifully celestial music on this inventive album reflects a unique exploratory light, holding back nothing while illuminating everything. (Joe Ross, Roots Music Report)