On her new album "The Land That Is Not", the singer Sinikka Langeland creates a congenial mixture of folk-jazz and poetry. Langeland, who lives in the small Norwegian town of Grue Finnskog, is as well-known to the German audience as some of her fellow musicians: Arve Henriksen, Trygve Seim, Anders Jormin and Markku Ounaskari who form Langeland's backing band produce a sound full of deepness and longing.
Sinikka Langeland & band
Within a spectrum of eleven songs Langeland interprets the poetry of Edith Södergran and Olav H. Hauge with an immediateness as if she'd tell chapters of her own life. And her kantele adds to the musics soft and sophisticated atmosphere...
Carina Prange talked to Sinikka Langeland for Jazzdimensions
Carina: When we listen to your music, we hear the melancholy of the north, the vastness of the landscapes, the long periods without light, the depths and weight of emotions... Is it just a trap the biased listener usually falls into? A cliché based on an interpretation, maybe misinterpretation? Or is it just the plain truth?
Sinikka: (laughs) Nordic nature is so overwhelmingly beautiful and brutal that it is hard not to be influenced by it! So I think there is some truth to the myth.
Carina: When did you pick the kantele as your instrument? Did you have doubts later on if it could be used in jazz, too?
Sinikka: My Karelian mother told me about the instrument when I was a child, and one day we went to Finland to find one for me. I had not heard it before I got one.
I started to play it in the early 1980s. First I played just for fun, but after a while I felt a real sense of bonding with the instrument. I was discovering folk music more seriously at that time. I have never had any doubts about using it for whatever music I want, but some things are, of course, easier than others to play on it.
Carina: What role does the kantele presently play in your music? Is there something about it that couldn't be expressed with any other instrument?
Sinikka: The kantele is essential in my music now. It's the "mother" in the band, and the musicians often pick up lines and patterns from what I am playing and use them in their own playing. The sound is special; the overtones last for a very long time, and you can bend the strings to produce blue notes.
The range of the 39-stringed kantele is five-and-a-half octaves, and I can produce "dry" sounds by stopping the strings from vibrating, which is good for playing fast rhythmical patterns. Maybe this can also be done on other zithers and harp instruments, but the kantele sound is really unique.
Carina: In your vocals the classical training you have is evident and you have an extraordinary voice. Does a classical training also help to sing jazz?
Sinikka: Thank you! It's interesting to hear you say this, because I have not had much classical voice training. My classical training consisted mostly of piano lessons when I was a child.
I think that the way I use my voice has been influenced most strongly by Norwegian folk singing. Singing cow calls can actually be as challenging technically as singing an opera aria, and of course all basic techniques are good to know regardless of the music you want to sing.
Carina: Anyway, the milestones in your career were classical music, folk and finally jazz. Did your style really go through these changes one after the other? Did it always look like a consequent route to you?
Sinikka: When I was a child the focus was on classical music. Folk and jazz came into my life when I was a teenager, and after that I combined them all to form my own style.
Carina: There are classical singers who shy away from jazz with its blue notes because they're afraid to "spoil their voice". Do you think that's superstitiousness?
Sinikka: (laughs) It might have more to do with trying to preserve their classical style.
Carina: Do you also regard your voice as an instrument? Maybe as the most direct, the most personal way to express yourself?
Sinikka: Yes, I regard it as an instrument. And it is indeed influenced by you as a person. The question is whether it can be coloured more by you personally than by the art you want to create.
Carina: You sing in Swedish as well as in Norwegian. Both languages sound very beautiful. Do you feel equally at home in Swedish as in Norwegian?
Sinikka: My mother speaks Swedish, so it feels natural to sing in "my" Swedish. But I don't feel as comfortable in Swedish as I do in Norwegian.
Carina: For this album you selected poems by Edith Södergran and Olav H. Hauge. Were you looking for lyrics for this album when you came across them?
Sinikka: No, I was already familiar with both of them. I started to re-read Edith Södergran's poems after I had recorded "Starflowers". I appreciated them as literature but I was also thinking about making music for the ensemble.
As for Olav H. Hauge, it was his widow, Bodil Cappelen, who invited me to set his poems to music. At first I wasn't sure whether it would amount to anything, but I wanted to give it a try as it was a wonderful opportunity to get to know Hauge's work better.
My producer, Manfred Eicher, also thought that it could be a good idea to combine these two poets on the CD. I felt that both of them were on a journey, searching for something that I was also wondering about. They had very different ways of expressing this, but I still felt that they were both on the same journey.
Their life stories also influenced me, though I tried to focus on the poems themselves without thinking so much about the poets. In geographical and cultural terms both of them in a way represent parts of my personal history: My mother was born in Karelia, the same area in which Edith Södegran lived, and my father was born in the western part of Norway in a mountain landscape and culture not so different from the place where Olav H. Hauge was born.
Carina: Why did you choose "Landet Som Icke Är" as the title tune? Is it somewhat central to the album?
Sinikka: It was Manfred Eicher who suggested it. I think it provides a good key for understanding the essence of the album, but you have to unlock the door yourself.
Carina: In the press text is drawn a comparison of this poem to Chuang-Tzu's "Homeland of Nothing Whatsoever". Did you also read Chuang-Tzu and do you agree to that comparison?
Sinikka: I have not yet read Chuang-Tzu, but I would like to.
Carina: However, there seem to be several parallels to the poems you chose and some Asian poetryzen poems, haikus... How do you explain that?
Sinikka: I'm not much familiar with Asian poetry, but I know that that the poets I like have read some. Living with Nordic nature and expressing this in poems may be not very different from walking in the Japanese mountains and writing haikus.
Carina: Do you feel an affinity for Asian culture?
Sinikka: Yes, I sometimes look eastward for inspiration. It's natural to compare what you see in foreign cultures with what you find at home, and this can apply to less obvious things, too. For example, the story of the Virgin Mary is for me an expression of a wonderful experience about "enlightenment".
Carina: When you sing poems like "Triumf Att Finnas Till" and "Elvi Mumlar", do you think about "the right way" to interpret them? Can we compare that to an artist trying to "live a role"?
Sinikka: Well, "living a poem" for me would mean that I try to make it as big a part of me as possible. The basis is always my own "encounter" with the poem. Then I start the process, perhaps like an actor, to build it up using all the information I can find to paint it in thousands of nuances. "Triumf at finnas till" is for me a powerful ode to survival, and "Elvi Mumlar" evokes an expressive image and a feeling of "what the river of life or the forces of life are bringing to you".
Carina: Why didn't you use translations so you could use only one languageor maybe even English? What is your reason to stick to the original?
Sinikka: I was inspired by the producer on my first ECM recording, "Starflowers", to trust that the expressive idiom will be stronger if I use the original texts. And for this CD I didn't even consider doing anything else!
Carina: What is your general opinion towards translating poems? Is it alright? Or does it mean a falsification of the original expression?
Sinikka: I think it is okay to have good translations side by side with the original poems. Sometimes the translations can help you to see the originals with new eyes, too.
CD: Sinikka Langeland - "The Land that is not" (ECM 2210 276 2036)
Sinikka Langeland im Internet: www.sinikka.no
ECM Records im Internet: www.ecmrecords.com
Fotos: Pressefotos (Fin Serck-Hanssen)