Eläkeläiset: Humppa, Alcohol and No Sex
Finland’s ultimate party band brings its blend of old and new to St. Petersburg to celebrate 20 years of musical history.
Published: December 11, 2013 (Issue # 1790)
Eläkeläiset — the band that brought the Finnish 1930s dance music humppa international popularity — is celebrating its 20th anniversary and claims it has not changed anything in its style or approach throughout the years. “Why fix something that is not broken?” says musician Jarmo “Toppo” Koponen, known within Eläkeläiset as Onni Waris.
With songs about drinking, dancing and old age, Eläkeläiset will come to the city to premiere songs from its new album as well as to perform its many favorites from the past two decades.
Eläkeläiset (Finnish for “pensioners”) could take any international pop or rock hit — from Led Zeppelin’s “Living Loving Maid (She’s Just a Woman)” to Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” — and turn it into the fast humppa or slower jenkka music styles, popular in pre-war Finland and primarily limited to elderly Finnish audiences until the band took it on in 1993. Played in the accordion-driven humppa style, which is described by the band as the “Finnish hillbilly version of American jazz,” even the best-known songs may not be immediately recognizable.
Called “Humppakalmisto” (Humppa Cemetery), the band’s new album takes aim at international traditional songs and the blues, including Eduardo di Capua’s “O sole mio,” Big Joe Williams’ “Baby Please Don’t Go,” traditional Cuban song “Guantanamera” and Mexican folk song “La Bamba.” The choice of material was influenced by the move from Eläkeläiset’s long-time record company Stupido Records to the Tampere-based Akun Tehdas.
“We decided, ‘Okay, now we have a new record company and it would be a good idea to release an album,” said Koponen. A guitarist with his original punk-metal group Kumikameli, with Eläkeläiset Koponen plays keyboards, sings and writes lyrics.
“So we started looking for traditional songs and public domain songs, which you don’t have to have permission to translate. So we were picking up on old blues classics like ‘Rollin’ and Tumblin’’ and ‘Baby Please Don’t Go,’ the Australian song ‘Waltzing Matilda’ and Negro spirituals like ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’ — all those songs that you can make any kind of version of without getting in trouble with copyright owners. I think we had 28 or 30 songs for the album, and we just chose the best ones. So we have more time to struggle with the next album.
“I think we have about 100 songs for the next album, and our label in the process of getting copyright permissions. There are all kind of songs — heavy metal, some Motörhead, Chuck Berry and whatever. But we need more time to get permission to make the album, so it is a good idea to release something now. Then it’s our 20th birthday, and it’s also a celebration album.”
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