Aallotar is a freshly minted transatlantic collaboration between violinist Sara Pajunen (Minnesota) and accordionist Teija Niku (Finland). The ensemble is founded on the common musical ground the women share, but also revels in the cultural differences born when an ocean and the passage of time separate a lineage. Aallotar’s music, to be released on their March 2014 debut album, has been described as “exquisite, sophisticated chamber folk music.”
The name Aallotar comes from a character from Finland's national epic "Kalevala." A daughter of the waves, her name has graced the hulls of Finnish ships for centuries – ships that separated the ancestors of Aallotar’s members: Teija Niku and Sara Pajunen. One hundred years ago, their families lived within hours of each other in the western regions of Finland, speaking the same language, playing the same music, eating and drinking the same culture. Then the immigration of hundreds of thousands of Finns from 1870-1930 found Pajunen’s ancestors relocating to Northern Minnesota, while Niku’s family remained in Finland. Now, in the 21st century, they revisit earlier days of Finnish folk music – but with an ocean and a century of musical influence between them.
Both accordionist Teija Niku and violinist Sara Pajunen began performing Finnish folk music at an early age. Niku, from Haapavesi, Finland, plays the same 2-row accordion on which she explored Finnish polka repertoire as a child – an instrument that twice won her the Finnish Folk Championship. As an adult, Niku has earned a master’s degree in folk music from the Sibelius Academy and won the respected Konsta Jylha competition with her band Grupa Balkan. Her album “Finsko Pajdusko” has been nominated Ethno Album of the Year in Finland’s version of the Grammys. Pajunen, one ‘of the most ambitious and notable practitioners of Finnish folk music outside of Finland,’ traveled to Finland from her native Hibbing, Minnesota every four years as a child to perform. After receiving classical music degrees both in Minneapolis and Helsinki, she returned to explore the folk music that is both her personal and ancestral past. She has founded two touring ensembles based on her Finnish roots: Kaivama and Tango Pohjan Tähden. Her recorded compatibility with (mentor/colleague/Finnish fiddler) Arto Järvelä “is superb…the most genuine Finnish music ever recorded in the U.S.” Finland’s Pelimanni magazine, published by the Folk Music Institute, described the sound as “two violins fly(ing) like the fragrance of a summer’s morning.”
Aallotar’s physical and cultural separations allow a unique probing of both traditional and personal music. Singing in both English and Finnish, Teija and Sara pay tribute to their respective cultures, which - although they pulsate with many of the same values and energy of 100 years ago - have grown apart. The music of Aallotar is an exploration of those differences, with the intent to create new harmonies that bridge the expanses which water has filled.