That Thing That She Does: Co-founder of the contemporary Finnish folk group Varttina; singer, arranger and song writer; kantele player; children’s music teacher.

When Mari Kaasinen and her sister Sari were babies, their mother crooned songs and poems in Kareliana, a Finnish-based dialect influenced by the Karelian language and culture of northwestern Russia. While other kids were learning to walk and talk, the sisters started their first singing group (Mari was two and half). Their interest in the distinctive Karelian sound grew, and as teens they founded the vocal group Varttina, which quickly expanded from eight to 21 teen singers and musicians in the village.

As adults, the sisters invited professional rock, folk and acoustic musicians to re-form and revitalize Varttina (Sari later dropped out of the band). The group is now garnering an international reputation for its unique blend of contemporary folk music and Karelian and Finno-Ugric “runo songs,” which can be sung or are sometimes recited aloud. “The music is our own invention,” she writes. “ I think we have a special style no one else is doing.”

When she’s not touring, Mari teaches music to young children, including the kantele, a traditional Finnish string instrument.

Friend and fellow Varttina group member Pekka Lehti confides that off-stage Mari is humble and a bit shy — and firmly grounded. “When she sings on a stage she’s got a beautiful voice and a natural stage charisma, she is natural diva. She does not use any gimmicks — she just is.”

Word from Mari Kaasinen

Her idea of a diva: Hungarian folk singer Marta Sebestyen (though she also digs Bulgarian women groups and singers).

What’s next? Varttina’s first live album comes out this fall, bringing the group’s total number of albums to eight, with production under way on another studio-based album.

How She Shakes Off a Bad Day: Mari jokes that as she fast approaches her thirtieth birthday, she’s waiting for a mid-life crisis. But she admits: “I don’t have so many bad days.” If the day truly stinks, she recommends a sauna.

Favorite Way to Travel:
Mari has a love-hate relationship with flying. “It’s such a fast and easy way to travel,” she says, “but I hate those turbulences.”

Coordinates: Finland

Mari Kaasinen

Finnish Folk Maestra


Born in eastern Finland in the village of Raakkyla. Now lives in Helsinki.

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