Kaustinen fiddle playing tradition chosen to UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list

The UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee has designated the Kaustinen fiddle playing tradition on their list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of humankind at its meeting on 15 December 2021. The nomination of Kaustinen fiddle playing was one of 50 pending applications.

The Kaustinen fiddle playing was nominated to the National Heritage List in 2016, from which it was selected as Finland's candidate for the UNESCO list in 2018. A working group of five Kaustinen music communities collaborated with The Finnish Heritage Agency in an extensive application project that lasted about two years.

"Finnish folk music, the Kaustinen fiddle playing, deserves its place alongside reggae, fado, flamenco and Argentine tango," says Leena Marsio, a specialist at The Finnish Heritage Agency, who is responsible for application processes and the implementation and monitoring of the UNESCO agreement in Finland.

Kaustinen, with a population of about 4,300, is estimated to have hundreds of fiddle practitioners from infants to the elderly. The Näppäri Method, an educational philosophy which has become internationally renowned, is a significant factor in the successful transmission of the Kaustinen fiddle tradition from one generation to the next. About 70 children and young people in the area take part in the Näppärit school and camps yearly. In addition, the dance and playing groups of the Kaustinen Youth Society include almost 200 children and young people.

Kaustinen's reputation as a music municipality dates back to the 19th century. The wedding tradition of the region is one of the key elements behind Kaustinen’s music repertoire. The Unesco application highlighted Kaustinen's neighboring areas that strengthen the tradition and other issues related to the fiddle tradition, such as the kantele, dance and national costume tradition.

Kaustisen Purppuripelimannit and Kaustinen Folk Music Festival launching the renaissance

Kaustinen's widespread awareness in the 1950s and 1970s was raised by the appearances of Kaustisen Purppuripelimannit and the compositions of Konsta Jylhä (1910–1984), the group's leading figure. Other well-known fiddlers in the area are Wiljami Niittykoski (1895–1985) and Otto Hotakainen (1908–1990) from the Halsua municipality. In contemporary folk music, the tradition is continued by the world-famous JPP and Frigg, among others. Numerous top musicians have also grown under the Kaustinen tradition, such as the baroque violinist Kreeta-Maria Kentala, conductor Juha Kangas and folk pop artist Aili Järvelä.

The success of Kaustisen Purppuripelimannit and the Kaustinen Folk Music Festival, founded in 1968, triggered a renaissance of Finnish folk music, with which fiddle bands and events were formed all over the country. Today, the Kaustinen Folk Music Festival is the most significant event in Finnish folk music, both nationally and internationally, with more than 4,000 amateur and professional performers each year.

"We see the Kaustinen tradition as representing the whole of Finnish folk music and the recognition gained raises the appreciation of Finnish folk music scene in general as well as the desire to cherish these musical traditions,” says Matti Hakamäki, Director of the The Finnish Folk Music Institute.