perjantai 28. lokakuuta 2022

Keijo – master of the never-ending boogie

The independent Finnish artist Keijo Aatos Virtanen - better known just as Keijo - died in Jyväskylä, Finland on July 14, 2022. He was born on June 9, 1951. The years of his youth left a strong mark on the boy from a poor farm. The relationship with nature, forests, motorcycles and music making accompanied him throughout his life. Virtanen studied and worked at the University of Jyväskylä, majoring in literature. He studied also philosophy and ethnography. After his graduation, he moved to work at the Department of Literature. His teaching work was particularly ground-breaking in creative writing, which he pioneered in Finland. Alongside his working career, Virtanen developed his career as a writer. Virtanen has published travel books, experimental poetry and prose. In all, he published about twenty books.

His interest in Eastern art and philosophy led him to research Indian aesthetics. He was interested in Indian music from the 1960’s through Ravi Shankar. In Indian music he heard similarities to blues music, because in both the strings were bended to reach the desired pitches. Together with his friend Maitreya a.k.a. Pekka Acu Airaksinen, Keijo brought Buddhism and Eastern aesthetics to the Finnish underground music.

His academic career was cut short by a tragic car accident in early 1999. The accident resulted in serious and very painful injuries, with which Virtanen fought tenaciously until his death. As a result of this tragic accident, Keijo's inner musical space, which had accompanied him since he was a child, had the opportunity to be transformed into a unique sound world in numerous solo recordings and recording sessions with various ensembles. Keijo tried to reach and relay in his own music something of this otherworldly music he had heard in his mind since childhood. In Keijo's own words, the accidents and misfortunes did not go only on the negative side. Although of course he did not wish misfortunes on himself or anyone else, he felt that through these experiences he received a message that confirmed the reality of the existence of other kinds of sounds, which cannot be described or explained through the Western ways.

After hearing Muddy Waters as a child, Keijo felt that his gruff voice and guitar strumming fit well in the remote rural environment in which he lived, surrounded by nature and making a living from manual farming labor. Keijo’s musical foundation was a mixture of his extensive knowledge of American blues and traditional American work songs, especially Keijo liked to sing Woody Guthrie and as well as Bob Dylan. The folkloristic type of music had a profound effect on how Keijo did see a song: it was meant to be repeated in different versions which all were as valuable. Gigging and roaming around was an important part of this evolution. Keijo liked the boogie type of jamming that could last literally hours during the sessions. There was a lot of John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters type of attitude in Keijo’s boogie. He also liked Buddy Guy and Howlin’ Wolf. The blues hobby of his youth started to expand into a more experimental music and Keijo started to grow into being an international legend with his own genre.

In the early 80s Keijo started doing various sound and musical experiments with his fellow student Jarmo Saarti. They used various rattles and self-made instruments to make music. Later he became interested in Tuvan throat singing and studied it. In 90’s this enthusiasm gave rise to the "experimental throat singing band” called Khem, which means stream in Tuvan language. Khem was joined occasionally with the members of the Hota band, and the Kheta Hotem band began in 1999. In the late 90s, Keijo got to know younger students of literature and philosophy in Jyväskylä, who played experimental and electronic music. He also ended up playing with these people, whose role models are e.g., John Cage and Sun Ra. Keijo felt like he had come home.

Keijo was also a significant link between the older and the younger generation of Finnish underground musicians. When one prominent Finnish young musician heard Keijo's playing live for the first time, he thought it was unique and Keijo’s earthy riffs opened the roof! In addition to the Keijo’s guitar playing he felt that Keijo had a strange charisma and magnetism around him. When playing with Keijo, it seemed important to just play on and let go. Musical ability in the traditional sense was not important - all kinds of approaches and ways of musical expression were possible and encouraged.

In the 21st century Keijo was one of the most central artists in Finnish underground or the "new weird Finland" music. His, his groups (Keijo & The Free Players, Rambling Boys, Black Trumpets) and other musical collaborations have been released globally by several record companies. Keijo has appeared on more than seventy recordings. The most important record labels that published his music have been e.g., PseudoArcana, Digitalis Recordings (and its sub-labels) and Ikuisuus.

Keijo started making home recordings with a c-cassette recorder sometime in the 70s. He apparently did not acquire recording equipment very purposefully, but he always used the recording technology that was available during the time period.  Later he started using minidisc recorders and other digital recorders. All in all, Keijo's way of recording and mixing recordings was its own kind of creative process. Although he followed and collected information about various recording devices and software, studied post-processing of recordings and was aware of conventional ways of working in the studio, he used the information he had studied in his own way, which is also heard in several recordings as an inimitable and unique sound. There definitely was likeness to creating a painting in Keijo’s approach to make a sound recording. In addition to the released recordings, Keijo left behind a huge archive of unreleased recordings and lyrics. These recordings are a vast heritage to go through, listen to and wonder about for a long time to come.

Keijo was active in other forms of art. Literature and especially poetry – including song lyrics - were very important to him. He specialized in forests and pines in precise pencil drawings and poems that related to Virtanen's philosophy of life, which respected nature and all people. 

Keijo poetry

Keijo always remembered to say to his fellow players despite of his pains: “Keep on boogie!”

Jarmo Saarti & Jari Koho, Keijo’s artistic collaborators

sunnuntai 21. elokuuta 2022

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