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Finland's Varrtina got its start way back in 1983, when singers Sari and Mari Kaasinen decided to form a youth group that would play and sing the music and poetry of their native Karelia. They weren't necessarily expecting the response they got: within a year the group had swollen to 21 young members, all of whom became committed to learning and experimenting with their country's Finno-Ugric musical traditions, including playing Finland's ancient national instrument, the kantele. The group released two well-received albums in the late '80s, but by the '90s many members departed, leaving behind five singers who quickly found interested roots and rock musicians to reform the group. The change proved to be a godsend: their newly incendiary mix of folk and rock drove local audiences wild. In this new incarnation, they conquered world charts globally with the release of Selenikoin 1992. Despite occasional lineup changes, they continued to dominate world music charts for the next decade, and in 2003 they were asked to help compose the music for a staged production of Lord of the Rings with Indian composer A.R. Rahman. The group's renowned for their collaborations as well as for the startling, stark vocal interplay of their lead singers -- which often evokes Bulgarian folk singing -- but the sound is always underpinned by modern bass, drums and guitar.
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