Maria Kalaniemi trained as a classical accordion player for 11 years, but her greatest musical success has come through her mastery of the folk traditions of Finland. In addition to three memorable solo albums, Kalaniemi has been essential to recordings and performances by such top-ranked Finnish folk groups as Niekku, Aldargaz, the Helsinki Melodeon Ladies Quintet, and Zeta Bop.
Playing the five-row button accordion from the age of eight, Kalaniemi has had an illustrious career. As the winner of the prestigious Golden Accordion award, she recorded her debut album, Kultaisen Harmonikan Voittaja, in 1983. Released by the Accordion Institute of Ikaalinen, the album showcased Kalaniemi's talents for interpreting traditional Finnish dance tunes. Enrolling in the folk music department of the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, Kalaniemi continued to strengthen her musical skills. In addition to studying traditional music, she took classes in music theory, improvisation, and performance. While the accordion remained her prime instrument, she learned to play mandolin, violin, and kantele, a zither-like instrument. Together with other students, Kalaniemi formed a band, Niekku. An all-woman group, with the exception of violinist Arto Jarvela, later of JPP, Niekku brought a contemporary vision to the traditional music of Finland and became leaders of the New Finnish Folk movement. Although she briefly studied with accordionist Marcel Azzola in France, Kalaniemi returned to complete her studies at the Sibelius Academy. Graduating in 1990, she began experimenting with the classical-oriented technique of using her left hand to create free-bass melodies. Taking two years to master, the technique provided new composition, arrangement, and performance possibilities.
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