Date and place of birth: 22.01.1976 Turku, Finland.
Family: Single, no children.
Education: Master of Culture and Arts, Helsinki
Metropolia University of Applied Sciences.
When I was young I wanted to be… a musician.
The violin represents…my passion, my
subconscious and my fantasies.
Music is… a diplomatic language, the gate to an alternative world that has justice and freedom for everyone.
When I think of Karelia I… think of a cradle
and the mother singing to her child in it.

Armed with a violin and bow, Merilyn uses her music to make a statement.

MERVI MYLLYOJA, known more widely as Merilyn, is a Finnish violinist of Karelian roots. The Helsinki-based musician, who has performed in Russia, France, Greece, North Korea and, recently, Egypt, released Ya El Medan (Where Have You Been?), a cover of an Egyptian composition that expresses her solidarity with Egyptians. In just a couple of months, the song has registered over 39,000 YouTube views and Merilyn has received hundreds of letters and emails from Egyptians, surprised but happy to have received her musical message of support.

So, how did you passion for music start?

Music has always been part of my life, I remember my mother singing a lot during my childhood. She is from Karelia. Music is a cultural tradition there and it’s something that puts people in a good mood.

I fell in love with the violin at five. I saw that ‘little guitar’ on TV and it was love at first sight! My mom, who played the piano, suggested it to me, but piano wasn’t really my thing.

Once I got the violin I started practicing, but I was extremely impatient in studying it. With time, I have learnt that patience is very important. To find the violin I play nowadays, I spent seven years of research and testing. I don’t remember how many different violins I tried before getting to this one. I’m very happy with my choice: this one has a soft, velvety and sensual sound, some people even said it has a French sound, something that, when talking about violins, is a compliment. It has a ‘Central European attitude’ to be a Scandinavian instrument.

How does your Karelian background inform your creativity?

A Karelian background for me is boldness to a big extent. I mean in the sense of jumping into new things, new places and trying out funny and even absurd things, then turning them into adventure or new, successful inventions. This reflects in my ‘off the road’ path as a musician. As well as being a bit of a show-off: If someone tells me that, ‘there’s no way you’re gonna do that’, you can be sure it adds to my motivation to reach the goal.

You have been touring in Germany, France, Russia, Greece and North Korea. What memories do you have of those trips?

Playing abroad is a very nice way to reflect on where you’re going. Not only to see your ‘level’ as a musician, but also to see how people react to your music in different countries. Reactions vary from audience to audience, same with the way I feel. In Russia, for example, the audience is friendly and I feel really comfortable. In Germany, on the other hand, I stress about performing more than usual, since they are a very quality conscious audience and are in the heart of most highly valued music cultural institutions of Europe.

In France, I feel in the ‘comfort zone’ again. Playing in Greece was very interesting, while performing in North Korea was kind of surreal. I had people greeting me in a very warm way, which was really nice, but I started to wonder if the reaction was spontaneous – because they embrace every kind of foreign presence and cultural event – or if it was imposed. Generally, though, touring is an interesting experience.

You have released the video Ya El Medan, in tribute to the people of Egypt after the Arab Spring. What is the concept behind it?

I have always had an interest in Egypt, I can’t explain why. When talking with a friend, who lives in Helsinki, but is originally from Egypt, I started to get a more accurate and in-depth view of what was happening there during the Arab Spring.

Ya El Medan is a song by Egyptian band Cairokee, which gave support to people during the tumultuous times of the Arab Spring. I admire the musicians who gave strength to Egyptians even by putting their own lives at risk.

After lots of brainstorming we decided with my band and my team to send a supportive musical message to express our solidarity with Egyptians. There were several songs to choose from, but Ya El Medan is the one that impressed me the most. Thinking about revolution songs, one could think they are very edgy and rough. This one is serious, yes, but also sweet and tender. I really like it: it’s beautiful, touching and, to some extent, philosophical.

The production of the video was successfully completed in co-operation with export business consultant Abdullah (Angelo) Zaghloul Kabeel, who had a great interest in music. We had the video shot in one day at Villa Royal in Mouhijärvi. It was the only place in Finland where we could set up our musical equipment and play among beautiful Egyptian artefacts, not the usual kind of thing one is allowed to do in museums.

How was your version of Ya El Medan received by Egyptians?

Very well. I had no idea that the reaction online would have been so huge! I got hundreds of comments and letters from Egypt. People are thanking me and asking me to go and perform there…and that’s what I did just a couple of weeks ago. I guest starred in two sold out Cairokee concerts, the people’s favourite band in Egypt at the moment and number one in disc sales. I played on several songs, including Ya El Medan, which made the crowd go wild.

What role does music play in turbulent times of change?

Music brings us down to earth from the hectic, turbulent speed of today. It helps the children of the information age to concentrate, to be attentive and sensitive.

Internationally, in terms of exporting, music plays a communicator’s role – an important and alternative way of delicately affecting people’s minds. This was shown as I gained the affection of the Egyptian audiences by simply stating in musical terms that I value their cultural heritage and would like to see them prosper and overcome the difficulties they have faced alongside the revolution. I learned not to ever underestimate the empathising effect of music done with a special purpose.

How would you describe the Egyptian audience?

Egypt has an admirably long tradition of music culture, and the Egyptians are passionate music consumers in everyday life. The potential of that audience and the phenomenal locations and venues of Egypt should attract artists to explore more into a Middle-Eastern direction.

Are there any local issues in Finland that you would like to send a musical message of support to?

With my own performances and my up-coming single I hope to speak for stopping the shutdown of our remarkable music education system and for preserving the music and arts pedagogy’s position in schools.

What do you think about immigration, a much-discussed topic by governments?

Immigration debates make me laugh. I think it’s ridiculous to think in terms of nationality, religion, and so forth. At the end of the day, we’re all people! Finland, for instance, has consisted of multicultural people for quite some time. Immigrants from neighbouring countries, and beyond, who have contributed to building Finnish society. It is, and has been, a combination of the efforts of people coming a little bit from everywhere.

I think that meeting people, without any particular preconception in mind, is a blessing. Language barriers shouldn’t be discouraging, because we can use eye contact and body language to understand one another. As a violinist, I have to admit, this is even easier to do: I can communicate and share my emotions through music.

What advice would you give to a foreigner living in Finland?

Take a Finnish friend or colleague and go for a nice walk into the forest, this kind of thing is easy to do, as there’s parks and nature everywhere.

As for the summer, go to Pori Jazz Festival [laughs]! My suggestion is simple, but definitely fun: enjoy the sun, a nice swim and the smell of birches. Oh, you might want to have some kind of blindfold to cover your eyes at night, since it gets pretty bright.

Last, but not least, I’m not sure how you guys will receive it, but I guarantee that I have mixed in a sassy cocktail of gypsy, jazz and nostalgic Finnish feelings with a hint of summer romance in the air! You are welcome to listen to it at Tall Ships Race Main Stage 17th July at 12 pm as I’m opening the music programme “Meidän Helsinki” in Hietalahti Square with the great percussionist partner Samuli “Teho” Majamäki.

And so, aside from enjoying the summer, what lies ahead for you?

I have a mission of taking Finnish instrumental music, from the classical music education’s background, to a new level. Profiling Finnish violin playing into a fresh, international format that has a style and urge for a wide export, showing an example for future Finnish musicians.

Yannick Illunga