Inspiring rhythms from all over the world can be found on our doorstep.

While Finland is already renowned on a global scale for various genres of music, what about one day if it were also to have a name for itself as a hub for global sounds?

This may not be too distant a future.

Despite Finland not exactly being the most heterogeneous country in Europe, the increment of migrants here from different places around the world continues to open new paths towards the understanding of a diversity of cultures.

Given the growth in the number of people moving here from abroad in recent years, it is inevitable that among the diversity of cultures will reside a variety of musical approaches. Helping to create opportunities for audiences to hear these types of music is the Global Music Centre (GMC).

“I’m looking at the possibility of people’s voices who want to bring their own culture to our audiences and the possibility of how they can do it,” explains Jaana-Maria Jukkara, director of the music institute.

The GMC represents one arm of Finland’s prestigious music institutes. These include the Folk Music Institute in Kaustinen, concentrating on the traditional folk music of Finland, the Institute of Finland-Swedish Traditional Music in Vaasa; the Finnish Accordion Institute in Ikaalinen; and the South Osthrobotnia and Rytmi-Instituutti in Seinäjoki.

What distinguishes the GMC is its long history working with foreign voices, instruments and rhythms from worldly migrants located in Finland. Perhaps their best known venture has been the annual Etnosoi! festival, a showcase for global sounds.

“Each year we try to present artist or cultures who basically are unknown here still and could bring something new, which very often comes from some types of minorities,” Jukkara says.

The annual Ethnosoi! festival is just one of the many offerings of the Global Music Centre.

Musical culture from around the world

Their discoveries is not confined to the one event, however, with different activities organised all around the year to provide a platform for music from around the world in Finland.

The GMC focuses on promoting international cooperation by undertaking formal research and studies, as well as working with foreign musicians living in Finland that seek to promote their own music.

One significant contribution has come from “the most famous kantele player from Tanzania”, Arnold Chiwalala, dubbed thus after being nominated for Finland’s Best Kantele Player of the Year in 2008.

“I learned how to play this instrument here in Finland at the Sibelius Academy,” he explains. “In Tanzania, I played a string instrument that the sound is more or less similar, so I transferred the technique of playing this Tanzanian traditional instrument to the Finnish Kantele and developed it further to invent my own style, Chizentele.”

Chiwalala has noticed some similarities and differences in the music from Tanzania and Finland.

“Some Tanzanian folk rhythms can be found in Finnish traditional folk music but those rhythms are hidden there. They are in the music but are not exposed.”

Since living in Finland, Chiwalala has seen outside influences gradually seeping into the musical soundscape.

“The Tanzanian traditional art form (ngoma) doesn’t separate music, dance, singing and drama. These elements are in unity. So when I came to teach here, I was teaching combination of those elements to amateurs, school teachers and professionals. Now, after some years, I can see that Finnish people are combining those elements: dance, singing, drama, theatre and live music in their artistic expression.”

Open culture

At GMC, certain cultures, such as those from Africa, appear to be more open and active in promoting their own culture and background. However, for some it represents something reserved solely for professionals, such as the Vietnamese culture, for example.

“When you look at the catalogue which we have created, its gives you one picture of the different people from around the world residing in Finland,” Jukkara explains. “You sort of have to know this inter-background, which not all of these acts would qualify as ‘professional’ in the way it’s understood in the Western world. The question is not about ‘professionalism’, the emphasis is on the music.”

Additionally, the particular cultural background of immigrants could also affect the natural process of approaching the music institute.

“Whereas one person might be very comfortable with making the first contact to come here, someone else really has to be persuaded to be included in the info in the catalogue” Jukkara observes. “We are not managing any of the bands. What we really do is welcome foreigners to the country who are musicians, professionals or semi-professionals or they actively promote their own culture through the music. We want to help this process.”

Along with producing and releasing various recordings and other publications, the institute has been involved in different projects around the world, including in Africa, Asia and Cuba and with Finno-Ugric peoples. Recently, they have been working in a five-year project in Central Asia, “a very fruitful and lovely development co-operation project in Tajikistan funded by the Foreign Ministry”. In a nutshell, the project intended to bring to the Central Asian country “knowledge of various aspects of professional music making. For example, through the sharing experience and knowledge of musicians from Finland, such as Pekko Käppi, Pia Rask, Pekka Lehti and others”.

Future concerns

Despite being able to increasingly facilitate this cultural exchange on both sides, Jukkara raises political obstacles that may inhibit this process in future.

“I’m trying to be so positive but at the same time I’m very worried about the politics in Finland,” she states. “This country has traditionally been rather a safe place for everyone, also with quite moderate differences between the richest and the poorest, and an example for other countries. This has been rapidly changing in the past so-and-so many years, unfortunately. Social and economical inequality is something that we seriously need to be concerned about. I truly believe that we need to keep our borders open and welcome people in general with different cultural backgrounds because they also enrich our culture.”

“I would encourage Finnish people to open their ears, eyes and hearts to different cultures of the world in the same way they do artistically; do the same with people and you only can win.”

For Chiwalala, his long relationship with this country has made him appreciate the positive things here more than any other negative aspect. “People can work together; it doesn’t matter if they are from different backgrounds. What we offer to this culture is creativity, foreign elements always bring new ideas.”


Lia Lezama Ruiz