WOMEX, the world’s most diverse music meeting, is being held in Tampere in October 2019. It provides an excellent opportunity for Finland as the host country not only to showcase our own rich field of folk music but also to examine those traditions in the context of the great global family of music. FMQ dedicates this Special Feature to contemporary folk music in Finland. While we explore the particular characteristics of contemporary folk music in Finland, we also discuss the journey that has brought us to where we are today.
There are many grand narratives underlying Finland’s contemporary folk music that have shaped it into what it is today. The first of these is the power and inspiration of local communities and their practices. Singing together and making music together, and allowing everyone to participate, lays the foundation for a thriving musical culture.
Another important narrative is the tale of encounters, of how interaction with others and influences from the outside have blended into our local traditions and coloured them. Our closest neighbours naturally play the principal parts in this – areas in what are today Sweden, Russia and the Baltic countries. We share musical roots with our neighbours that remain identifiable to this day. But important influences have come from farther away as well, such as the tango, which in Finland has taken on a life of its own and evolved into a new and original genre in its own right.
The third narrative begins at the grass-roots level and soars to the skies: the tale of music education, of visionary teachers instructing younger generations in the lore of the past and the technical skills of music-making and then giving them the freedom to grasp tradition in any way they see fit – and to shake it up.
And the fourth – well, that would be the tale of creative madness, of boldness and complete disregard for boundaries.
In today’s global reality (both physical and virtual), folk music and world music offer a unique opportunity to look outside our bubble and to visit unfamiliar cultures. Music can give us a profound sense even of cultures whose language is completely alien to us and can give voice to those who cannot otherwise make their voices heard. The naming of 2019 as the Year of Indigenous Languages serves to remind us how valuable every tiny element is in the rich patchwork of world cultures and how important it is for everyone to respect the heritage of others.
It is equally important to be open to dialogue and to make our own heritage available to ‘others’ (including other genres, such as rock and techno). This is all about keeping the tradition alive here and now while breaking down boundaries and blazing trails towards the future. We discuss some ways of approaching this huge challenge in this Special Feature.
Translation: Jaakko Mäntyjärvi
Illustration: Cajsa Holgersson