|African music and dance in Finland
Practitioners and people who know the tradition well
The different African communities in Finland practice many different kinds of music actively, and community celebrations offer a place not only for performances by professional musicians, but also for communal singing and dancing, in which everyone interested can participate. In addition to professional musicians and singers, the tradition is therefore also known and practised by the members of these communities, who often consider it very important to maintain the traditions of their own homeland.
However, professional musicians and dancers operate on a much wider field, and they also perform in other places to different audiences in addition to the events in their own communities. Many of them pass on their knowledge to their students of music and dance, who are mainly Finnish. At least in a certain sense, all enthusiasts of African music and dance can be considered as practitioners of the tradition, regardless of their ethnic background. It should also be noted that African music and dance is practised, even on a professional level, by several people of Finnish extraction; meaning that the knowledge and practice of African music and dance is not limited to African communities in Finland.
Choral singing is a special part of the field of African music in Finland. Songs from different African countries are performed by both professional and amateur choirs. Some of them operate within certain African communities, especially in parishes, but others are choirs consisting completely of Finns who do not necessarily have direct contact with African musicians and communities, but have learnt the music from recordings and sheet music instead. Of course, many Finnish choirs also cooperate with African partners, and some choirs are multi-ethnic.
Practising of the tradition
African music and dance is practised in Finland by both professional dancers and musicians as well as different kinds of amateurs. Both groups include African immigrants and their descendants as well as native Finns and other people living in Finland. Goal-oriented artistic activity and creativity is typical of the activities of professional musicians and dancers: traditional pieces of music or dances can be arranged into new kinds of pieces and as parts of more extensive performances. Completely new pieces and choreographies in a specific African style are created, and styles of music and dance of African origin are used as material in works that combine different styles. In addition, professional musicians perform at parties, where African music is played as an accompaniment to dancing together.
Some of the amateurs simply listen to the music, go to concerts and/or dance performances, but many also play music and/or dance themselves. Dancing traditional African dances and playing the West African djembe drum are especially popular. Other African percussion instruments are also played to a degree, but other kinds of traditional instruments are played much less. In contrast, songs related to the dances are often learnt at dance lessons. Often dance lessons are also accompanied by drums, and in dance perfomances in particular the accompaniment of a drum group is ideally included; however, recordings can also be used depending on the style of dance, or if otherwise necessary.
The background and history of the tradition
The history of African music in Finland is difficult to trace, because people have listened to and performed African music here privately long before the first professional African musicians settled in Finland in the 1980s and 1990s. Despite the long history of Finnish missionary work, it seems that music was only first transmitted through it from Africa to Finland in the 1970s.
Finns appear to have become more widely interested in African music in the 1970s, evidenced by the arrangement of tunes learnt from recordings for Finnish bands and by Finnish musicians going on study trips to Africa. In the 1970s, institutional contacts were also created, especially to Tanzania; the Jipemoyo research project that was based there generated ideas for various cooperation projects. Of these, projects such as a student and teacher exchange were realised; the exchange later brought several Tanzanian musicians and dancers to visit Finland, and some of them settled here. However, the African musicians who have lived in Finland for the longest time come from Senegal, where connections have developed primarily via personal contacts starting from the late 1970s. These Senegalese musicians who moved to Finland a long time ago had a background mainly in popular music, while the Tanzanians specialised in traditional music and dance. Naturally, Finnish musicians who have made study trips to different African countries have also influenced the formation of the field of African music in Finland.
As for African dance, initially it was only taught and performed in Finland by occasional visitors, but like musicians, some Finnish dancers went on study trips both to the large cities of Europe as well as to Africa, West Africa in particular, and went on to teach the traditional African dances that they had learnt to Finnish enthusiasts. The activity has been regular since the mid-1980s. The interest of the enthusiasts has focused mainly on West African dances, but East African dances, especially Tanzanian ones, have their own established circle of fans.
The teachers of African dance have also been very important in increasing the audience of African music, when the dancers have become interested in the music they have heard at the ‘Afro dance lessons’. Traditional dance lessons are often accompanied by live drum music, which must have increased the enthusiasm of dancers to expand their skills to playing the music related to the dance, especially drums. Many professionals operating in the field of African music and dance are both musicians and dancers; however, most focus more strongly on either music or dance. Since the mid-1990s, more and more Africans have moved to Finland, including African musicians and dancers. African musicians settling in Finland nevertheless seems to be a process that is partly separate from larger migrations, considering that the key African actors in the field of music do not come from the same countries as most of the immigrants to Finland; instead, they come from the countries where Finnish professionals and enthusiasts of music and dance have personal connections.
The transmission of the tradition
African music and dance is passed on in a variety of situations, many of which have already been mentioned. Presumably, African music and dance is also passed on within families to some degree. The children of African immigrants no doubt participate in the events of their own communities with their parents; these events are important for passing on traditions. Even though it can be presumed that information and skills are passed on within families and immigrant communities, the children of immigrant families and African-Finnish families seem to have instead mainly focused on styles other than the traditional styles of African music and dance. As professionals, they work in at least the fields of rap music, street dance and modern dance.
Dance and music lessons seem to be key situations for passing on traditions, because many different kinds of knowledge related to African music and dance are learnt there in addition to the dance moves and music skills, especially concerning the cultural background of the dances and pieces of music passed on. Amateur communities also create a basis for professional activities in many ways: the careers of the current Finnish professionals of African music and dance usually started as a hobby, although many have become private students of African professionals in order to reach a professional skill level and also studied further independently using for example recordings. Members of amateur communities are also often the most enthusiastic participants in concerts and dance performances, which means that they form a significant part of the audience for professional performances. Naturally, the line between a professional and an amateur is always slightly blurred, and often amateurs also perform in different kinds of events, sometimes alongside professionals. This has been a typical feature, especially for larger dance productions, because the number of professionals of African dance in Finland has been very small.
The future of the tradition
The number of enthusiasts of African music and dance seems to be growing steadily, which makes it possible to invite more African bands, dance groups and teachers to Finland to perform and teach. These visitors make the field of African music and dance in Finland more diverse by providing new influences to the professionals and amateurs who live here. In addition, several musicians and dancers of African extraction have moved to Finland within the last decade, so there are now more people who have grown with these traditions. At the same time, there are also more and more people of completely Finnish extraction who have gone to study music and/or dance in Africa with local professionals. Dance and drum camps are held annually, at least in Guinea and Senegal: these camps are group trips with the main purpose of studying dance and drumming under local teachers and learning about the local culture. In this way, the Finnish contacts to African traditions of music and dance in Africa seem to be growing stronger, and at the same time, the field of African music and dance in Finland is expanding and becoming more diverse.
The communities behind this submission
NGOs of African music and dance in Finland
Länsi-afrikkalaisen musiikin yhdistys ry (Nakkila)
Ngoma Moto ry (Lahti)
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Saarela, Mikko 2002. “African Music in Finland”. Finnish Music Quarterly 3/2002: 12–19.
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