Johanna Juhola - Q and A Session
artist: Johanna Juhola
project: Making Tracks tour
date: 9 - 24 April 2013
Q. Your music is described as blending the Buenos Aires tango halls with forest-dark Finnish landscapes. Can you explain how the tango came to Finland?
A. Tango came to Finland first time in the beginning of 19th century but it became popular not until the 60s. Finnish tango acquired influences from German marches and Russian romances on its way from Argentina and those were the ingredients of Finnish tango; melancholy and clear rhythm. There were a few very productive tango composers like Unto Mononen and Toivo Kärki and their tangos have become a symbol of Finnish melancholy and their tangos are still very popular and performed by many artists.
Q. Your music is an original blend of contemporary tango and inventive use of electronica - is it important to update the tradition?
A. It's always important to update the tradition to keep it fresh and alive. But when I make music I don't think so much about updating anything, I just do what feels exciting to me. Tango is my great inspiration because of the great passion and big emotions, the drama and the melancholy. The feeling is more important than the style. Electronica is a great way to create images. When you use sounds that you can't associate to any instrument you start to create images in your own head and that's interesting. My electronica player Tumppi also plays for example vocal samples from Carlos Gardel and from a Finnish vocal group (Metro-tytöt) who were popular in the 50s. These kind of things create more 'stories' in the instrumental music.
Q. Finnish tango is one of the country's most enduring and popular music forms - how big is it?
A. Well, we have a one big tango festival every summer. There is a tango singing competition and tango composing competition and a lot of tango music of course. The festival is extremely popular but it's focused only on the traditional tango and the audience is quite old. Younger people and for example classical musicians have discovered Astor Piazzolla's music and this kind of modern tango is actually been developed in many bands; I have noticed that there are many rock, pop, blues, jazz and folk music bands who have all at least one tango in their program. It seems to be a must for a Finnish band to have at least one tango and they are of course new compositions so I would say tango is not dying with the old fans, it's just changing.
Q. In 2007, tens of millions of TV viewers around the world saw you play the opener for the Eurovision song contest in Helsinki. Was that a good experience?
A. Absolutely. I have never before or after that been a part of such a huge production. Even if it was a big 'machine' I felt that all the people involved took their jobs very seriously and it was very important for everyone to give our best. It also felt really exceptional to have the Eurovision Song Contest in Finland so everyone was totally excited. One very important detail for me was that I got a 10m long dress and I got to fly playing accordion. This is something I had many many times suggested to directors of productions I had been involved in - to play accordion and fly at the same time, that would be so cool! - but no-one ever took me seriously. But in the Eurovision Song Contest I finally got to fly playing accordion!
Q. Your Reaktori quartet features Milla Viljamaa on harmonium, Sara Puljula, double bass and internationally acclaimed music producer Tuomas Norvio on live electronics - an interesting line up. Are they integral to your vision?
A. When I picked musicians for my band, the personalities were more important than the instruments. I want to have creative, happy, silly, improvising, playful musicians around me. I want them to try to steal the focus away from me on the stage and I want to have fun with them in the concerts. All this is possible with these wonderful Reaktori musicians who are also my good friends. I think that the good energy spreads to the audience if they can see us having a good time together and not just working because we have to :) (By the way Milla Viljamaa also plays piano and sings)
Q. Your music is described as surfing fluently between modern folk music, offbeat electronica, tango, classical, jazz and pop. Do you enjoy being so eclectic?
A. I enjoy to listen to many different music styles and I have also played for example Nordic folk music, Balkan music, tango, jazz, classical, hip hop, pop, blues, prog rock, Schlager music, Brazilian music and so on. I don't want to be too selective about music styles when I'm composing. I guess I don't even know enough about any music style to be too selective. I call my music Fantasiatango. It means that there is always some tango in it because it just comes naturally. Fantasia means that I can feel free with the rest of the composition and I don't have to follow any style rules. When I compose, I think about expressing feelings, not the music styles that I might be using.
Q. Your songs are mostly composed for theatre - could you say something about the plays you write for and how this influences your writing?
A. It's true I have composed a lot for the stage, for contemporary circus, theatre, modern dance etc. but I have also composed a lot for my bands. The combining element in these two is that I always need to have a feeling or a short story to compose for. It's very difficult for me to just compose notes that might sound good, I want to load emotions and meanings to the music even if it's instrumental music.