Musical highs unlike any I’ve ever experienced in my life; 8 months of non-stop preparation; visa problems too numerous to count; one armed robbery and a stolen passport; one band member having to stay behind at the last minute; our 1st Lady (our bus) Amanda; -27 Celsius temperatures; frozen gas tanks; the sauna; Moose and Camels; very bad humor; Santa Claus; Sverige; 8 packed concerts and 5 clinics in 8 cities around Finland; overwhelmingly positive concert reviews… the images that flood my mind thinking back to the two weeks my quintet - myself on fretted/fretless guitars and oud, Utar Artun from Turkey on piano, Bruno Råberg from Sweden on acoustic bass, Tareq Rantisi from Palestine on percussion and our special guest vocalist Eva Louhivuori from Finland - spent touring Finland this past February quickly become quite a blur, to say the least.
Prior to this tour, I hadn’t played a single gig in Finland in the almost 5 years (since moving to the US in 2008), and hadn’t played in my hometown in 13 years. This was a homecoming that had tremendous personal meaning to me.
It’s fascinating to observe one’s own thought process while being in the middle of something like this as it is actually happening. Our concert at Kulttuuritalo Korundi in my hometown Rovaniemi, which is a town of 60,000 people or so, about 4 miles from the Arctic Circle in Finnish Lapland, was an occasion that made me quite nervous in advance - and I very seldom get nervous before concerts. The daylong drive northward from our previous clinic and concert in Joensuu found me in quite a contemplative mood. Out of all the concerts on the tour, this was one of only two door gigs, so I had quite a few things going through my mind - will there be anyone there? Can I keep myself together onstage? How will people living on the Arctic Circle react to a music that is a collage of influences from around the world, a diary of a search for Home after a childhood spent moving between Northern Finland, Jordan, Tanzania, Oman and Lebanon? Can we connect with the audience?
After getting settled in our family’s house and doing the mandatory Arctic Circle sightseeing and taking the guys to meet Santa Claus, we started to get ready to play again. The venue proved to be - bias or no bias - the most beautiful out of all the places we played on the entire tour. Built into a renovated old factory warehouse, Kulttuuritalo Korundi was a medium-sized concert hall with beautiful acoustics and gorgeously atmospheric lighting to set the mood. The parallels of reunion were many: in keeping with the theme of going full circle, I’d asked Timo Rehtonen, the same guy who had engineered, mixed and mastered my very first studio recording back in 2000, to do our live sound.
Adding to the emotional charge as we took the stage and begun the concert with “Bayatiful” was that not only did it turn out that the concert was nearly sold out, but I saw so many familiar faces spanning my entire life - there were childhood friends, high school friends, family and relatives in the audience. Perhaps most significant of all, my parents were there; my father had not heard me perform in thirteen years. When Eva joined us to sing a heavily improvised piece I’d written as homage to part of my roots in Finnish Lapland, “Kaiku”, I felt like I disappeared and dissolved completely. I don’t remember much after that except feeling a tremendous sense of both peace and energy. The response from the audience was overwhelming; when, after playing through the material that comprises my debut album un, we ended the encore with an Eva-reinforced trio version of “Nuku Sie”, which I dedicated to a childhood friend’s newborn son who I’d just met that morning, not only both Eva and I, but many in the audience as well, were in tears.
That night, after we’d already got back to my family home, I got an email from an unknown person thanking me for the concert. Reading it, I was left completely speechless. As my mother read it, she cried. Little did I know that the man writing to me was also the columnist for Lapin Kansa, Lapland’s largest newspaper, and that he would publish much of what he wrote to me in a column the following week with the title “The Value of Art is Immeasurable” (my translation):
“…I closed my eyes as the familiar tune [“Naima”] from a jazz legend [John Coltrane] played and opened them later to make room for tears. The music that Reijonen had composed as a sonic photograph of his Lappish roots [“Kaiku”] was so beautiful that I felt as if it had cleansed me. All the pettiness, jealousy and bitterness that had gathered in me peeled away, and what was left was only the human being I would like to be. They were tears of joy that flowed, hot and unhindered, onto my cheeks. I suppose it was a spiritual experience, although I have never experienced anything spiritual in the religious sense before.”
- Jouni Kantola, Lapin Kansa, 10 February 2013
To wordlessly connect with another like this… the power of music never ceases to amaze me.
Firebird Ensemble Director and NEC alum Kate Vincent joins us this spring to share her rich experience building a dynamic new music ensemble. Vincent will focus on the process of building fruitful collaborations—specifically interdisciplinary partnerships with dancers, poets, actors, filmmakers and visual artists—and best practices for shaping community-based performance programs.