Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Kesäillan valssi

According to today's on-line Ilta-Sanomat, the popular music and dance programme Kesäillan valssi (which means Summer Evening Waltz, though only some of the tunes featured are waltzes) is coming off Finnish tv after 20 years. Every week during the summer, it would visit a different rustic dance pavilion, where a well-known singer would perform and members of the public would dance. There are lots of clips on Youtube, such as this one: (note that the synth has harmonikka buttons instead of the usual piano keys). This one is not a tango, but sounds strangely familiar:

It was a happy, innocent little programme, presumably cheap to make. I will miss it, and so will many Finns.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Tangomarkkinat 2011

2011 is an important year for me. I have been dancing 50 years - I first enrolled in the Mimi Green School of Dancing in Westcliff in 1961, at the age of 14. I have also been visiting the Tangomarkkinat for 10 years. This year the Cumbre Mundial del Tango, an Argentine event, was held in Seinäjoki the week previous to the Tangomarkkinat. Other things were happening as well around that time: Satu Silvo was appearing in Riemurahat, or Funny Money, at the Mustan Linnan Summer Theatre in Raasepori from 20th June onwards. Mira Kunnasluoto was at the Salmenlava in Jääpilä on 25th June; Arja Koriseva was at the Kyllikinranta in Iisalmi on 3rd July; and Kaija Pohjola was at Pyhäsalmi on 5th July. I regretfully decided to give Satu Silvo a miss. I have never seen her live, but I doubted my command of Finnish was good enough to follow a fast-moving farce. I also did not want to be away from home for too long, as my cat Sophie has turned 19 and I do not want to leave the responsibility of such an old animal with anyone else. I therefore decided to attend the last Saturday of the Cumbre Mundial del Tango on 2nd July, and go to Iisalmi on the Sunday (when nothing was happening in the Cumbre Mundial) to see Arja Koriseva. I could not get a flight on Monday 11th, so I would have to miss the last Sunday of the Tangomarkkinat. Ola Vilkås, a Norwegian reporter, sent me a text to say he was writing an article on Finnish tango and the Tangomarkkinat, and would like to speak to me there. Also Lea, the lady I had met in Liperi, wrote to say she would be attending. It would certainly be nice to see her again. I had watched the Turku semifinals - some of them from last year (Tino Ahlgren, Tapani Kangas, and Maria Tyyster) were competing again. Mervi Koponen was competing for the 4th time (previously in 2006, 2007, and 2009). I was very impressed by the personable, talented and very blonde Heidi Pakarinen. This is not in fact her first attempt at the Tangomarkkinat: she reached the semifinals in 1998, the year Kirsi Ranto became Tango Queen.

So I reached Tampere airport on a blazing hot day on Saturday 2nd July. As the bus to town was not due for an hour, I decided to take a taxi. In fact I could have saved the money, as the next train to Seinäjoki was not due till 15:00. Moral: check train times on line before leaving Blighty. Still, I had two hours to enjoy some Finnish strawberries and piimä, and look round the town. The Hämeensilta is closed for refurbishment. There was no indication of when or in what form it would reopen. I very much hope that it will still be a dance place. Tampere has already lost two dance halls, and if the Hämeensilta turns into something else, only the Seurahuone will be left. I noticed that Johanna Debreczeni and Jouni Keronen would be recording Tammerkosken sillalla in Tampere tomorrow, but I will have to miss that as I will be in Iisalmi.

I got to Seinäjoki at 16:30 and stayed at Seija's as usual. Tangomarkkinat passes were still 95 euros butt didn't include admission to the Argentine events. The evening milonga was held in the Tango Street pavilion and had live Argentine artistes. It was a huge disappointment. There couldn't have been more than 20 people there: by far the worst attendance at any event I have ever been to in Finland. I danced with Tuula, a very nice refined dark-haired lady, and a blonde who refused to tell me her name. Did she think I was ticking off partners' names in the book of Finnish first names? I left at midnight, and there were still very few people.

Saturday night milonga - a real disappointment

Next day (Sunday) I was cooling off in the garden after my sauna and heard the church bells ringing. Why not? I thought. I have never been to a Finnish church. So I put some clothes on and hurried over there. The church was packed and I had to hunt round for a seat. Gluten-free bread and non-alcoholic wine was available, but I didn't take communion as I am not baptised into the Lutheran church.
The packed church

The train was due at 12:07 but the announcements kept coming - it would be 20 minutes late, then 30, then 35. I was concerned I would miss my connection at Yliveska and went to the information office. They said alternative transport would be provided if necessary. Eventually the train came in exactly 40 minutes late. After about an hour and a half there was an announcement that taxis would be provided at Yliveska to take passengers to Iisalmi and intermediate stations. I understood this, but the guard sought me out and repeated it in English. When he had inspected my ticket earlier I had spoken to him in Finnish, so he must have recognised the accent. The train arrived at Yliveska 23 minutes late (so had made up quite a lot of time) but the Iisalmi train had already left. Two big minibus-type taxis were waiting: one directly to Iisalmi and one for intermediate stations. There were 7 people going to Iisalmi, and we got there at 16:35, only 30 minutes later than the original train would have. On the way there were several interesting sights, including a log cabin under construction, a hexagonal water tower converted into a house, and what appeared to be an outdoor collection of church bells. I checked into the Sokos hotel, which is in the same street as the station. There was a minibar, which I filled with piimä from the supermarket. There is an Italian restaurant attached to the hotel, but I dined more authentically (and cheaper) at the cafe round the corner. I had makkaraperuna, which is diced potatoes fried with slices of sausage. I got a taxi to Kyllikinranta, which is an idyllic pavilion by the lake. The name means "Kyllikki's beach", named presumably after Lemminkäinen's wife. Could this be the place he met her:

Passing all the time with women,
Wandering all around at night-time,
When the maidens took their pleasure
In the dance, with locks unbraided.

There were more people waiting outside for the place to open than had attended Saturday's milonga. The Fortuna band started playing straight away: no records. I danced with Tuula (not the same one as last night), Kati (not Kati from Tampere - this one was older, blonde, very glamorous) and many others. I was standing ready by the stage when Arja came on. She recognised me at once, gave me a hug, and wished me a happy summer. She was amazing as usual - a truly wonderful entertainer. Her singing takes you to another world of perfection.

Arja Koriseva

She did two spots, and afterwards spent at least half an hour talking to her fans and signing autographs. She signed the insert of her latest CD for me, and said thank you for the Christmas card. I’m pleased she gets them, and looks at them. Afterwards I danced jive with a lady in a lacy top. My jacket button caught in the lace, was pulled off, and it pinged away, never to be seen again. The event ended at 23:30, and I got a taxi back to the hotel.

Up bright and early next day (6:45) and checked out after breakfast. According to the papers, yesterday’s train delays were caused by thunder and hail elsewhere in Finland. As nothing was happening in Seinäjoki, I was in no hurry to get back and decided to travel north via Oulu. Ticket price was the same as via Yliveska. I stayed for a while at the station and watched the goods trains. Logs were coming in and stones going out. Will there be no end to this excitement? Then I wandered round the town, visiting the lake and the market square, before returning to the station in time for the 10:54 train. I had 1½ hours exploring the delights of Oulu (which I will not describe as the are not tango-related) before catching the slow train to Seinäjoki, which arrived at 19:30. I settled down in front of the tv to watch Kesäillan valssi with Anne Mattila. I mean she was in the programme, not on the sofa beside me.

Tuesday was the last day of the Cumbre Mundial del Tango. I went to the Tango Office to get tickets for the night’s concert and milonga. Souvenirs were on sale: tango-themed t-shirts, mugs, sweets etc. Labels were in Finnish, English, and Spanish. I noticed there was no Spanish for liquorice, the description being “Caramelos Finlaneses tipicos”. Odd, because when I was at school, liquorice root was always referred to as “Spanish wood”. Then strawberries and coffee in the square while Seinäjoki high society wandered past. A woman had a Siamese cat on a lead. I said “Kaunis kissa” (“nice cat”) to her, and she smiled haughtily. There was a handbill advertising “Noche de tango y poesia” in the Alma hotel tomorrow at 20:00, but Suvi Karjula will be in the Tango Street then. I then went to the secondhand bookshop in Koulukatu. Finnish vinyl is on sale upstairs. I got a good haul: the elusive Tangomarkkinat 1, which you will remember I tried to buy through an auction website and which the seller refused to send out of Finland, Tangomarkkinat 5 (so now the only one I haven’t got is no 7), an early Kaija Pohjola, a humppa compilation, and an Argentine tango compilation. Then to Anttila, where I bought Anneli Saaristo’s Elämäni lauluja (Songs of my Life), and M.A. Numminen’s Kiusankappaleita 3 (Annoying Songs 3). The latter was a real bargain, reduced from 23 euros to 5. There was time to go back to the house to play them. At least the CD’s - the vinyl will have to wait till I get home. The Saaristo consisted of a CD of previously unreleased songs from the 1980’s, some of them in English, and a DVD of some of her hits originally broadcast on tv in 1985, including the tangos Surutyö and Viimeinen känni (Manzi’s Milonga Sentimental and Troilo’s La Ultima Curda). The Numminen was a real mixed bag. Some of the 51 numbers appeared to be readings in English from his philosophy book while the band played something weird. The tracks I enjoyed most were Jos ei Elisabethin reidet niin kauniit ois, a twenties-themed foxtrot known in English as Elizabeth, but actually German in origin; On sika kunnossa, Numminen’s own composition on the delights of being a pig; Kookospähkinä, in English Lovely Bunch of Coconuts; and Amalie geht mit’m Gummikavalier ins Bad. Many of the Finnish-language numbers are also recorded in Swedish. Annoying Songs 1 and 2 are available from German Amazon for 44 euros each but I think I will see if I can get them cheaper.

The concert was in the City Theatre at 19:00. Johanna Debreczeni was in the audience with an older couple. In the first part was an Argentine string quintet who played some avant-garde tangos and a nice jazzy version of La Cumparsita while two couples danced. After the interval last year’s Tango King Marko Maunuksela sang Finnish tangos. Armi Tanskanen and Matti Tuominen, the winners of the Lumitango, danced. The following milonga was better attended than on Saturday, but still not good. I danced a lot of times with Tuula; and also Euli, who wore a lace dress, but I didn’t lose any more buttons.

The following day, Wednesday 6th, was the start of the Tangomarkkinat proper. There was an exhibition Music-Dance-Tango at the Seinäjoki art gallery. This is in Upankatu, a short distance from the centre. What looks like the entrance isn’t, and you have to go down some nasty inartistic steps to get in. Entrance was free. There were two big Munch-inspired paintings, and one of a couple dancing in a glass, called La Cumparsita. It was on sale for 220 euros and I thought of buying it, but eventually didn’t.

The Tango Parade took place at 17:30 as usual. Kaija Lustila was in it and she recognised me and gave me a hug.

Me and Kaija Lustila

I saw Little Irja, looking very pretty in a sparkly blue dress with sparkles in her hair. She introduced me to her husband. Dancing in the evening was in the pavilion only, not in the street. Performers included Marko Maunuksela, Suvi Karjula, Jukka Hallikainen and the finallists. The finallists’ set was all tangos, and I danced with Tuula for all of them. A tune was announced as an Unto Mononen tango and neither of us recognised it. My other partners included Kati (ex biker chick from last year), Laila (short, dark, plump), a tall young girl with blonde dreadlocks, and many others. It was an excellent night, and the pavilion was packed.

Next day I had breakfast (coffee and strawberries) in the square. I saw Little Irja and her husband buying ice-cream. I wondered what had happened to Big Irja - this was the second year I hadn’t seen her. I had a text from Ola and we agreed to meet outside the theatre at 13:15. On the way to the mall to see the finallists’ performance, I came across Heidi Pakarinen. She smiled at me, though we had not met, and I stopped to chat. What a delightful and charming lady she is.

Me with Heidi Pakarinen

I went into the mall in high spirits, where she, and of course the other finallists, gave an excellent performance. Afterwards I went to meet Ola, who asked me about my experiences with Finnish tango, the differences between it and other styles of tango, and Finnish customs and attitudes to tango. He said that he would be meeting Eino Grön and Johanna Debreczeni later, and the article would appear sometime in August.

Ola Vilkås

Suvi Karjula and Johanna Pakonen performed in the pavilion. I very much admired Johanna's dress.

Johanna Pakonen

Saksa Helmikallio's spot was all tangos, including Satumaa and La Cumparsita. My partners included Salme, whom I have met at the Tangomarkkinat for a good number of years, and Anne, a nice dark-haired lady who said she was from Kotka. In a case of engaging mouth before putting brain in gear, I called her the Rose of Kotka (possibly a mistake because Kotkan ruusu, or Rose of Kotka, is an old tango about a lady who patrols Kotka harbourside offering the hand of friendship to lonely sailors far from home). She didn't seem to mind though. I then went to the Tango Street where I caught the end of Jukka Hallikainen and Marko Lämsä singing in duet. I was sorry not to have seen the whole spot, but at the same time not sorry to have missed Saksa Helmikallio's tangos. There was a gorgeously plump lady standing near the stage, wearing an extravagant bright pink dress. I asked her to dance, but she refused on the grounds she was carrying a large handbag. I have danced with ladies carrying much bigger bags, and besides she was with a friend who could have looked after it. Never mind her - I was off to the Areena to see Kaija Pohjola. On the way I saw a man playing Lapin tango on the harmonikka all by himself in the car park. Oskari and her husband passed me on bicycles and shouted a greeting. Kaija greeted me from the stage and gave her usual elegant sophisticated performance. Most of the time I stood by the stage listening, but I did dance with Leena, the nurse I met last year. There were lots of other nice potential partners but I had to leave them as I had to return to the Tango Street to see the ultra-wonderful, ultra-talented, ultra-blonde Kaija Lustila. Then, forsaking the ladies in the Tango Street, I made my way to the Tangostyle area to see Tango Primo, which is Johanna Debreczeni and Jouni Keronen singing in Argentine style. I never got there though because a familiar voice called me - little Irja. She was alone this time, still with the sparkles in her hair. She said these had been done by her daughter so she could be a tango queen. She asked what I thought of her husband and I said I was envious that he had Irja for a wife. We spent the rest of the evening together until her husband came to pick her up, and I returned to the house, only pausing on the way to watch Kaija Lustila’s second spot. Only then did I notice that Ola had sent a text several hours ago, asking where I was.

The next day Lea rang to say she had arrived and suggested we meet outside the church. We had lunch in the Sokos hotel and went to the "Under the spell of Finnish films" concert in the Seinäjoki-Sali. Matti Korkiala and a chamber group performed. All the songs were unfamiliar to me except the tango Täysikuu. Lea then wanted to go to yet another concert, "Worlds of Tango" in the Areena. Actually this looked like a good show, with Eino Grön, Jari Sillanpää, Kaija Lustila, and some Argentines I didn't know. Nevertheless as I said to Lea, I wasn't going to miss Arja Koriseva in the Tango Street. There was dancing in the Areena after the concert, so Lea and I agreed to meet there. I went to the pavilion, which was really hot. Nevertheless I enjoyed Saija Tuupanen's performance and my dance with the young lively Päivi.

Saija Tuupanen

I had a text from someone who said his name was Afu, he was making a film about Finnish tango and could he interview me. I presume he had got my number from Ola. We agreed to meet the following day at 14:00. I went to the Tango Street early to get a place at the crush barrier for Arja Koriseva’s performance. Lots of other people had the same idea. Arja's performance was as wonderful as it always is. Then to the Areena but I couldn’t find Lea. The band Taikakuu (Magic Moon) was playing a sludgy slow waltz, and an old chap who looked just like Sean Connery was dancing Argentine tango to it with a much younger partner. I thought I would return to the Tango Street to see if Irja was there. She was, but with her husband, so I drifted back to the Areena. I danced with ex biker chick Kati and a tall thin lady I remembered from last year but had forgotten her name if I ever knew it, had an energetic cha-cha with a young blonde, and a very strenuous jive with Reija, whose blonde pony tail whipped my face as she whirled round. We remembered we had had a similar dance last year. It was now 1:45 and I decided that the jive was the high point of the evening, and made my way to the house. As I passed the Tango Street I heard the familiar tones of Kaija Lustila (I had forgotten she was on, or I would have left earlier: but then I would have missed the jive with Reija) so I stayed for the remainder of her spot, and Erkki Räsänen who followed, eventually returning to the house at 2:30.

Saturday was my last day in Seinäjoki. After my sauna I went to the pavilion where the dancing competition was held. The pavilion also was very hot. Oskari and Lasse were competing, and she gave me a hug. I didn't stay to the end though, as I wanted to go to the mall to see Amadeus Lundberg. The mall was absolutely packed out. Then I went to see Afu, who asked me the same sort of questions Ola had. He said that he was researching for a film about a tango-crazed girl who wanted to compete in Buenos Aires, but lacked the funds, so went to Seinäjoki instead. He hadn't realised that the Tangomarkkinat was primarily a singing, not a dancing, competition. I mentioned the characteristic flat lace-up shoes that Finnish ladies often wear for competitions. I returned to the pavilion to find the competition had finished and there was public dancing to Varjokuva. I noticed Martin Alvarado was in the bar area, and went to speak to him. He is an Argentine tango singer who translates Finnish tangos into Spanish. You can see him here with Johanna Debreczeni:

Me with Martin Alvarado

Tiina Räsänen and Tangozumba were in the Tango Street. I went there only to discover that Tangozumba is dancercise not a backing group as I first thought. I would have gone back to the pavilion but Lea was out there so of course I remained. She said she had been too tired to stay for the dance after the previous day’s concert. We leaped about a bit to Tiina’s instruction; then Lea suggested we go to the church concert. The church was packed out. Saksa Helmikallo sang what I know in English as Softly Rings the Little Bell but is actually a Russian folk song. I recognised Jenna Bågeberg’s number but couldn’t put a name to it, and Suvi Karjula sang Tiet, which I know as a Finnish tango but is another Russian folk song. I didn’t recognise any of the other numbers, but they were all fairly mournful. Lea cried most of the time. She then went to the Areena to see the Tangomarkkinat finals, and I went to the pavilion, where Marko Lämsä was performing. Marita Taavitsainen gave an impassioned performance in the Tango Street and ended her set with a boisterous finale when she flung grapes into the crowd. See her doing it here: . The winner was announced: Mervi Koponen. So at last we have a Tango Queen. It was a disappointment that Heidi Pakarinen didn’t make it, but Mervi is a worthy winner.

Mervi Koponen : the new Tango Queen

Now that the competition was over, I made my way to the Areena. Lea was there, and we spent the rest of the evening together. At 1:30 we left, walked hand in hand to the bridge, and said goodbye. A nice ending to an eventful Tangomarkkinat.