3. vuosikerta
Julkaisija: Suomen Kansantietouden Tutkijain Seura ry., Joensuu
ISSN 1237-8593
URL: http://www.joensuu.fi/~loristi/2_96/suu296.html
E-mail: loristi@cc.joensuu.fi

Cultural dynamics and minority identity in music

An Ethnomusicological Case Study of the Swedish-Finnish Popular Music in the Dancehalls of Gothenburg (1 )

Pekka Suutari

The subject of my ongoing dissertation is the musical identity of the Finns living in Sweden. This minority group was mainly formed by migration from Finland to Sweden after World War II and especially in the late 60's when 40,000 people left Finland every year. Nowadays this group numbers more than 300,000 and the second generation are already adult and of working age. Many of them are industrial workers living in industrial towns.

Olavi Niemisalo / Syntynyt Suomessa(2 )
(words & music Olavi Niemisalo) VM-media S-008. 1989
The words and notes

"Syntynyt Suomessa" ("Born in Finland") was a regional hit in the Gothenburg area, after it had won a Swedish-Finnish song contest. This was no wonder the song having a modern beat influenced rhythm, familiar melody in minor, charasteristic minor seven chords, and a harmonical structure that is clearly different from Swedish popular music. The lyrics are of high quality, telling the very typical story of an immigrant; his feelings, adventures, work, language, multicultural families etc. The whole production is polished with hooks in arrangements; choirs responses, bridges etc.

Theoretical background in this article is constructed using the concepts of modern cultural studies.

The case study, however, has been done as fieldwork, mainly in Swedish-Finnish dancehalls in Gothenburg.

References cited.

Theoretical background

One of the main requirements of a minority group is their own musical culture. The Swedish-Finnish minority, historically relatively young, but considerable in size, is trying to achieve minority status while at the same time reconstructing its cultural identity, necessary for group integration. Music is not the only element in the strategy of reinforcing cultural identity, it also includes minority language, schools, plans for a radio channel, an outstanding mentality of their own, etc. But music has been one of the first and main activities to bring people together, and has been important ibecause of its ability to carry on a tradition while setting itself in opposition to the main culture through its obviously different and unique music.

The intensive co-operation in dance and other leisure activities has slowly diminished since the 80's as the immigrants who moved to Sweden in the 60's and 70's become less active in their clubs, starting families and so on. The extremely active years happened to be in the late 60's and 70's, but afterwards specially the young have had few possibilities to realize their exceptional cultural identity; living in Sweden but of Finnish heritage. In recent years there has been a developing awareness of minority needs, and the growth of a Swedish-Finnish cultural identity.

The cultural resistance of the minority to the majority culture is no longer the only model for today when we consider the growth of the bilingual generation and the coexistence of different ethnic groups. Younger generations do not feel as ashamed as their parents did of being poor in the ability to speak Swedish. Thus the musical culture is no longer a place to hide from the strange environment, but merely a trait in multiple identity, in the modern world where people move between and within many different cultures.

As soon as the Swedish-Finnish popular music becomes a solid part of the Swedish milieu and the continuity of the minority culture is guaranteed, what was once cultural resistance becomes a subculture and enriches the main culture ("superculture" according to Mark Slobin; 1992: 30). Essentially it will no longer be fighting against the disappearance of its own style, and reacting against the assimilation and fusion of different elements in music, as the situation has been up to the 90's. The counter culture changes in nature into a subculture that uses material from diverse sources in an innovative way.

For some people this might sound more like a marvellous dream about the future rather than the ongoing reality, or at best an optimistic trend towards active minority politics in today's Sweden. Empirical data show clearly, however, how important music is for different ethnic groups and for the coexistence of different groups. Musical innovations are very important in the formation of musical cultural strategies. Beginning from counter culture and moving towards subculture is an interesting subject in describing the functions of music, functions that are not only aesthetic, social, or symbolic, but that may carry the meanings of all these in its creative manifestation. Swedish-Finnish music has been a minority activity without essential assistance from any institutional sources - its strong ability to produce cultural power lies in its spontaneity and the ability to produce music that people want to listen to and dance to and pay for. It does not exist in archives, nor in conservatories - it is not artistically respected or folkloristically supported culture. The popular music needs only to meet the demands of today's people, or else it would soon fade away.

Cultural Dynamics

The dynamics and cultural change have been one of the major themes in ethnomusicology since the 50's and many issues are titled "Change and Continuity" (see Nettl 1983: 177), while the mixture of tradition and innovation, old and new, makes the always important processes of culture conceivable (see Moisala 1991, Heiniö 1984).

The Norwegian researchers Odd Are Berkaak and Even Ruud (1992) started their book of cultural studies concerning modern popular music with the problem of history and the loss of knowledge which has inspired the sampling of exotic material in archives. Berkaak & Ruud argued, however, that the dynamic culture of this day is also disappearing, but instead of sampling it, it should be analysed, and most importantly, the value of the present culture should be grasped or otherwise we shall be forever indefatigable gluttons in sampling history without knowing what to do with the samples, and at the same time knowing that there is even more music to be preserved before it disappears. The "loss of culture" happens everywhere when the present becomes the past: yesterday's ideas become odd and forgotten in the same way as we do not even remember what was important last week.

Contemporary culture is meaningful in its unshaped nature. Everyone is able to interpret and relocate music in the present culture and thus it offers a powerful device in the struggle for individuality. There is still some haziness in the way the new styles are presented and understood, but personal use of novelties is an excellent vehicle in beginning to identify oneself in a dynamic and chaotic world. Dealing with "new influences" requires interpretation of music that never achieves a formal shape. As soon as music is defined or "has become known to all" (Bourdieu 1984) it loses its function in making distinctions and shaping the identity. Being `in the culture' means to walk one step ahead of fashion.

The change in music is captured in John Blacking's article (1977) where he claims that only relatively long and intensive fieldwork in a culture in the process of change will bring us knowledge of the musical change in general. Paradoxically he agreed that it is impossible for the researcher to be always present if changes occur. Some researchers (e.g. Gronow 1983:30) have suggested that a study of migration groups would be an answer to the problems in observing a culture whereas minority research resembles laboratory work - because many variables are controlled under analysis.

The change in the manner that John Blacking has proposed is somewhat formal and perhaps irrelevant .There are much more movement and processes in culture than just a shift from one stable stage to another. There is a continual interchange of ideas, and the dynamics of culture renew constantly the prevailing cultural values. The dynamics of music is in other words a change in microlevels, and it is a prerequisite for any change at all in the culture, but it is also an everyday choice of an immeasurable amount of different musical motifs, as many music worlds surround us. A change in the dynamic sense does not necessarily need to lead to a visible change; it is more like a strategy for making oneself heard, shaping the many musical strains, reinterpreting the multicultural.

"Natural" and "invented" cultures

In Jean-Jacques Rousseau's cultural philosophy there are "natural" and "invented" societies, as Jukka Siikala has presented in his lecture (Siikala 1995). A "natural" culture needs no funding, it springs from true expression of mankind as an inseparable part of his communicative and creative apparatus: it is no problem for anyone taking part in musical action, everybody will understand each other at the same time as if a universal language exists. However, this image is only an ideal type comparable to Adam in Paradise. The other extreme would be "invented society", where everything is under the control of the state, and there is no production without state sponsorship. In this other extreme, culture has a symbolic constructive nature, and it is a result of cultural policies. No varieties or subcultures exist, only the power of cultural leadership and guidance.

These are by nature extreme cases. Possibly though the philosophy of Rousseau helps us consider the ways in which the dynamics is created in music by different basic elements and functions of modern culture. One emerges by "natural" recreation of tradition, and the other "constructed" element is invented by cultural industry, which wishes to establish new kinds of consumption habits and meanings in the use of music. Marketing new styles and products is done by efforts to renew the public taste. Georg Simmel has proposed models of modes and trends that direct our search for the latest news in fashion and knowledge of how taste becomes an important part of our social locality. For the leisure industry it is optimal to produce goods that can be thrown away as soon as new products are discovered.

In contrast the "natural culture" is changing without commercial or political pressure, but the change is more a result of unplanned motion in culture. The everyday use of music relies largely on the dynamic challenge that recent music can offer to people, while the need for a variation is one of the basic demands of the human being - too much repetition makes us look forward to change (see also Middleton 1990). Variations, alternatives, other cognitive directions, and even unconscious mistakes are always there as well as renewals that are made in vain or which disappear.

Since the cultural influences are multiple and the everyday experience is filled with multiculturalism, there cannot exist a "natural culture" in Rousseaus' meaning of universal culture that would exist without conflicts or misunderstandings. For us some change is required, and music should be dynamic before it can be interesting to its users. It is an ethnomusicological notion, almost a cliché, that religious music changes very little and the oldest music is to be heard in religious rituals. But old traditions survive with the help of dynamic meanings in a natural sense. Recreation is required in music performance, and for listening to music it is important to understand the origins of it, to reinterpret. Therefore no society is satisfied with repeated structures and unchanging cultural idioms.

Today's western society requires people to construct and even select an identity from a multiplicity of sources available. It is clearly comparable to cultural resistance. It does not take the majority culture as it is given but rather sets itself in comparison to it. For a musicologist it is especially interesting how a minority group uses its distinguishable music as a resistant force against the majority culture. The visible distinctive factors of the minority culture are few in a new host country. Immigrants have an effect on the culture of the host country. Travelling people are important in drawing musically new "ethnoscapes" (see Slobin 1992:4).

Music is not static, nor are there any homogenous cultures. That is why the dynamics of music is not simple, measurable or generic. For music to fulfil the demands of a given cultural group it must be not only their own music but also `good' music, supported by that group. Mark Slobin has presented a theory of "micromusics" in order to analyse the changing essentials in cultural dynamics. Micromusics are influenced by moving people, the interchange of ideas, developing technology, financial situations and mass media. All these make new influences visible (Slobin 1992).

Music is very important as it symbolises social boundaries between peoples and it provides a means by which hierarchies are defined. It is not just a means of identifying; there are innumerable ways in which people can make the social space, 'locale', familiar through music, as music has the ability to make concrete hidden symbols. Martin Stokes reminds us that modernity at the same time confuses our sense of place, as moving cultures, hidden meanings and changing values upset us, 'dislocate' us in the post-modern multicultural world. It is therefore a question of `relocation' that we need to achieve in culture and in social relations. Music surely can achieve this. (Stokes 1994:3)

Defining minority cultural identities, as it brings boundaries, causes cultural resistance and little by little the different groups become partial subgroups. The study of Swedish-Finnish dance hall music is a way to understand musical change, cultural dynamics and the defining of cultural identities.

Swedish-Finnish dance hall music

My ongoing dissertation handles the cultural identity of the Swedish-Finns. The research is to be carried out as fieldwork, mainly in the Gothenburg region where about 30,000 Swedish-Finns have settled. Material will be based on observations in dance halls, interviews, the music charts etc. The place where most of the field observations were done was Kangaroo, a relatively big and good place where also the young used to go. It had live music on Saturdays. Not only dance halls are included in the dissertation; I will study the use of Swedish-Finnish popular music on radio and other media such as recordings. The function of music for the Swedish-Finns is the main research problem of this study, qualitative in nature. The fieldwork was started in Gothenburg during 1990-91 under the inspirational tutorship of Lars Lilliestam and Olle Edström who were interested in Swedish-Finnish tango exotica in the heart of Gothenburg's musical environment.

A newspaper add in FinnishA ticket to the restaurant Kangaroo

Martti Einari Group / Nukku-matti
(music Georg Malmstén) Live "field recording" by Pekka Suutari. 22.5.1991

In this extract a dance band, Martti Einari Group, closes their gig in Borås Grill playing the common children's tune ("Sandman") in humppa style. As normally the gig was closed with two waltzes, but this time they played a humorous humppa as their final number.This extract is short, but so is the performance of this song also: only 55 seconds. Saxophonist Anssi Pirskanen has some room to blow out his jazzy feelings here. The function of the piece here is just to say "goodbye everybody", sleep well.

The material of my study does not cover all the Swedish- Finnish musics of that area (compare Finnegan 1989), and it would be impossible to generalise the results for individual Swedish- Finns or music-making in other parts of Sweden. The people who used to go to the Swedish-Finnish dance halls, or listened to the Swedish-Finnish radio programmes, or were active in Swedish- Finnish clubs, are the ones that for the most part are included in this research. The duration of the fieldwork made it possible for me to gather new material about outstanding phenomena as they emerged according to their influence on Swedish-Finnish culture. Generalisation is not a relevant or interesting aspect at all in this study. The fieldwork and profound observations are the main source of information, and the quantitative inquiries would not give such an insight into the meaning of music as observations can do. Some of the material is presented in my licentiate dissertation (in Finnish universities licentiate dissertation is to be done before doctoral dissertation, and it entitles author as Ph.lic. Suutari 1994).

Identity in Music

Defining a cultural musical identity involves identifying, interpreting and classifying culturally prevalent music as being something. Thus identity becomes a metaconcept, where from several different possibilities some particular musical features are singled out, and compromise and focusing is needed. A certain amount of consensus is required so as to find a common expression for musical identity, that is, musical quality and some forms of production.

Swedish-Finnish music could be expected to be very diverse because of several generations and different social and cultural backgrounds, but for the most part the music is actually somewhat uniform and original. Focusing on some musical qualities is essential to create a new genre, an expression of the new cultural identity that is Swedish-Finnish dance music.

My research centres on dance music, which in many ways functions culturally as a key symbol for the Swedish-Finnish population (see Ortner 1973). There are many reasons why this particular popular music is more popular than others and thus holds a special position. There are many other factors besides the obvious aesthetic ones for the popularity of dance music, e.g. socialising, physical self-expression, pleasing rhythm, singing or playing together, sexual tension in choosing a partner for a dance etc.

Hannu Huppunen / Sippi siirtolaisten tango
(words & music Hannu Huppunen) Broadcasted evening party. Published in the Anthology of Swedish-Finnish radio history, by the Swedish Radio Company. 1989.

A bitter and passionate song of an immigrant who was forced leave everything behind, and to find his way in a strange country. Many immigrants are forever bitter for their home country (Finland) that turned it's back on the unemployed, the consequence was that half a million people moved to Sweden. As years pass one gets used to the situation: "I do not cry anymore if I am not drunk!" A more humorous setting is to be heard on other song "Syntynyt Suomessa".

To use Marcia Herndon's theory (presented in the article: "Herding of Sacred Cows"; Herndon 1974) Swedish-Finnish music can be studied from four points of view. First of all Swedish-Finnish music must be identified. According to Herndon it must be identified as music, but in my opinion it also needs to be identified according to its function - 'this is Swedish-Finnish music and nothing else'. I would like to present here the historical background of this particular type of music. All groups define music in their own way, so it is necessary to examine how the music is viewed according to the people who maintain it.

Secondly, the music is to be examined as musical behaviour, which brings to our attention a wide variety of contextual factors, and knowledge of the dynamic nature in music performance. Thirdly, several characteristics that are important in musical experience and understanding emerge in an individual's learning process and the transmission of styles that are identified and associated with special occasions and particular meanings in culture. Music plays an important role as a symbolic presentation of Swedish-Finnishness. Naturally the music itself can also be analysed, and it requires the study of stylistic elements, and explanations of how a musical style survives and develops among the Swedish-Finns. The opinions of youngsters especially will tell us how the music is valued in the minority culture at present.

History - What is Swedish-Finnish Music?

Swedish-Finnish dance halls were built in the 60's, the first of them around 1965. By that time the number of Finnish immigrants had risen so high that their activities could no longer remain just within a certain club or organisation. (There were then over 100,000 Finns in the whole of Sweden.) By the turn of the decade there were half a dozen dance halls offering quality music and dance at weekends for the Swedish-Finnish immigrants. The dance became an emotional salvation for many young boys and girls working in a foreign country with a strange culture.

It was hard work, good pay and a tough lifestyle, almost like in the Klondike. The dance halls also offered the very best - Finnish artists at the top of the charts were imported to Sweden weekend after weekend. The dance advertisements of that time certainly inspire awe: Danny Show, Kirka, Tapani Kansa, Irwin Goodman - all the leading stars were to be seen. Dancing (and homesickness) were good business for some.

Functionally the Swedish-Finnish dance hall continued the tradition of the Finnish country dance pavilions. In the new environment, however, it soon also acquired novel functions. For example the latest fashions were no longer considered important except perhaps symbolically. More important than new hits was authentic Finnish pair dancing, to create intimacy, security and group cohesion. The uncertain circumstances and alienation gave rise to a number of side effects such as brawling and drunkenness that gave Swedish-Finns a bad press. Perhaps, as life already was stressful, their music did not have to create more tension and so no avant-garde or progressive music was ever presented there.

Urpo Salo / Hiki haisee ja haitari soi
(words & music Rolf Berg & Urpo Salo) Love Records 1973, LRLP-89

Some of bands performing in LP "Siirtolaisen tie, ruotsinsuomalaisten lauluja" ("A way of the immigrant, Swedish-Finnish songs") looks with eyes of the dance band touring in Finnish dancehalls in Sweden. This tango describes the atmosphere excellently.

The Swedish-Finns are famous of being "a tango folk". This, however, does not mean that tango is played similarly compared to home country Finland. Swedish-Finnish tangos have youthful and unconventional traits, that can combine parodic elements into an otherwise passionate tango. This song, "Hiki haisee ja haitari soi" ('the sweat stinks and the accordion is playing'), was released originally by Love Records in Finland 1973. Despite of the title this recording does not have neither accordion nor other most common features of Finnish tango. Even the vocal lines are performed in the two-part pop mood instead of full registered singing of Olavi Virta and other "tango kings".

The process of change in Finnish popular music of that time, as elsewhere, increased with the acculturation of novelty rock styles. The cultural change was not simultaneous but came about gradually. Tango was already out of fashion, but the greater effects of the rock'n'roll revolution never entered the Swedish-Finnish dance restaurants. During the early seventies there was a transition period when the older dance music was replaced little by little by rock'n'roll. The progressive rock of Tasavallan presidentti and straight forward rock'n'roll of s Hurriganes reached the core of Finnish music in Finland, but Swedish-Finnish music developed in other directions. There was always the pair dance, the melancholic deep structure of Finnish popular music and so on. This kind of stylistic distinction is also to be seen in Swedish Finnish dance halls from that time on.

Although music changed in Finland the Swedish-Finnish musical style maintained the music of the transition period. This transitional style came to dominate and continues to this day. The diverse types of popular music, like that of the waltz, tango, humppa (a Finnish mixture of fox-trot and polka), jenka, of latin influenced styles like samba, cha cha cha, beguine, and of beat-influenced pair dances are all of equal importance. But a new idiom and intonations were also needed to express the ideas of the Swedish-Finns living in the 60's, a people living through an industrial revolution, the spread of mass media etc. But the most important of all came to be the intonations of the immigrants ('intonation' according to Boris Asafjev's theory, see Ling 1982). Music had to relocate the Swedish-Finns in a new environment in order to suit and define this special identity.

A picture of Juhani Hakomaa and his band 
Select photographed in the backstage of Kangaroo

Juhani Hakomaa & Select / Metsuri
(music Juhani Hakomaa, lyrics Simo Vedenpää) Unpublished demo tape 1995.

The lyrics in Swedish-Finnish songs are very often situated in rural scapes in Finland. These scapes are reconstructed only in memories, thus the home country has changed radically ever since. This song tells a story of a logger (lumberjack) who has become too sentimental to cut the big and beautiful trees. The lyrics are written by simo Vedenpää, from whom I got this demo recording tape. The music is performed in traditional humppa-style with emphasis on accordion sound, though played by synthesizer.

This musical style was the expression of a newly formed Swedish-Finnish group. The cultural dynamics, and renewal within the style, came to form the uniqueness of Swedish-Finnish popular music. This raises many questions: what kind of repertoire was actually played, and what intonations were demanded by the public? My interviews have indicated that the Swedish-Finnish dance restaurants introduced a good amount of all-round-music. Therefore even the artists with a more `close-to-rock' image were asked to play some traditional dance in their sets! This amazed or shocked some of the visiting artists, but the message was clear, the Swedish-Finnish public wanted to hear a kind of music that suited their activities, their group cohesion and their demands of fresh winds from Finland as famous stars drew hundreds of people to the dance halls.

Dynamics (Identifying behaviour)

The habit of meeting other Swedish-Finns through dancing and other activities is very important for the existence of the group. The influence and importance of the atmosphere created by music cannot be overestimated.

The people that visited Swedish-Finnish dance halls were of diverse age groups though the middle-aged group dominated. There were fewer young people than during the seventies and eighties and this was due to the high costs of the famous bands necessary to pull a large crowd and to an overall decline in new customers. Thus the young found it harder and harder to choose the Swedish-Finnish dance hall as their weekend amusement, when the chances of finding interesting young people there diminished.

The number of Swedish-Finnish dance venues has diminished drastically, but the cultural meaning of the music played there has nevertheless persisted if not increased. It is something special that is meant just for the minority and it stands in opposition to the major culture. It refuses to vanish for it carries the message of what it is like to be in a minority. This is more interesting when we consider the lack of any kind of social (or communal) support - the Swedish-Finnish music has developed on its own, virgin-like, untouched by cultural politics or big commercial investments.

There were social reasons as well. The customers wanted to be with other Finns in Sweden: one was "looking for a wife", and another had "nothing else to do on Saturday nights", and some were eagerly looking forward to the first visit to a Swedish-Finnish restaurant: "I've always wanted to come here to Kangaroo - I had my birthday last Wednesday, I'm eighteen, and so I'm here for the first time." The Kangaroo and other Swedish- Finnish dance venues used to be a "little Finland" as barmaid Tarja Vierelä formulated it, but now they are merely places with good dances and excellent music.

The typical repertoire consists not only of old-fashioned songs, but also new ones. Development in styles and singular pieces is crucial. New influences in Swedish-Finnish dance music are continuously brought from Finland, and the question for a newcomer is: "what's popular in Finland now?".

However, not all novelties are accepted by the Swedish- Finns, the approved repertoire as well as the right attitude is demanded. Swedish-Finns have already their own musical world, a subculture, that makes special demands and most of the hits in Finland do not have the same success in Sweden. As one musician said: "they throw beer cans at us if we play something else" (other than pure Finnish dance music).

What is then pure Finnish dance music? First of all it is something different from Swedish music, which is often disliked, and which sets the norm with which everything else is compared. Sometimes the pure dance music is also opposed to technical development and international influences. The deep structures cannot change too much - the Swedish-Finnish identity must be respected by the performers and producers of the music. These are both textural features as well as performance types - the latter are slowest to change in new intonations (see Lilliestam 1995; Jalkanen 1989).

Thus the music production in Finland no longer suits the Swedish-Finnish taste very well. There are fewer and fewer records with suitable pop-tunes. At the same time the live music has grown away from the forms of traditional dance hall music (specially in the 70's and 80's the pair dance music was neglected in Finland). An exception though is worth mentioning: one Saturday in the spring of 1992 a Swedish-Finnish book and record salesman Pentti Perkola sold 50 copies of the gipsy child Leif Lindgren's LP after he had sung on a Swedish-Finnish television programme the same morning.

The know-how of good music is more and more in the hands of the Swedish-Finns themselves and the import of popular music (records and artists as well) is turning around, i.e. back to Finland. Many former part-time musicians have nowadays become songwriters and producers and performers for the Finnish market. In the present recession the traditional music has become popular again in Finland, and the Swedish-Finns can once more produce accepted music! The Swedish-Finns' success in the tango competition has been only the beginning. I believe that this development will become stronger, as in Sweden the production of high quality popular music is at its height.

The Swedish-Finns' interaction with the dominant culture has been surprisingly limited, and this applies to immigrants of the first generation in general. The younger bilingual generations have competence and contacts in both cultures and thus acculturation is more probable, especially while performing for the majority culture (the Swedes). All in all a minority status with dual identity is a very good starting point for becoming a musical performer!

Eija Huotari / Hos mej ska kärlek finna ro
(music & lyrics Eija Huotari) Unpublished demo. 1995

Eija Huotari was born in Sweden, but her both parents are Swedish-Finns. She has told that a very important part of her identity was constructed by Finnish popular music, which helped her, for example, to learn the Finnish language once more. Nowadays she is a singer-songwriter and she performs both for the Swedish-Finnish public (in Finnish of course) and for Swedish mainstream public. This song "Hos mej ska kärlek finna ro" (The love will find peace in me) is sung in Swedish, and thus contains typical traits in Swedish popular music; boogie-bass, and the overall rhytmic structure and dance band sound; the major-minor modulations in melody might include features from both Finnish and swedish heritage. The lyrics is about love in very ideal manner, which is exceptional in the Swedish-Finnish music production otherwise.

Transmission of tradition

It is a different thing to talk about immigrants' nostalgia and the cultural needs of a minority. Nostalgia emerges of course when a person hears a tune with many associations and memories, especially from his or her childhood. But this kind of conservatism is not sufficient when living the tradition again and again, weekend after weekend. There are new challenges needed and exciting influences will become more important than the conservative character of a minority taste.

I take two examples from my interviews: A young person, 38 years of age, who has lived in Sweden almost twenty years, started to sing tango, which she had hated in her teens. (Tango was extremely popular in Finland in the early 60's - even so popular that the following generations started to resist it stronly.) Now, however, she rediscovered tango while living in the new culture and its Finnish origin came to be seen in a new light. She has a group together with her Swedish-Finnish friends. Tango was already part of her from her teens in Finland in the late 60's, and now she takes it very seriously and enjoys expressing herself through the tango.

Another person in her teens (aged 15) loves crunge and modern hard rock. However when you ask her anything about Finnish music, she gets inspired and tells you how good Olavi Virta is, and how she loves his masculine style of singing the tango in full register. Later she adds that Finnish dance hall pop is her favourite among all the Finnish music, much better than Finnish rock or Swedish national popular music ("schlager"). How can this be? It is because of the importance of dance music and tango in the local cultural identity.

Olavi Virta / Mustasukkaisuutta
(music Jacob. Gade; lyrics Saukki) 1953.

Olavi Virta was the most popular singer in Finland during the 50's. The Finnish tango, and specially its singing style is partially created by him. This is not Swedish-Finnish music any more than as a popular idol.

The Swedish-Finnish music is learned especially at home, but also from radio programmes, at school, etc. Similarly the Swedish-Finnish identity is adopted. The aesthetics are largely dependent on the consensus of the whole cultural group! Enculturation and the process of learning the competence of musical culture needs to be examined further in the fieldwork.

The music of the minority may remain unknown for a non-member of the group. The matrices of music (van der Merwe 1989: 94) become unfamiliar, and the cultural connotations are likely to be misunderstood (often in a comical sense). The minority music presented among the group has intonations that from the point of view of an outsider are not interesting, or are not understood at all. That is exactly how the neglected subcultures or minorities can preserve their types of music. The Saami people have popular music that is totally incomprehensible to an outsider, but it is important and interesting to those who know the ideas of the music, and who enjoy it.

We have a lot to learn about how the minority value music. Seemingly it is not the themes which move and touch the people that are respected by the politicians. So much support has been given to high culture or to music presumed `deserving', without questioning what music interests the people, or how their identity is constructed via music? Music has to be as individual as its consumers are, and the music must create a sense of `locale' and encompass other important values in today's society. The music will become meaningful only when the person in question enters the cultural group.

Rinkeby Kids / Rinkeby, världens by
(music Eric Bibb & Staffan Linder, words Rinkeby Kids) 1991.

Rinkeby is a suburb of Stockholm, inhabited by immigrants (less than 20 % are Swedes). Rinkeby kids is a choir, conducted by American Eric Bibb. Singers, all between 10-16 of age, are from several nationalities, therefore it is natural that their theme song is: "Rinkeby - Världens by" ("Rinkeby - the world's village"). Words tell about Rinkeby and its peaceful co-existence of all the several national groups. Lyrics are written by the children themselves. Music is typical international mainstream ("We are the World" -type wit rap influences), but local traits are included both in the song texts and in the atmosphere of this group as a whole. The cassette tape was released in 1991.

Analysing music

Identifying the Swedish-Finnish musical style does not only consider the musical motifs; the whole context from which the music derives is important. How do we distinguish the important features from the less important ones? So far we have looked at the history of the musical style, and the conditions related to its appearance in the dance halls. The behaviour and outward appearance of the performers as well as the public can also be crucial. Swedish-Finnishness is recognisable by the music played, the behaviour of the musicians, their clothing and their introductions to the various pieces and general banter on the stage etc.

Repertoires include more than ten different styles - all played in pairs. New pieces are learned from Finland. They will be familiar after the summer holidays when Swedish-Finns have heard them in their former home country. Swedish radio also regularly broadcasts programmes in Finnish for the Swedish-Finns. Thus the new styles and new trends are welcomed, but only if they are such that raise interest among the Swedish-Finns (as the taste is developed apart from that of the Finnish market in Finland). Hard-sounding rock or blues-oriented hits in particular do not touch the Swedish-Finnish audience, as the musical deep structure, pure Finnish intonations of harmonic, melodic and rhythmical features are not fulfilled. Not to mention the lyrics which are also important, odd poems are disliked; pop texts in Finnish are almost certainly the only accepted lyrics.

The new releases from the Swedish-Finnish artists have partially satisfied the requirements of the minority group, requirements which have disappeared from the Finnish productions or which never existed there. I have in mind for example, accordion recordings, as the accordion is almost the Swedish-Finnish national instrument, but the bigger record companies do not release many of these any more.

Popular music with lyrics that deal with the life of an immigrant are also published, and some have become local hits. For example "Syntynyt Suomessa" (Born in Finland) by Olavi Niemisalo tells a typical story of a Finn emigrating to Sweden to work and earn big money there. He started a family but unfortunately his children are assimilated into Swedish culture and do not even understand his language (Finnish). He continues to long for his home land. Some of the such stories were political in the 70's. (E.g. Esa Niemitalo's 6 LP's made the Swedish-Finns' social problems well-known. During some years in the 70's he sang in service of Swedish labour organisation ABF.) Nowadays the tone has turned to humour as in the story of Niemisalo.

Esa Niemitalo / Elämän korttipeli
(music M. Travis, lyrics Aappo I. Piippo). Finncountry FCLP-2: 1974

Extremely relaxed country-sound suits excellently the immigrant atmosphere. Family ties has been cut, adventure is reached, but the life do not seem to be dancing on roses. Many of the songs does not directly tell about the immigrants and their experiences, but the assosiations are there. This song "Card game of life" says that even if you have got poor cards, just trust yourself, go ahead, and increase the stake. Maybe the next deal will be more lucky.

Swedish-Finnish programmes on the local radio also use this kind of dance hall music to attract listeners and to "meet the cultural demands of an immigrant" as radio presenter/producer Inkeri Lamér puts it. She adds that she would also "be glad" to play more Swedish-Finnish music on her programmes if more records were released. Surprisingly few Swedish-Finnish records have been released until now. In the dance halls playing musicians' own compositions has not been necessary at all, it is sufficient to play covers and standards, and therefore there is little market for composing or song writing. Only about 40 LP's have been released to date, though the number has risen remarkably during the last two or three years. This is due to the export of new releases to Finland, the demand for this music on radio and the decline of the influence of live music in dance halls. Musically, the Swedish-Finnish records which have been released follow the taste that was born in the dance halls: dance music of different types and sound that meets the Swedish-Finnish demands.

It is noteworthy that Finnish rock has a different following in Sweden than the Finnish popular music. Finnish rock is little known in Sweden, and even the concerts of rock groups like 22-Pistepirkko, Q.Stone, or Waltari are not advertised in Swedish-Finnish magazines. The records sold in Swedish-Finnish music stores are also authentic dance hall music ("iskelmä"), and rock sales comprise less than 5 percent.

I have asked pupils of the Swedish-Finnish comprehensive school (ninth class, at the age of 16) about their tastes in music, and Finnish music especially. Finnish rock is relatively unknown to all of them, and in addition it is ignored or has little value. In contrast the dance hall popular music has much higher status than rock, and for example pop lyrics were said to be, surprisingly enough, more interesting than rock lyrics.

The mannerism and exaggeration of stylistic traits (compare Katz 1970; Nettl 1983: 352) that protects the Swedish-Finnish identity in music is relatively strong so that the music is already clearly distinguished from the tradition of Finland. The problems of renewal and development of common and general Swedish-Finnish musical styles is in its dissemination, the distribution of records, music education, and especially in the absence of a Swedish-Finnish radio channel that would cover the whole of Sweden and play music with which this minority group especially identifies. This would considerably give strength to its own music production as well. (Recently, in February 1996, the Swedish radio company has made a decision to start within two years a Swedish-Finnish radio channel that will cover the whole Sweden.)

The Swedish-Finnish music grew as a cultural resistance, setting itself against the Swedish influences: Swedish-Finnish music was something other than the music of the majority culture around it. From counter culture it is turning towards an identifiable Swedish-Finnish style that is working in a multicultural world as a subculture, a Swedish-Finnish musical world. This has appeared even though its development is hampered by the lack of support from the essential organisations (like radio, music education, distribution etc.). The dancehalls being the most important of the Swedish-Finnish musical institutions.

It is clear that the function of Swedish-Finnish music is to "relocate" the group as well as individuals. It raises a collective feeling of Swedish-Finnishness, which is somewhat extraordinary in a foreign environment where the Swedish majority culture dominates. To relocate and define the Swedish-Finnish identity through music means that people recognise their history and their origins. Music can thus be even more important than language in building identities since central values and boundaries are presented there without dependence on the ability to speak many languages. Music does not only reflect but also reconstructs the identity of a minority group.


1. This article (text only) has been published in: Popular Music Studies in Seven Acts. Conference Proceedings of the Fourth Annual Conference of the Finnish Society for Ethnomusicology. (eds. Tarja Hautamäki & Tarja Rautiainen) University of Tampere. Department of Folk Tradion. 1996.

2. Unfortunately the music links have been cut off due to problems with Finnish copyright bureau Teosto ry. We have, anyhow, kept the comments to music examples.

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keywords: minority music, tango, ethnomusicology, Swedish-Finnish, identity.

Pekka Suutari, Ph.lic.
Lecturer in musicology
University of Joensuu, Finland.