World Cultures Festival
Maija Kauhanen & Okra Playground
Finland’s highly popular zither-linked kantele possesses an array of musical possibilities. Folk or classical, jazz or rock, the multi-stringed instrument with its bell-like resonances and a history of more than one thousand years injects zest and crossover potential to all. In this fascinating concert, singer-songwriter Maija Kauhanen, recipient of the 2017 Critics’ Spurs award for best artistic breakthrough from the Finnish Critics’ Association, showcases traditional kantele folk music with a contemporary twist. Combining a rare plectrum technique with a charismatic voice, extended songs, and imaginative vision, the mesmerising performer, together with electro-folk band Okra Playground, draws on the past to create distinctive soundscapes for today that both challenge and captivate audiences.
Maija Kauhanen (Finland)
A powerfully expressive voice, deep-rooted kantele and inventive percussion: fleet-fingered virtuoso and one-woman band Maija Kauhanen specialises in Finnish kantele and its old and rare playing techniques. Weaving together polyrhythms and organic beats she creates unique soundscapes and compelling grooves.
Maija is a composer and multi-instrumentalist as well as a charismatic performer with an entrancing stage presence. The rural music traditions of Finland and Karelia are her main inspiration and she deftly gives their time-honoured melodies a new life.
In 2017 Maija performed at WOMEX World Music Expo among the Official Showcase Selection, and has since played in Asia, America and all around Europe. In 2019 she visited many major festivals, such as Celtic Connections, FOCUS Wales and WOMAD in the UK, Folk Alliance International in Canada, Il Festival de Músicas del Mundo in Colombia, Locarno Folk in Switzerland, Hudba Sveta Zilina in Slovakia, Urkult Folkfest in Sweden and Tønder Festival in Denmark.
Maija's first solo album Raivopyörä (The Whirl of Rage, 2017) invokes powerful atmospheres. The songs deal with the fates of various women: challenging relationships, domestic violence and child-brides are unflinchingly portrayed, but there is also joy, consolation, hope and the mystery of young love to be celebrated. The album has received great reviews internationally.
Okra Playground (Finland)
Okra Playground plays genuine electro folk where ancient folk instruments kantele and bowed lyre coexist in a new symbiosis with modern instruments and soundscapes. Strong vocal harmonies, big sound, age-old lyrics, hypnotic beats and mystical energy take the listener to far-off places and close to home.
Okra Playground’s debut album Turmio (Ruin, 2015) gained widespread recognition in European media, for instance a five-star review in Songlines magazine. In their highly anticipated second album Ääneni yli vesien (My Voice Over Waters, 2018), its traditional roots dig deep into the Finnish soil, but the tallest branches spread out towards the furthest shores of world music and electro pop. Ääneni yli vesien has been warmly received and reached top 3 at World Music Charts Europe, and top 10 at the Transglobal World Music Chart.
In 2016 Okra Playground performed at WOMEX among the Official Showcase Selection. Since then the band has charmed audiences at Rainforest World Music Festival in Malaysia, Brosella Folk & Jazz Festival in Belgium, and Flow Festival in Finland. In 2019, Okra Playground tours Finland, Sweden, Norway and Estonia besides Hong Kong.
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