FolkWorld #81 11/2023
© Music Finland

Finland's Best


Okra Playground

Maija Kauhanen

Finnish electro-folk sextet Okra Playground has been chosen as Band of the Year at Songlines Magazine's music awards as best European group out of four nominees. Maija Kauhanen, one of the group's musicians and songwriters, has also been nominated for the Nordic Council Music Prize 2023, along with classical guitarist Petri Kumela.

Okra Playground

Artist Video Okra Playground @ FROG

Maija Kauhanen

Artist Video Maija Kauhanen @ FROG

Okra Playground has been chosen as "band of the year" at Songlines Magazine's music awards, in the category for European acts. The electro-folk sextet released their latest album "Itku" in 2022.

Okra Playground was chosen as best European group out of four nominees, the other nominees being Ævestaden, Antonis Antoniou and Lady Maisery. Songlines Magazine described Okra Playground in the nominee announcement:

"Electro-folk, Finnish-style, from a thrilling and compelling band from Helsinki. Okra Playground features three remarkable front-line singers who can sound quietly exquisite, thrilling, spooky or downright menacing. They are also instrumentalists, with Päivi Hirvonen playing the fiddle and bowed lyre, while Essi Muikku and Maija Kauhanen add kantele dulcimers.

These ancient folk instruments are matched against contemporary backing from electric bass, throbbing percussion, keyboards and accordion. Itku is their third album, and it’s a varied, often epic and atmospheric fusion of ancient and modern, in which folk themes are transformed into rousing anthems and soundscapes, with those glorious female voices always to the fore.

The opening title track sets the mood, with drums matched against the edgy vocals, while in ‘Veri’ (The Blood) the attacking, swooping and intense voices are backed by pounding percussion. The band slow down for the more lyrical ‘Kymmenniekka Kylässä’ (The Tythe Collector) and ‘Hetkeen’, with dulcimers now backing the gently charming harmony singing, but they are back in epic mode for the finale ‘Hypnoosi’, in which rumbling drone effects, an insistent bass line and wordless vocals help the song build to a rousing climax.

A great album from this year’s deserved winners from Europe."

The Songlines Music Awards were launched in 2008 to recognise and celebrate music from around the world covered in the magazine.

The nominees for the Nordic Council Music Prize 2023 have been announced. This year, Finland's nominees represent the genres of contemporary folk and classical music. Finland’s nominees are kantele artist, composer and singer Maija Kauhanen and classical guitarist Petri Kumela. Åland – an autonomous region of Finland – has its own nominee, jazz quartet Whatclub.

Petri Kumela has been praised by YLE (Finnish Broadcasting Company) as "presently the best guitarist in Finland making records". Maija Kauhanen has played Womex Official Selection two times in a row: 2017 as a solo artist and in 2016 with the band Okra Playground – which was chosen as "European band of the year" at Songlines Magazine's music awards just recently.

Established in 1965, the Nordic Council Music Prize is intended to recognise creative and practicing musicians of a high artistic standard. It is worth DKK 300 000 (approximately 40 000 €) and is awarded on alternate years to a work by a living composer in one year, and an individual performer or group the next, as is the case this year. The winner is chosen by an adjudication committee that consists of experts from the five Nordic countries. The Faroe Islands, Greenland and Åland have submitted nominations since 1997.

Among the previous Finnish winners are Aulis Sallinen (1978), Magnus Lindberg (1988), Leif Segerstam (1999), Kaija Saariaho (2000), Kari Kriikku (2009), Pekka Kuusisto (2013), Susanna Mälkki (2017) and Sampo Haapamäki (2020). Last year the prize went to Swedish composer Karin Rehnqvist for her work Silent Earth.

Finnish Music Quarterly

The winner will be announced by the Nordic Council in Oslo on 31 October, along with other Nordic prizes.

The article has originally been published @, 2023 &, 2023, a showcase in English for Finnish musical culture since 1985.

Photo Credits: (1) Songlines, (2)-(3) Okra Playground, (4)-(5) Maija Kauhanen, (6) Finnish Music Quarterly / Music Finland (unknown/website).

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