Benin Diary

In the spring 2013 I spent three months at Villa Karo, the Finnish-African cultural centre and artist residence in Grand-Popo, Benin. During those months I travelled also to neighbouring countries Togo, Nigeria and Burkina Faso. This is a collection of the few social media posts that I made from the residency (internet connection and time permitting), summarizing the overall experience quite well, I feel; an experience that had a profound effect on me and the music that I began to produce and explore afterwards.



ALIVE in Benin. Sat with Ken Saro-Wiwa’s ex-driver on the plane from Paris. The heat and pulse of Cotonou. Met this inspiring and lively musician, Georges, on our bus journey to Grand-Popo: a collaboration with his band for recording and a concert later in Cotonou was initiated. Talking about music as health practice rather than just art or – much worse – mere entertainment; creating a more desirable reality through music (I love the way music has a serious and more spiritual role to play within the society here). Felt that joy and purpose again, a synergy of ideas, ambitions and people coming together. Lovely colleagues at the residency, and Atlantic waves and unfamiliar birds as a constant aural backdrop. Exploring local villages and towns with small motorbikes and half-broken taxis. So much to experience, and as usual, so inadequate to try and put this into words. Would upload some photos and audio if this slow and limited internet connection allowed. Tonight we are traveling to an all-night long Vodun (Voodoo) ceremony in the nearby Togo.



Going native in Togo (would require a separate entry) / dancing and celebrating with locals in remote villages in Benin / recording and collaborating with musicians around Grand-Popo and Cotonou / having long discussions nearly about everything with the other artists at the residency – among other things // Last night, the most beautiful music session of my life to date: sitting with this poet, John, under palm trees, a bright moon and immense star sky; him making lyrics and singing/rapping to my aural landscapes in the local Mina language, me just operating the recorder, tantalized. Atlantic waves in the background, a soft breeze from the ocean, the Milky Way above, and a talented poet with a beautiful and deep voice delivering words to the music that I, just a while ago, had created in a frozen wintry landscape in Finland: the music made in a small Nordic village translating surprisingly well to this Equatorial beach world, with joyous West African dance music in the soundsystem. We are preparing for our live gig in Cotonou this Saturday (the venue: Yes Papa – if anyone’s around), and the difficulty is choosing four tracks for the gig as John is inspired by all of the 12 tracks I’d given him and, embarrassed to admit, so am I. I keep looking at the stars while monitoring John’s vocals and wishing that all my friends were here with us.



Falling in love with Ouagadougou (friendly people, amazing music, high quality art) / traveling across Benin, Burkina Faso and Togo in buses and bush taxis, covered in dust and dirt / drawing and talking a lot with this Finnish artist Anna Retulainen / sitting on a beach watching and listening to the Atlantic waves, the sunset, the Milky Way / participating in a workshop with artists from around West Africa / experiencing the endless pecularities of life here / working on a special EP with this local poet, John Follass / trying to get some work done on my album and the LOS-HEL project (though I know I’ll have the space and time to finish them when back in Finland) // I may make it sound like one wonderful experience – which it is – but it’s also challenging, exhausting, lonely and frustrating life from time to time. But it feels good, I feel alive. X



Lagos was amazing: the energy, the kind, hard-working and inventive people, the architecture, the making of new culture, the progress, the functional chaos… I was so happy to finally experience and get a good picture of the city that has inspired me imaginarily and sonically for so long. Continuing the work on Lagos-Helsinki album from an altered perspective now (more physical as opposed to celebral), and also sketching this new 30-minute composition called Lagos Condition (‘No condition is permanent’ reads one of the bus stickers in Lagos). Only the border crossing and the bus journey there were a bit nerve-wracking (so many checkpoints, some unfortunate bribing, and then our bus broke down in the middle of nowhere and we had to wait for a new one in complete darkness and heat for two hours while people kept saying we’re in an unsafe area…who knows). But I felt sad to leave // Now back in the tranquility of Benin. My friend Nana, a film-maker and writer from Ghana, is also here which is wonderful (we’ve been collaborating for years; she’s one of those artists who inspires and challenges me – and makes me laugh alot). It’s the last two weeks of my residency and the culture shock finally hits me: I don’t want to return to Finland, I’m not prepared for that culture at all. I love colours, I love energy, I love chaos. X