20 years and 365 concerts

Maria Silvennoinen, Riikka Hiltunen ja Tytti Vuo tapahtuman 10-vuotisjuhlinnoissa 2014

Riikka Hiltunen

In 2004, the Savoy Theatre Director Tapani Närhi pitched an idea to me and a fellow Savoy intern, Katja Peräläinen: Wouldn’t it be great to emulate the Jazz-Espa festival and bring folk music to the Espa Stage! We rolled up our sleeves and the inaugural, nearly month-long Etno-Espa festival was presented in 2005. Even from the start, it was easy to convince funding bodies to get behind an event modelled against an existing festival with a proven five-year track record. In addition to support from the state and the City of Helsinki, many private foundations and partners have backed the event over the years.

The event has since established itself as a significant arena for presenting contemporary folk music and world music. One of the artistic planning guidelines we insist on is to predominantly present newly composed music. Our Night of the Arts program has widened the appeal by featuring bigger audience favourites who flirt with folk music.

At the conclusion of this year’s festival, we will have presented a total of 365 concerts over the history of the event, representing one concert a day for an entire year! Our free concerts have featured rising stars and true folk music pioneers, from Piirpauke to Värttinä. Being a part of the artistic planning team has provided a great vantage point for observing the different trends within the scene, such as the forest folk phenomenon or the mutual synergies between rap and folk music. Multiculturalism has a stronger presence each year. Finnish folk music, which is broadly defined as folk music played and sung in Finland, can now also include Cuban or Persian roots and influences.

We take special pride in the gender balance among our group of performers. Compared to other sectors such as jazz, the folk music sector has a less dire gender distribution, and gender stereotypes associated with certain instruments have been broken on our stage time and again.

If anyone had doubts when the event was first taking shape as to whether a high-quality program could be sustained for a full month, such doubts have been proven wrong many times over. For production reasons, the duration of the event has since been shortened to two weeks, but the number of annual concerts presented has remained unchanged.

The existing core group was formed back in 2006. What a pleasure it has been to be able to make this event possible with close friends, board members Maria Silvennoinen and Tytti Vuo. Three cheers for Etno-Espa!

Riikka Hiltunen, event founder, chair of the association in 2006-2013