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Music, Multiculturality and Finland

Research project 1 Jan 2014 – 31 Aug 2018, funded by the Academy of Finland – Leader: Academy Research Fellow Antti-Ville Kärjä
Obi Phrase at the Savoy Theatre 9 September 2011. © Jouni Eerola

The project centres on how migrant groups negotiate national and cultural identity through musical practices. Thus at issue is how canonised notions about Finnish music are challenged by migrant groups as they construct their cultural identity through music. At issue are the ways in which the values and beliefs associated with conventional conceptualisations of Finnish-ness in music are maintained, challenged and complemented by different minority groups, both through verbal statements and non-verbal actions. Thus the project is built on two interwoven themes which involve, in the first instance, unearthing the ideological premises of the conventional ideas about Finnish music, and second, juxtaposing these ideas with the empirical reality of minority groups. The focus is on both groups in Finland and expatriate Finns.

Theoretically, the aim is to re-evaluate the concept of 'the popular' through the category of 'the sacred'. Disputes over 'national' culture provide a useful starting point, as they are loaded with assumptions about popular communality that is worth preserving. At issue are the ways in which 'national' musics are related to global flows of migration and mediation, and how historiography sanctifies ideas about nationally unique expression, especially in terms of art, folk and popular cultures. This alleged uniqueness is directly linked to issues pertaining to freedom of expression, as ideas about national traditions form an effective mechanism of self- and market censorship. The project is furthermore explicitly political in nature, as it is aimed to increase the awareness, knowledge and understanding of cultural differences in contemporary Finland and in relation to the notion of Finnish-ness.

The project draws primarily from postcolonial studies, ethnomusicology, popular music studies, cultural studies and comparative religion. The project is divided into three focal areas:

  1. a metahistorical discourse analysis focussing on the recent historiography of Finnish music
  2. an ethnographic take on the biennial Ourvision Singing Contest, organised by the City of Helsinki primarily for people with recent immigrant background
  3. an ethnographic take on the folk dancing and other musical practices of expatriate Finns in Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand