There ain’t nothing musty or static about the level of musicianship going down in Helsinki. Across a rich spectrum of musical genres things are continuously shifting in our city.
A great case in point is funk music — a genre that immediately makes you smile. Unlike the multi-layered nuances of jazz, funk offers a decidedly direct invitation to find that gorgeous bass and drum groove to free up your arctic mind.
“The definition of funk is a warm, damp place that gives life.” – George Clinton
Born out of the legendary soul sound of the 60’s, a good place to begin initiation into funk is with the godfather of soul himself, Mr. James Brown — and also the first family of funk, Sly and the Family Stone. From these iconic roots, funk further blossomed to a more experimental landscape, opening up the possibilities for acts like George Clinton and the P-Funk movement. The essential elements of funk — a unique marriage of bass and drum on the downbeat — give it an instantly recognizable sound even on the crowded world music stage.
I have heard of funk being described as a state of being in which the music synchronizes with your soul and becomes part of your core. Funk was born as a symptomatic response to an era in American history that was defined by oppression, frustration and outrage. Funk brought together a post-Motown black community under a more experimental bass-laden groove, and said “get up and move…don’t surrender.”
Because of funk’s enduring legacy, I was quite pleased to see that funk is hot and happening in another subsection of Helsinki. I recently found myself at Manala Restaurant in Töölö, fully immersed in some of the best live music I’ve heard in quite a while.
It turns out that Manala has been hosting these weekly funk gigs organized by multi-talented Helsinki-based drummer Kari Paavola, in an effort to delight music lovers throughout Helsinki and beyond.
Before their jaw-dropping set — fronted by the stunning Vanessa Haynes who’d flown in from London just for the gig — I sat down with Paavola to get the lowdown on what’s happening in this newly emerging Helsinki funk scene, and what this music means to him.
On funk as an influential genre:
“Generally, the genre of funk music consists of good bands from all around the world but it’s still very much underground music, in Europe at least. After the 90’s things have changed a bit, as you see a lot of current music that’s very funk-influenced. Lots of newer R&B artists and other pop musicians are currently so funk-infused — it’s incredibly nice to see.”
On why Kari chose funk:
“The funk scene speaks to me. I moved back to Helsinki about 3 years ago with my family, and I had a need to bring this beautiful funk music to Helsinki. This is also the best excuse for me to keep playing with my friends/musicians from London and Sweden — a win win! Getting the masses to dig it has also been fantastic!”
On playing in Helsinki:
“It’s been so positive!! My goal was to do things that aren’t currently happening in Helsinki. I’ve been playing with my UK friends/musicians for over 10 years, and our aim was to try and create, in a way, London’s diverse urban club environment. I wanted to provide a relaxed experience with high quality musicians playing in a jam-like setting without too much excess stress. Some nights and some pieces were improvised — and it was pure fun — thus capturing the essence of funk. I think we have accomplished what we have set out to do, on a certain level, and I’m proud of this!”
On the adolescence of Helsinki funk:
“I really hope we’re laying the foundation for funk in Helsinki right now, and we look forward to many more live gigs. My dream is to have a great group of traveling musicians and spread what we’ve started here in Helsinki to other neighboring countries like Estonia, with the same program each month. It would be ideal!
Also, there are some stellar musicians right here in Helsinki that have shaped much of the funk landscape. Sami Mannerheimo is a huge funk enthusiast and runs a funk society called Funky Amigos. They put together an annual funk festival called Funky Elephant, and I admire this so tremendously. Another amazing Helsinki-based funk band is Q-Continuum — they have reformed in Helsinki and are now touring Finland…they’re a phenomenal group…basically as good as you can get on an International level. Another musician I admire is Mikko Pettinen and his group Happy People – they just released their second record that is definitely funky. There’s also Tomi Salesvuo East Funk Attack, a superb, drummer-led funk group.
All our guest musicians have really made these nights happen, and I’m so grateful to everyone!”
On Manala and their generosity towards music?
“Manala applauded us and graciously gave us a budget for funk nights…then I was able to hire the best musicians in the country to play — to guarantee that there’s good music to be heard! It’s severely important to mention Manala’s Managing Director Tanja Löppönen and her generosity — she organized our budget and that is rare these days. We hope to have another run this spring!”
The venue was packed wall-to-wall for good reason and the band was very well received. I came away thinking that great food and great funk music makes for a fantastically fun night out. Venues should be lining up to stake their claim in this exploding young funk scene. The sincerity, enthusiasm and expertise of today’s funk artists is irresistible, and I’m elated to have found that funk is slowly emerging in our chilly corner of the world.