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Finns Find Their Feet At Tango Street Festival

by VR Sreeraman on July 15, 2009 at 4:34 PM
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 Finns Find Their Feet At Tango Street Festival

Finns are known to be quiet, reserved and taciturn but every July some 100,000 of them unleash their passion for the tango, singing and dancing under the Arctic midnight sun.

For four days this past weekend, visitors to the annual Tangomarkkinat, or Tango Market, listened to old and new tango singers and strutted their stuff in a cordoned-off street in Seinaejoki, some 360 kilometres (222 miles) northwest of Helsinki.


"I am here to listen to the music and to meet people," Paeivi Kuntsi told AFP, enjoying the sunshine at the market square.

After World War II, tango was the rage in Finland, sung and danced at thousands of outdoor dance halls on the shores of its picturesque lakes, peaking in the 1960s.

However the rise of rock'n'roll and pop music in the late 1960s and 1970s saw the tango's popularity take a hit.

But tango, which has its roots in Argentina, made a comeback in the 1980s with the first Tangomarkkinat being held in 1985.

Arto Puisto, visiting the festival for the first time, said: "Tango is the best dance in the world. It is all about feeling and (how) you can be close to another person."

Baby-faced Amadeus Lundberg, 20, who won the tango signing contest final in which he was pitted against five others, said: "All I can say (is) that this must be a dream. I am pinching myself."

The contest has provided many a big break for Finland's young singers.

Not all the festival-goers have mastered the tango's tricky and twisting step and prefer to sing along to the music instead.

Jouko Rauhko, a burly man in his 40s, sings in Finnish to his wife Nina Glasberg in one of the event's many karaoke bars.

"I always choose songs that I know by heart, otherwise I will just read out the lyrics and then I cannot put my soul into the song," Rauhko explained after his performance.

But many young Finns do not share the same burning passion for tango as the older generations.

"In 20 years tango will be fading away (in Finland). If there was no Tangomarkkinat, tango would have faded away completely 10 years ago," said Pekka Gronow, an expert in the history of Finnish popular music.

He said many Tangomarkkinat contest winners ditch the tango after just one album for a more radio-friendly, danceable brand of pop music.

Compared to the Argentinian tango, the Finnish version is much slower and its lyrics often recount tales of Finland's countryside and pristine nature.

According to Pirjo Kukkonen, a researcher at the University of Helsinki, the Finns love for the tango stems from their melancholic nature.

"They are fairytales for grown-ups, who want to hear the same stories over and over again," Kukkonen said.

Many songs use the four seasons as an analogy for life: summer represents happiness and youth, which fades as autumn and winter sweep in.

"Finnish tango's power is that it is melancholic but has hope in it. Summer comes again every year," Kukkonen summed up.

Despite Gronow's gloomy forecast about the future of tango in Finland, the organisers of the event are confident it will still be going strong for years to come.

Pekka Leinonen, managing director of the Tangomarkkinat festival, told AFP it successfully overcame the challenge from disco music in the early 1980s.

"The beginning was difficult, but after a couple of years more people started to come to the festival," she said.

Leinonen said Tangomarkkinat would continue to champion tango music, but would try to lure a younger crowd by booking rock and pop bands.

Source: AFP

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