Finnish musician Marjo Smolander was born in 1986 in Rääkkylä, a tiny village in Northern Carelia. It is the very same village where the renowned world music group Värttinä comes from. As a child Marjo was strongly influenced by Finno-Ugric music. There was a big folk music boom in Rääkkylä led by the founder of Värttinä, Sari Kaasinen at the time. Sari Kaasinen was Marjo’s teacher for more than ten years. Sari and Värttinä’s musical style have had a strong impact on the development of Marjo’s musical language, too.
Marjo plays the Finnish traditional instrument called Kantele which has a long history. It was, for instance, the instrument played by Väinämöinen, the legendary master poet and singer in the Finnish national epic, Kalevala.
Thanks to her childhood Marjo is firmly rooted in the Finnish musical tradition. After moving away from her native Rääkkylä she has been studying folk music, world music and music pedagogy. She has two master degrees in Folk music (Sibelius Academy, Finland)) and Global music (Royal music of Aarhus, Denmark). She is also music pedagogy.
Photo credit Martiina Woodson
In 2006 19-year-old Marjo had the possibility to perform at a festival in Dakar, Senegal. At the same festival with this young Kantele player also performed Ellika Frisel and Solo Cissokho Duo. This occasion became a turning point in Marjo’s musical career. A year later she returned to Senegal with her friend to study music for five months. Since then she has visited Senegal and Western Africa regularly.
Marjo finds West African music highly intriguing. Her long-time dream became true in 2014 when she moved to Bamako to study kamalen-ngoni and kora – as her first visit there in 2012 had been interrupted by a coup d’état.
Marjo has found similarities between archaic Kantele music and Senegalese and Malian traditional music. In her experience playing or listening to it gives people around the world the comforting feeling of an on-going, continuous flow of music that will never come to an end. Marjo has half jokingly started to call herself a Kantele griot, combining two traditions, the Finnish and West African ones.
Marjo is telling jagged stories from the life, strong presence with many-sided arrangements. Musical glimpses for example of Ismael Lo, Ali Farka Toure and Värttinä can be heard.