Hello!We’ve reached the final week of Global Music Match and last but by no means least we are delighted to introduce you to Finnish duo Zäpämmät.
A melting pot of global sounds, Zäpämmät elegantly combine their traditional Finnish roots with West African motifs to create a distinctly unique sound. Even the name is a fusion, a conflation of Zap Mama, a Belgian artist imbued with the African influences of her Congalese roots and the Finnish word ämmä, a derogatory term for a woman, reclaimed here by the female duo. It is a portmanteau that perfectly synopsises the duo’s sound and message.
Zäpämmät’s music centres around the traditional Finnish instrument, the kantele. Played virtuosically by Marjo Smolander, the kantele is, in this case, a 38 stringed instrument that is closely related to the Estonian kannel, Latvian kokles and Russian gusli, together known as the Baltic psaltery family (and to me, a Wikipedia rabbit hole). Known for their distinctive bell-like sound, the instrument has an almost magical quality. It features heavily in Finnish folklore. In the epic poem Kalevala, the first kantele is made from the jawbone of a giant pike and the hairs of a mythical stallion and its music draws the creatures from the forest to marvel at its beauty.
The duo's other half, Pauliina Kauppila, is a pop and rock drummer by trade, who became fascinated by the kantele as an instrument with which to collaborate. Percussion is new to the table in Finnish folk music and it's a void that's up for grabs. The delicacy of the kantele poses a challenge for percussionists and Pauliina has approached the gap in the market with a global open-mindedness, picking styles from whichever culture suits best. She has settled on a diverse array of ringing percussions, including the kalimba and two-stringed bowed bass.
The duo met whilst Marjo was studying West African music and she explains that the meditative melodies and perpetual phrases have a ‘similar aesthetic’ to Finnish traditional music. Pauliina adds that it is ‘interesting the similarities that [Marjo] has found with Karelian kantele melodies and playing with Malian music’. And so, their global eclecticism was born, blending their Finnish roots with Senegalese, Malian, Afro-Cuban and even Flamenco sounds.
On top of distinctive instrumentation, ethereal vocals are characteristic of Zäpämmät and the voices of the two women side by side are a powerful statement. Their musical philosophy is to give a voice to those women who do not have one. They released not just one, but two singles on 8th October, the first When the Soldiers Came to a Village was inspired by Nadia Murad’s book The Last Girl, an autobiographical memoir of the genocide of the Yazadi people in Iraq in 2014. It was an eye-opening story for Marjo, raising questions about why stories like Nadia’s hadn’t reached the news in Finland and it sparked the beginnings of the song.
Their second single, Millions, tackles female genital mutilation. Pauliina speaks of the inequality faced by so many women around the world; she says the song came from ‘a pain that’s been inside of me for years and years’. Girls’ access to education is of particular importance for the duo, with FGM, child brides, menstruation and countless other tragic reasons preventing girls all over the world from going to school. For years, Pauliina has met with resistance when trying to talk to people about these issues, especially ‘when they’re having a beer in a restaurant’. She hopes through her songwriting, one day when they are ready, they will listen and they will start to think: ‘I don’t mean that I have solutions or answers, but I think that these difficult topics, we should try to have more conversations or even just thoughts about’.
So, through a global approach to their music, Zäpämmät are addressing global issues and giving their voices to the voiceless. A fitting finale to an initiative that has connected voices around the world at a time when we most needed to hear them.
The Magpies x