World of Voices

Crossover Choral Music

Finnish ensemble KYN talks about their love of Ethno Jazz

Making crossover music, or experimenting with different styles, is a component of almost every musical epoch. The best examples are star violinist David Garett, who merged pop and classical music, the influences of opera music at Mozart 's sacred masses, Frank Zappa, inspired by the complex compositional techniques of classical modernism, and the Hungarian composer Béla Bartók, whose tonal language is oriented at Folk music.

The choral music scene also likes to go back time and again to such crossover forms, or even to experiment, like for example the Finnish women's choir KYN, that fell in love with Ethno Jazz. Used in the 1980s the Ethno Jazz is a term for a jazz style, which includes folklore elements (ethno-music) - so to say a crossover of jazz and folk music.

At the “Fest der Chorkulturen” and Grand Prix of Nations Berlin 2017 at the beginning of February, we met KYN and talked with singer Susanna Kantelinen about the features of the crossover Ethno Jazz.

A first public presentation, almost an experiment with Ethno Jazz took place at a competition in Italy. This performance was pioneering for the choir’s musical orientation, said Susanna. The jurors admired above the choir’s strength when presenting its lively program. Encouraged by the commendation of the experts, KYN met various Finnish composers and arrangers to convince them of the idea of bringing traditional choral pieces to shine in a contemporary and fresh interpretation. Thus, Finnish folklore and traditional songs (in the form of lyrics, melodies, or accompanying instruments) were combined with rhythms and harmonies of jazz.

Reason for a reorientation of the repertoire was above all the enthusiasm for experiments, the time spirit and the understanding of music in the 21st century, said Susanna. "In today's world, people are much more familiar with popular musical genres such as jazz. With the combination of both music styles, the old songs and traditions get a fresh sound. They touch the listener and it is easy to listen to the experience, as you always hear elements that you already know."

The pieces presented by KYN in Berlin also gave the less trained audience a good impression of Ethno Jazz. In the performances also instruments were used, not as accompanying instrument, but rather as single voices that are equal to the choir. Susanna speaks of a pleasurable 'interplay of voices'.

In "Outo Kantele" by Jukka Linkola, one of the pieces presented in Berlin, an accordion was used as traditional component and contributed to the piece’s atmosphere, as Susanna said: "The song really resembles a mystic world, where you don’t know if it is true or a fairy tale. It is really folklore, a traditional mystical story ".

The choir also attracted attention through its stage presence. In addition to fancy rhythms and arrangements, the singers created a choreography to each Ethno Jazz piece. Both the conductor and the choir have brought ideas for a new choreography: "I think we speak more about fun or a sense of experiment than of seriousness. With our choreography, we want to tell a story in addition to the music. On the one hand there is the action, on the other the emotions with which we want to touch the audience."

With the experimental folk jazz arrangements, KYN touched us in any case. For its outstanding performances, they not only won the Grand Prix category "Women's Choirs", but also the 6th place of the "Women Choirs" in the INTERKULTUR World Rankings.