Sweden and Finland offer fantastic musical events during this summer, with chamber music, opera, jazz, rock festivals, you name it. There are gigs and festivals for every taste, but I would like here to take up two of the most typical and folksy summer festivities; Sing-along at Skansen in Stockholm (Allsång på Skansen) and the Finnish Tango Festival in Seinäjoki , Southern Ostrobothnia.
Allsång på Skansen, started in 1935, is an annual summer singalong that has been a huge success since it was first televised in 1979. It is said to inspire fellowship, unity, good cheer and sometimes-even rage, if you are dead set against this form of Swedish cuddliness. In fact, last year one viewer had become so furious on the opening day that he threatened to sabotage the entire spectacle. But a huge crowd loves this extravaganza that goes on every Tuesday during the summer months. What happens is that the national broadcaster SVT books a number of well-known musical artists who convene once a week at Skansen to perform on the Solliden stage. The professional performances alternate with songs led by the choir leader, who whips the audience into a full-throated ecstasy as they sing along in well-loved folk songs and pop tunes. It sounds very nice, and looks very nice on the television. Two million television viewers absolutely swear by a weekly dose of cuddly singsong. Until the turn of the decade, the event was dominated by Swedish artists of the schlager kind, but since Ricky Martin made a drastic change to the serenity with Vida Loca in 2001, a regular input of modern music has caused the younger generation to mingle with the elderly ‘aficionados’. The whole thing is so wholesome, so lagom (adequate or “so so”) and so utterly Swedish.
The Finnish tango has become a household word in the world of tango music and dance. Believe it or not, but there are two strongholds for tango, one in Rio de la Plata in Argentina and the other one in Finland. “What can the Finns, those cool blonds rendered melancholic and morose by the long lightless winter understand of Argentina’s passionate national treasure?” asks John Tagliabue in an article in the New York Times on July 21st 2013. Well, the truth is that every July, the modest Finnish town of Seinäjoki in Ostrobothnia transforms many square blocks downtown into a vast dance hall, where there are stages and tents and thousands of Finns –along with Spaniards, Germans and even Japanese and North and South Americans gathere together to dance for four days in July to melancholic, passionate and smouldering tango rhythms.
The tango, in its Argentinian form is brooding and nostalgic. The technique is advanced, with “kicks” and “boleos” and a lot of acrobatics. The Finnish variety is more upbeat and calm. Its blending of passion and melancholy is a perfect expression of the Finnish soul. The brooding and passion might have something to do with the Russian influence during our common history of 100 years. The festival in Seinäjoki was founded about 30 years ago, and the tango flourished in Finland to the point of almost becoming a national dance. After World War II and the arrival of rock and roll the tango influence began to wane. Something had to be done, so it was decided to start a tango singing contest, with the crowning of a Tango King and Tango Queen. This increased the popularity of the Seinäjoki Tango Festival. Now the festival stands out, not only for its size, but also for its combination of Nordic melancholy and Latin passion.