Maija Kauhanen is an award-winning Finnish artist – a kantele virtuoso, singer and multi-instrumentalist as well as a talented composer and lyricist. She is also a charismatic performer with an entrancing stage presence: Her live show always brings the audience a treat for the ears as well as an interesting and thought through visual experience with her unique instruments and stage costumes.
The music Maija Kauhanen plays as a solo act is all composed by her, but the foundation of her music is deeply rooted in Finnish folk music. Weaving her kantele playing together with her versatile singing voice, poly-rhythms and the organic beats of percussion, she creates unique cinematic soundscapes and compelling grooves.
Maija Kauhanen plays all sizes and different models of the Finnish kantele from 5-string kantele to a full chromatic 39-string concert kantele. Her main instrument is a 23-string Saarijärven kantele with 7 bass strings and 16 melody strings. Maija often plays the kantele with its old and rare traditional playing technique by using a tiny wooden stick as a pick. Her main inspirations for kantele playing are the rural music traditions of Finland and Karelia. Maija loves to innovate new playing techniques and she has always had to use her imagination with some playing technical challenges as she only has nine fingers to use. The loss of her left little finger, in an accident at the age of one, made most other instruments impossible to play as a child. Kantele on the other hand was very suitable for her nine fingers. She continues to innovative new ways of playing and is inspired to do so by for example other instruments she plays, ie. harmonium, keyboards, folk flutes, saxophone to name a few.
Maija’s kanteles are built by her father – luthier Kari Kauhanen. Kari’s initial inspiration for building musical instruments came when Maija and her siblings started playing music at an early age. Together as a team Maija and her father innovate, design and build new kantele models for Maija at Maija´s childhood home in Järvenpää in Southern Finland. As a luthier Kari is known to be as open minded about innovating the instruments with the players as Maija is with her music. The instruments are of the highest quality and always made with the musicians’ needs in mind.
As a singer Maija is as versatile as one can be: Her knowledge of different singing styles ranges from various folk music singing styles to jazz and Finnish pop. She develops her style further all the time as she encounters and collaborates with singers and musicians from all around the world on her travels. She uses her voice with and without lyrics and often imitates the sounds of instruments and other interesting sounds that surround her. Her knowledge and skill in the rural singing traditions and styles of Finland and Karelia as well as the Swedish kulning vocal tradition are always present in the amazing spectrum of sounds she creates with her voice.
Maija added percussion instruments to her solo set in 2009 while studying at Sibelius Academy in Helsinki. As a percussionist Maija is mainly self-taught, but has also attended various short courses of percussion styles of many kinds. The main inspiration for developing her percussion playing nowadays comes from other artists she sees play live at various festivals. The instruments she uses are bought from different parts of the world and always have a meaningful story to them. Lately she has been collecting enamel pots and bowls, silver plates, metal muffin tins, trays and assorted kitchen utensils from flea markets. Other instruments in her percussion set are kick drum, juju bean shaker, cymbals and wind bells.
As a solo artist Maija combines all her instruments by playing kantele with her hands, percussion with her hands and feet and singing on top of all of this live without the help of loopers! If you listen to Maija’s music with your eyes closed it’s often impossible to understand that all of it is played by one person. As a solo artist Maija has the liberty and skill to change the tunes at a whim: she is able to independently improvise on all the instruments she uses while continuing to play the others expertly. The technical virtuosity of playing all the instruments at the same time never seizes to amaze the audiences and fellow musicians alike.
MAIJA AS A COMPOSER AND LYRICIST
Maija’s composing method is based on using improvisation as a tool: she often records bits of singing or lyrics on her phone and later picks out the most interesting of them to work on further. She continues improvising on these snippets and lets the music find its path. In her compositions Maija uses a lot of different kinds of riffs and grooves and she also loves to play polyrhythms with herself. Maija’s deep musical roots in Finnish folk music are always present in her music as a source of inspiration for her compositions.
The lyrics of Maija’s solo material are written by her either from scratch or by using traditional texts as a source of inspiration and basis. She is familiar with the finno-ugric runosong tradition and its language as well as the newer Finnish traditional styles of lyrics and metre. Maija uses this knowledge as a tool to create modern lyrics of her own in the same way she uses the tradition as a tool to create her music. The topics of her songs are derived from real life – either from her own life or of perceptions of what she sees around her. She tells these stories through her music as a part of the continuum of tradition, but with a distinct voice of her own.
Maija uses her concerts as a playground to develop her compositions and lyrics further: she tries out the new ideas and performs tunes even before giving them a more definite form. The tunes constantly develop, even after recording sessions, during live performances which are always different. Her improvisation skills and her improvisatory method of composing give her the freedom to experiment, challenge and create in the moment.
As a solo artist Maija has released two albums by German label Nordic Notes: Raivopyörä (The Whirl of Rage) in March 2017 and Menneet (The Past) in May 2022. Both of the albums have been praised and noted worldwide. The albums have distinct themes that all the songs revolve around:
‘Raivopyörä’ deals with the fates of women: the stories of challenging relationships, domestic violence and child-brides are unflinchingly portrayed, but there is also joy, consolation, hope and the mystery of young love to be celebrated. The music of ‘Raivopyörä’ is influenced by the rural music traditions of Finland and Karelia.
‘Menneet’ album tells stories of courage, meaningful meetings, of personal space and seeing one’s boundaries; about the things that prevent us from being free, and those that hold us back; facing and dealing with the things that stop us from pursuing our dreams and doing the things we enjoy. While working on this album Maija took a step towards being a singer-songwriter without losing her strong roots in tradition and drew influences from folk music, indie pop and film scores to the music.
Maija Kauhanen has won several significant prizes: In 2017 she won a 'Critics’ Spurs prize' by the The Finnish Critics’ Association for “the best artistic breakthrough of the year”, “The Newcomer of the Year” Award in Finnish Ethno Awards and the prestigious Emma Award for the Best Ethno Album of the Year. She was the first Finnish artist who has been ever performing in the Womex Official Selection two times in a row: 2016 with Okra Playground and 2017 as a solo artist. She has also been awarded in kantele and folk music competitions: Maija won the International Solo Kantele Competition in Helsinki 2011 and shared the second prize of Nord´11 Competition in Sälen, Sweden.
When not pursuing her solo career Maija is an active member of the internationally awarded electro-folk group Okra Playground (FI). Maija also constantly works on multiple projects of many genres with musicians and artists from around the world. Her latest collaborations include artists such as Paleface (FIN), Emil Brandqvist Trio (SWE), Malin Lewis (SCO), Plantec (FRA). She also plays and makes music with the chamber folk trio Rönsy (FI) and with kantele & hurdy-gurdy duo Maija Kauhanen & Johannes Geworkian Hellman (FI/SE).
In addition to her solo and band career Maija also loves to work in different projects and in studio sessions. She gets a lot of inspiration for her solo work from working with other people and getting to know their working methods. In these shorter projects she most often creates her own parts for the music without a written score by playing directly to the music others have created. She has also composed music for distinguished Finnish choirs (Philomela and Ylioppilaskunnan Laulajat) as well as worked as a music producer for her own projects and other artists.
Over the past few years Maija has toured solo in over 30 countries around Europe, Asia and America. She has visited many major festivals such as Celtic Connections, FOCUS Wales and WOMAD in UK, Folk Alliance International in Canada, Il Festival de Músicas del Mundo in Colombia, Etnosur Festival in Spain, Locarno Folk in Switzerland, Hudba Sveta Zilina in Slovakia, Urkult Folkfest in Sweden, Tønder Festival in Denmark, EthnoPort Poznan in Poland and World Cultures Festival in Hong Kong.
Photo: Pasi Virta
Maija Kauhanen on valovoimainen ja karismaattinen artisti, rajoja rikkova yhden naisen orkesteri ja Emma-voittaja,
jonka tekee aktiivista kansainvälisestä uraa.
Maija on monipuolinen multi-instrumentalisti ja laulaja, säveltäjä, sanoittaja, sovittaja ja tuottaja. Maija on kiertänyt maailmaa soittaen sooloartistina jo noin 30 maassa Euroopassa, Aasiassa ja Amerikassa. Viime vuosina Kauhasen keikkalistalla ovat olleet muun muassa arvostetut festivaalit Celtic Connections, FOCUS Wales ja WOMAD Iso-Britanniassa, Folk Alliance International Kanadassa, Il Festival de Músicas del Mundo Kolumbiassa, Korrö Folkfestival, Urkult Folkfest ja Malmöfestivalen Ruotsissa, Tønder Festival Tanskassa, Kalottspel Norjassa ja World Culture Festival Hong Kongissa. Vuonna 2018 kiertueita oli mm. Japaniin, Saksaan, Unkariin, Tsekkiin, Portugaliin ja Espanjaan.
Maijan ensimmäinen sooloalbumi Raivopyörä (2017 Nordic Notes) sai ylistäviä arvioita sekä huomioitiin
kansainvälisesti. Maija voitti monia tavoiteltuja palkintoja, kuten vuonna 2017 Suomen Arvostelijain liiton myöntämän
Kritiikin kannukset -maininnan vuoden parhaasta taiteellisesta läpimurrosta, Etnogaalan Vuoden tulokas –palkinnon,
Kanteleliiton Vuoden Kantele -tunnustuksen sekä Emma-palkinnon vuoden 2017 parhaasta etnoalbumista. Vuoden 2020
Etnogaalassa Maija oli ehdolla Vuoden kansainvälistyjä –sarjassa. Maijan toinen sooloalbumi julkaistaan 2022 inspiraationaan oma tila.
Maija laulaa ja soittaa kaikenkokoisia kanteleita pienimmästä 5-kielisestä kanteleesta suurimpaan 39-kieliseen kromaattiseen konserttikanteleeseen. Maijan erikoistumisalue on harvinainen Saarijärven kantele ja sen monet, osin jo häviämässä olevat soittotyylit. Saarijärven kanteletta on soitettu perinteisesti pientä puutikun pätkää plektrana käyttäen, Maija käyttää soittotikkuina tällä hetkellä appelsiinipuusta valmistettuja manikyyritikkuja. Hän kehittää jatkuvasti uusia soittotekniikoita kokeillen sekä inspiroituen muiden soittimien äänenväreistä sekä soittotekniikoista. Maijan soitinvalintaan on vaikuttanut paljon lapsuuden onnettomuudessa katkennut vasemman käden pikkusormi, kanteleen soitossa yhdeksällä sormella pärjää onneksi hyvin. Maija on työskennellyt lapsuudestaan asti soitinrakentaja-isänsä Kari Kauhasen kanssa. He innovoivat ja toteuttavat Maijalle uusia soittimia Maijan lapsuudenkodissa Järvenpäässä.
Maijan soitinpalettiin kuuluvat myös mm. harmooni, koskettimet, kansanomaiset huilut, saksofoni ja lyömäsoittimet sekä kaikenlaiset uudet soitintuttavuudet. Maija rakastaa uusien soittimien haltuun ottamista, polyrytmisiä grooveja sekä soundimaailmojen luomista.
Soolona Maija Kauhanen esiintyy yhden naisen bändinä yhdistäen virtuoottisesti samanaikaisesti soitetut Saarijärven kanteleen ja lyömäsoittimet sekä laulun – kaikki soitettuna samanaikaisesti. Maijan musiikissa liikutaan vahvoissa tunnelmissa ja useassa kappaleessa teemana ovat eri-ikäisten naisten kohtalot. Tekstit kertovat ihmissuhteiden haasteista, kotiväkivallasta ja peloista, mutta mukaan mahtuu myös paljon iloa, lohtua ja toivoa. Maijan on myös alkuperäisjäsenenä elektro-folk -yhtyeessä Okra Playground. Hän on myös jäsenenä projektiluontoisesti toimivissa kokoonpanoissa kansanmusiikkikokoonpanot Mari Kalkun & Runorun (EE/FI/AU) ja Rönsy sekä elektopop-duo Malmö. Maija on viime vuosina ollut mukana useilla kansainvälisesti huomioiduilla äänilevyillä sekä myös laajentanut kanteleen tunnettuutta ja rajoja studiomuusikkona sekä erilaisissa projekteissa yli genrerajojen niin Suomessa kuin ympäri maailmaa.