ONE-WOMAN ORCHESTRA FROM FINLAND
Maija Kauhanen is a Finnish kantele virtuoso, singer, and multi-instrumentalist as well as a talented composer and lyricist. She is known to be a charismatic performer with an entrancing stage presence. As a solo artist, she plays self-penned music as a one-woman orchestra simultaneously playing the kantele, percussion, and singing on top.
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.
Over the past few years, Maija has toured solo in over 30 countries around Europe, Asia, and America. She has also been awarded with several prestigious music prizes. As the latest international recognition Maija was awarded the Nordic Council Music Prize 2023. During autumn 2023 Maija’s tours take her to eg. the Azores, Japan, and Latvia. In 2024 she will continue to work on her solo music with funding from the Finnish Music council. Her future plans include collaboration projects with artists such as Maria Kalaniemi, Hugh Sheehan and Kalle Vainio along with tours with electro-folk ensemble Okra Playground.
COMPOSER & 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 over and over again and lets the music find its path. She also records these improvisations and analyzes them to develop the compositions further. In her compositions Maija uses a lot of different kinds of riffs which she weaves together as polyrhythmic grooves.
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. Her improvisation skills and her improvisatory method of composing give her the freedom to experiment, challenge and create in the moment. The tunes constantly develop, even after recording sessions, during live performances which are always different.
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. 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’s deep roots in Finnish folk music are always present as a source of inspiration in both her music and her lyrics. She uses tradition as one of the tools to create her music, but doesn’t restrict herself to it. The end result of her compositions can be anything from pop to cinematic music as she combines impressions and moods from everything and anything she encounters.
Maija has released two solo albums by German label Nordic Notes: Raivopyörä (The Whirl of Rage) in March 2017 and Menneet (The Past) in May 2022. Both of them have been noted and praised 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.
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 the Menneet 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.
BANDS & PROJECTS
Besides her solo career Maija takes part multiple bands and projects. She is an active member of the electro-folk group Okra Playground (FI). She constantly works on multiple projects of many genres with musicians and artists internationally. Her latest collaborations include artists such as Paleface (FIN), Emil Brandqvist Trio (SWE), Malin Lewis (SCO) and Plantec (FRA). Maija plays and composes music in the chamber folk trio Rönsy (FI) and in kantele & hurdy-gurdy duo Maija Kauhanen & Johannes Geworkian Hellman (FI/SE).
In addition to her solo and band career Maija loves to work in diverse projects and studio sessions. Part of her inspiration to her solo work comes from working with others and getting to know new working methods. In these shorter projects she often creates her own parts for the music without a written score by playing directly to the music others have created. She has composed music for distinguished Finnish choirs (Philomela and YL) and worked as a music producer in personal projects and for other artists.
INSTRUMENTS & TECHNIQUES
Maija is known for her ability to play all her instruments and sing simultaneously - all manually without the help of loopers. She can improvise on any of the instrument she plays while continuing to play the others expertly. This liberty and skill to change the tunes at a whim has astonished both the audiences and fellow musicians alike. Maija has always had to use her imagination with playing due to 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. This has inspired her to constantly develop new ways of playing.
Maija added percussion instruments to her solo set in 2009 while studying at Sibelius Academy in Helsinki. She is mainly self-taught percussionist, finding her inspiration for percussions from live performances of other artists. The instruments she uses are collected from different parts of the world, each one having a unique story to tell. The basis of her percussion set consists of a kick drum, different shakers, cymbals and wind bells. The latest additions to the set are enamel pots and bowls, silver plates, metal muffin tins, trays and assorted kitchen utensils, all collected from flea markets.
KANTELE – FINNISH STRING INSTRUMENT
Maija plays all sizes and different models of the Finnish kantele from five-string kantele to a full chromatic 39-string concert kantele. Her main instrument is a 23-string Saarijärven kantele with seven bass strings and sixteen melody strings. Maija's main inspiration for kantele playing are the rural music traditions of Finland and Karelia which are seamlessly integrated in her music. She plays the Saarijärven kantele with its old and rare traditional playing technique by using a tiny wooden stick as a pick.
THE ORIGIN OF MAIJA'S KANTELE
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 in the 1990's. Together Maija and Kari innovate, design and build new kantele models at Maija's childhood home in Järvenpää in Southern Finland. The instruments are of the highest quality and always made with the musicians' needs in mind.
PRIZES & HIGHLIGHTS
Maija Kauhanen has won several prestigious prizes. As the latest acclaim for her solo career she was awarded the Nordic Council Music Prize 2023.
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.
Maija is the first Finnish artist who has ever performed in the Womex Official Selection two times in a row: 2016 with Okra Playground and 2017 as a solo artist. She has 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.
Since 2015 she also holds a Master of Music degree from the Department of Folk Music of Sibelius Academy, The University of Arts in Helsinki.
Over the past few years Maija has toured solo in over 30 countries around Europe, Asia and America.
She has visited many major festivals, including 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.
2023 Münsterland, Germany
2023 Cordas World Music Festival, Azores, Portugal
2023 Music Meeting, Netherlands
2023 Celtic Connections, Glasgow, UK
2023 Umefolk, Umeå, Sweden
2022 Sarzeau, France
2022 Saura EXP, Helsinki, Finland *showcase*
2022 Bardentreffen, Nürnberg, Germany
2022 KunstFestSpiele Herrenhausen, Hannover, Germany
2022 Viru Folk, Käsmu, Estonia
2022 Helsinki Festival, Finland
2022 Kaustinen Folk Music Festival, Finland
2022 Emmausfestivalen, Mariehamn, Åland
2022 Friluftsliv for alle, Raufoss, Norway
2022 Haapavesi Folk Music Festival, Finland
2022 Musik i sommarkväll, Sundsvall, Sweden
2021 Malmö, Sweden / Oslo, Norway / Faroe Islands, Denmark
2021 Ethno Port Poznan, Poland
2020 Festival Porta, Latvia
2020 Festival Notes Polaires, Musiques Nordiques, Switzerland
2019 Folk Alliance International, Canada showcase
2019 Celtic Connections / Showcase Scotland, UK *showcase*
2019 WOMAD, UK
2019 FOCUS Wales, UK *showcase*
2019 World Cultures Festival, Hong Kong
2019 II Festival de Músicas del Mundo, Columbia
2019 Etnosur Festival, Spain
2019 Tønder Festival, Denmark
2019 Kalottspel Festival, Norway
2019 Urkult Festival, Sweden
2018 Budapest Ritmo, Hungary
2018 Tallinn Music Week, Estonia *showcase*
2018 Rudolstadt Festival, Germany
2018 Folkelarm, Norway *showcase*
2018 Finest Sounds, Tokyo, Japan
2017 WOMEX World Music Expo, Katowice, Poland *showcase*
2017 Nordic Cultural Festival, Seoul, South Korea
2017 FinnFest, Minnesota, US
2016 Beijing/Tianjin/Shanghai, China
2023 The Nordic Council Music Prize
2023 Performer of the Year Award, Kantele Gala
2018 Emma Award, The Best Ethno Album in 2017: Raivopyörä
2018 Kantele of the Year 2017 Award, Kantele Association
2017 Newcomer of the Year Award, Finnish Ethno Gala
2017 Critics’ Spurs Award, The Finnish Critics’ Association
2011 Nord´11 Nordic Folk Music Competition in Sälen, Sweden
Shared 2nd prize in the Soloist category
2011 International Kantele Competition in Helsinki, Finland
1.prize in the category Folkmusic Professionals
2023 Okra Playground: ITKU - Songline Music Awards:
The Best European Album in 2022
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