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Asylum seekers perform alongside world music stars

This weekend's Faces Festival puts the spotlight on asylum seeker musicians along with Finnish rock and hip-hop veterans. It kicks off a string of August events featuring folk and pop from around the globe.

Viisihenkinen orkesteri soittaa lavalla
Afro-Cubism performing at the Helsinki Festival's Huvila tent. Image: Sasa Tkalcan

Fans of folk and world music are spoilt for choice this month with five festivals in Helsinki and surroundings.

The first, the three-day Faces "ethnofestival", gets underway on Friday Aug. 5 in the village of Fiskars, some 85 km west of the capital. The event has been held in three other locations in western Uusimaa since starting in 1998, but this new site should be easier to access for attendees coming from Helsinki and Turku.

And while the festival has never booked big musical stars, this year's line-up features better-known names than in the recent past.

These include Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät (PKN), a punk quartet who stirred much publicity for the rights of the disabled as Finland's 2015 Eurovision representatives. Another is old-school rapper and political activist Paleface, who's been headlining the big festivals this summer with the Ricky-Tick Big Band, and Arja Saijonmaa, the biggest Finnish-born star in Sweden, will perform a set of Greek music.

Jazz pianist and former culture minister Claes Andersson will lead the festival's annual poetry evening, while other events feature acts as diverse as Clowns without Borders and the Wheelchair Dancers of Pirkanmaa.

Older Finns will remember rock and folk stars of the '70s and '80s such as Tuomari Nurmio, Edu Kettunen and Sakari Kukko. The latter has played in many cross-cultural bands, as has multi-instrumentalist and Ismo Alanko sidekick Teho Majamäki.

Russian Karelia to DRC

Such multi-national groups are at the heart of the Faces agenda, which seeks to boost integration and attention for immigrant artists.

The most established of these include Malang Cissokho, a Senegal-born kora (lute) player who has toured with J. Karjalainen and sang on his hit "Missä se Väinö on?" Also on the bill are London-born Jamaican reggae singer Mikey General, along with Russian-Karelian rock band Santtu Karhu & Talvisovat.

While these artists are seasoned pros, the most exciting shows could come from groups of new arrivals such as The Asylum Seekers, with members from Iraq and Somali, the Baghdad Band, which features Iraqi, Syrian and Palestinian musicians. Other groups are made up of people from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iran and Lebanon, often in collaboration with Finns.

Etno-Espa: Free shows in the park

Malang Cissokho is also on the stellar line-up of Etno-Espa, a daily series of free outdoor concerts at the Esplanade Park Bandshell (Aug. 8-17, Mon-Sat 4 and 5.15 pm). Others include Finns who're well known on the European folk and world-music circuit, such as accordionist Maria Kalaniemi, singer and kantele player Sanna Kurki-Suonio, and stand-up bassist Markku Lepistö.

The series is capped off with a Night of the Arts (Aug. 25) show headlined by Tuomari Nurmio at the new Allas Sea Pool by the Market Square.

Flow: Ghanaian pop, Finnish roots

While Flow Festival (12-14 Aug) focuses mostly on quirky pop and electronic music, it does feature world and folk acts, particularly on its 360-degree Balloon stage.

This time around they include two Ghanaian singers Ata Kak and Pat Thomas, as well as Nigerian drummer Tony Allen. He appears with Brooklyn soul import Nicole Willis and her Finnish partner Jimi Tenor. Another New Yorker, Laraaji, makes a rare appearance with his zithers and ambient electronics, while A-WA features a trio of Yemenite sisters from Israel, also with a strong dose of electronica.

Domestic acts include folk-rocker J. Karjalainen, who has in recently delved into old-time Finnish-American music, genre-busting percussionists Samuli Kosminen and Tatu Rönkkö, and Okra Playground, a youthful Helsinki band with energetic female vocals who've been selected for the prestigious WOMEX Festival in Spain this October.

Huvila: Tasty pairings

Drum legend Tony Allen is back a few weeks later for the Helsinki Festival's Huvila tent series (Aug 19-Sep 4), which is always adventurously global. This time Allen is part of an all-star band assembled by 83-year-old Jamaican guitar pioneer Ernest Ranglin for his farewell tour, featuring Senegalese singer Cheikh Lô.

For world-music enthusiasts, the Huvila shows often sport intriguing support acts for the bigger names. For instance, Estonia's Trad. Attack opens for Afro-Celt Sound System, Hungary's Cimbalom Duo is paired with Argentina's Orquesta Típica Fernández Fierro,

Mark Eliyahu, a Russian-born Israeli, plays the ancient Persian kamancheh before India's Anoushka Shankar – daughter of the late master Ravi Shankar and half-sister of Norah Jones – takes the stage with her sitar.

There's an Iberian double-bill of Portuguese singer Teresa Salgueiro of Madredeus and Galicia's Davide Salvado. Finnish jazz pianist Kari Ikonen’s new African-influenced trio warms up for electronics-heavy Congolese band Mbongwana Star.

Modern Sky: K-pop and murder ballads

Like Flow, the Modern Sky festival (26-27 Aug) also focuses mostly on electronica and indie rock acts such as Zola Jesus, K-X-P, LCMDF and Ethiopian-born Finnish folkie Mirel Wagner.

Yet also offers a rare chance to see Asian artists, this time ranging from Indian glitch-hop producer EZ Riser to South Korean post-rock group Jabinai along with an array of Chinese and Japanese bands. The two-day event in an ex-industrial space in the Kallio neighbourhood is paralleled by EARS, a Nordic-Asian entertainment business conference.

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