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Music and photography highlight endangered Mari culture

Celebrated photographer Meeri Koutaniemi, music collective ÄÄninen and three local artists came together on Friday night in Rovaniemi to celebrate and highlight the culture of the Mari, a Finno-Ugric ethnic minority living mainly in Russia.

Kuvajournalisti Meeri Koutaniemi matkusti Marin tasavaltaan toukokuussa 2015. Kuvat nähdään ensimmäisen kerran Matka marien maalle - kiertueella elokuussa.
Photographer Meeri Koutaniemi's pictures accompany the ÄÄninen collective this August. Image: Meeri Koutaniemi

The inaugural event for a cultural tour called Matka marien maalle ("A journey into the land of the Mari") was held yesterday Friday in Rovaniemi, Lapland. The music for the night was provided by a six-member musical collective called ÄÄninen, which started out in the spring with a multidisciplinary project in Berlin, Germany.

The collective states that their goal is to organise musical events themed around important social concerns, in addition to playing traditional concerts, and to bring their art to easy-to-access locations.

"We play in various village halls and cafes and such," says pianist Väinö Jalkanen. "In Outokumpu we're performing in a theatre built into an old mine, and in the pergament hall of an old paper factory in Jyväskylä."

ÄÄninen is composed of five Finnish and one Latvian musician, and the group is touring around Lapland and Kainuu as well as parts of Eastern and Central Finland.

Mari language, culture seen and heard

One part of the "journey" that debuted in Rovaniemi is a sound recording made by three artists living in the republic of Mari El – Valerij Mamajev, Oleg Kuzjminyh and Natalia Pushkina. The Meadow Mari minority language belongs to the Volgan group of Fenno-Ugric languages, and is therefore a relative of Finnish.

Pictures of the people's culture are painted in sound as well as pictures: photos by celebrated photograph journalist Meeri Koutaniemi, known for her work with hard-hitting social and global themes, were on display during the event. The photographs were taken in May and will form part of the ÄÄninen collective's tour throughout August.

"We thought it would be fun to include a visual aspect to the performances," Jalkanen says. "Our percussionist Sami Tammilehto knew Meeri from before and she is interested in Finnic cultures, so we put our heads together."

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