Most people’s idea of tango music evokes a night-time display of poise and passion in a small cafe in the backstreets of Buenos Aires. But what you may not know is that through travelling musicians, the dance and its music reached Finland in the 1920s and ‘30s. From there it became so popular that Finnish tango music has become an established variation of the genre in its own right, with often melancholic compositions expressing themes of love, loss and Finns longing for a distant homeland.
Now a group of Icelandic musicians called Fimm í tango (Five In Tango) seek to transpose Finnish tango music to Iceland to create an Icelandic variation on the sound. The Grapevine sat down with their cellist Kristin Lárusdóttir.
How did you first come into contact with Finnish Tango music?
I lived in Finland for five years where I was studying music. While I was there I got to know and learn about Finnish tradition and cultures, and Tango music especially.
It’s a big thing in Finland?
You just can’t avoid hearing tango music in Finland because it’s such as part of the musical culture. I think you need to have a feeling of the Finnish nation and after a while it was something that grew to become a natural to me.
When I moved back to Iceland, I started missing Finland and its music. I was working in the opera with [opera singer] Ágúst Ólafsson, who had also lived in Finland and had gotten acquainted with Finnish tango music as well. It was then that I got the idea of putting together a group to play tango music. It was like a calling, I somehow knew we should be doing Finnish tango together.
So you started the group then?
Yes. It was spring of 2007 when we started putting this together. I talked to Ágúst and my friend Íris, who was studying in Germany and was playing violin in a tango band there… it all came together rather naturally. I then got Tatu Kantomaa, a Finnish accordion player who was living in Iceland, to play with us. Finally I managed to get hold of Ástríður Alda Sigurðardóttir for the piano. She’s one of the best piano players around. However Tatu moved back to Finland so we now have a new accordionist, Vadim Fyodorov, who is from St. Petersburg in Russia and is a very clever accordionist.
When you made your debut album, you collaborated with a diverse group of composers such as Haraldur Vignir Sveinbjörnsson and jazz composer Hafdís Bjarnadóttir. Was it difficult getting these people on board?
At first we spoke to Haraldur Vignir and he worked with Tatu on arrangements of traditional Finish tango compositions for us, but then he also brought a piece of music especially composed for us and it started from there. In the end, it was easy to get Haraldur and Hafdís involved and they composed most of the tracks on the album for us.
Is there something that you could say is inherently Icelandic in these new compositions?
It’s hard to say. I know that Haraldur has composed tangos before, and both he and Hafdís are inspired by the Finnish style. But it’s still early days.
How do you feel that the public reaction to your music has been?
The audiences have really loved it. After our release show at the Cultural House, we even got an email from a fan thanking us for an unforgettable concert and for such a special experience. That was unexpected. They seem really into it.
Some tango music has already been made in Iceland, but not a lot of it. There have been some groups that have played Argentinean tango, among other forms of tango, but very few groups have specialised just in tangos and played it regularly. Some of them have already quit playing or have taken a long break.
But I feel there is a desire for tango in Iceland. For example there are two dance groups in Reykjavík and one in Akureyri.
So what are your plans for Fimm í tango over the coming year?
Well our album is now available at the Eymundsson bookshops as well as at our website. We do plan to make it available online in the near future through sites like gogoyoko. As for playing concerts, we have a concert scheduled at Cafe Rósenberg in June.
But what we hope to do is to get some support to put together a tango festival that would be held in September, to promote the music in Iceland. We’d be looking to bring artists and bands from Finland as well as promoting tango music and artists from Iceland. My hope is that we can make more out of the tango music groups that already exist, add to them and maybe we can develop some kind of very special Icelandic tango. Who knows if the Icelandic tango could become rich part of the Icelandic culture, like it is in Finnish culture.