Finnish tango is an established variation of the Argentine tango and one of the most enduring and popular music forms in Finland. Brought to Europe in the 1910s by travelling musicians, Finns began to take up the form and write their own tangos in the 1930s.
By the 1940s about half of the entries on the popular music charts were occupied by tangos, and the post war period saw tangos spread from a popular urban phenomenon to their enthusiastic adoption by the countryside as well.
The Finnish tango is distinguished from other forms by its almost exclusive performance in minor keys and themes reflecting established conventions in Finnish folklore. As the head of the Finnish National Broadcaster’s gramophone library explains, “The central themes of Finnish tango lyrics are love, sorrow, nature and the countryside. Many tangos express a longing for the old homestead, or a distant land of happiness. The changing seasons of Finnish nature are frequently used metaphors: the spring breaks the hold of the winter, and flowers appear, creating new expectations. Autumn rains and dark evenings are symbols of crushed hopes.”
One of the highlights of Finnish summers is the Tangomarkkinat, or tango festival, held annually since 1985 in the central Finnish town of Seinäjoki, considered by Finnish tangophiles the “second city of tango” after, of course, Buenos Aires. The festival attracts more than 100,000 participants annually (from a population of just over 5 million) and is capped by the coronation of the tango King and Queen, who receive much domestic media attention and often recording contracts as well.
Since joining the European Union in 1995, Finland’s version of the tango has begun to receive wider attention, particularly the works of Olavi Virta and Unto Mononen, the two most renowned composer-performers.
Quick Facts Finland
Finland, Finnish Suomi (swô’mē), officially Republic of Finland, republic (2005 est. pop. 5,223,000), 130,119 sq mi (337,009 sq km), N Europe. It borders on the Gulf of Bothnia and Sweden in the west, on Norway in the north, on Russia in the east, and on the Gulf of Finland and the Baltic Sea in the south. The country includes the Åland Islands, located at the mouth of the Gulf of Bothnia. Helsinki is Finland’s capital and its largest city.
Modern Finnish popular music includes a renowned death metal scene, in common with other Nordic countries, as well as a number of prominent rock bands, jazz musicians and hip hop performers. Iskelmä (coined directly from the German word Schlager, meaning hit) is a traditional Finnish word for a light popular song. Finnish popular music also includes a large amount of opera and various kinds of dance music; tango is also very popular.