Sunday, July 26, 2015

Vain Elämää, Parasta Ennen, and Integration

During my nine-month stint studying Finnish at Winnova, we had a thing called "Music Friday". Every Friday, our teacher would play us a Finnish song, and give us a print out of the lyrics to try and see if we could lean some new words or grammar. The songs were usually, well..less than enjoyable,with artists ranging from Mamba to Anssi Kela to Chisu. However, I did appreciate what my teacher was trying to do. To me, this was about more than just learning a language. It was about understanding a culture through its, albiet bland, music.

After my course ended, and I had a better grasp of the Finnish language, I began to watch a show called Vain Elämää. Vain Elämää is a Finnish adaptation of the highly successful Dutch show called De beste zangers van Nederland, which features the biggest artists in the nation covering each other's songs and reminiscing about their careers. Though the show usually ended up being a big, crying circlejerk, as an immigrant I found it fascinating. I was able to see some of the most influential people in Finnish pop culture play their most influential songs, and learn more about pop culture in Finland over the last 25 or so years. I was finally able to put names and faces to songs I'd hear in ads or on the radio, and put songs to names I'd seen on flyers. The best part, though, was being able to hear jokes made on other TV shows about specific pop artists, and not only understand it, but be able to laugh.

Six months later, while driving back from Helsinki, my boyfriend switched on the radio, and tuned into YleX. It was a Friday night, and we were still two hours from home. What proceeded was two straight hours of eurodance and 90s nostalgia nin the form of a show called Parasta Ennen. Any anger I had toward my boyfriend for not showing me this program sooner was completely overshadowed by my sheer joy that this show existed. I wasn't only happy because I love 90s eurodance and pop, but also because this was yet another way for me to understand Finnish culture through music. While not every song played is Finnish, every song played was relevant in Finland to an extent.  Since that night, I've made it a point to listen to Parasta Ennen in its entirety every Friday night, and let my boyfriend explain to me who every artist is, and what they contributed to Finnish pop culture.

What my Finnish language teacher, along with many politicians, community leaders, and activists both for and against seem to forget is that integrating into a new culture is about much more than just following the law and being able to somewhat speak the language. We have to know recent history, not just early 1900s history.  Understanding popular culture gives us a better understanding of everything around us. if someone makes a joke, we can laugh. If an artist is having a gig, we can buy tickets and go. if pour newly discovered favorite Finnish director has a new film in theatres, we can see it. Rather than isolating us and putting us into a little immigrant "safe space" where we're surrounded by only music and art from our own respective home nations and maybe a slight bit of unoffensive Finnish pop, drop us smack in the middle of an iskelmä or eurodance festival and let us figure things out from there.  It's not about enjoying the music per se, but about learning. And don't just play us Finnish-language music, but instead play us what was popular, and what people enjoyed regardless of language.

There is no reason why any immigrant should ever have to be forced to listen to Mamba in the name of education ever again. Force us to watch Vain Elämää and listen to Parasta Ennen once a week while in our language courses, and I can guarantee Finnish society will end up with happier, more involved immigrants.

3 comments:

Kartysa said...

I'm so happy to read this kind of an opinion. Not only is it difficult to adjust to a very, very different culture but to actually make the effort to understand the lyrics and ENJOY the Finnish pop music (cause to me at least, the best ones are in Finnish), is a huge thing. Be proud!

Kartysa said...

I'm so happy to read this kind of an opinion. Not only is it difficult to adjust to a very, very different culture but to actually make the effort to understand the lyrics and ENJOY the Finnish pop music (cause to me at least, the best ones are in Finnish), is a huge thing. Be proud!

Vagabond Baker said...

Hey Licia, I totally agree with you. I've been listening to Finnish radio via the web for half a year now and it's really helping me learn the language remotely, in UK. It is also an excellent window to Finnish life and culture. I love listening to it, singing along (terribly!). I've recently started checking out the lyrics (I started with a Christmas song for a party trick!) and it's a brilliant way to learn new vocabulary!
Obviously I can't hear Finnish being spoken at all here so it's great to be able to hear it, hear the rhythm and pattern of the language.
I've enjoyed some of the tracks so much I've bought them! :)