If someone thinks, tango music is more old-fashioned, he will quickly change his mind, if he will hear Johana Juhola live on stage. The amazing Finnish accordionist knows exactly how to create amazing sounds and melodies with her accordion, alone and together with other talented musicians by mixing different music styles like tango, Folk, pop music and electronic beats. In February 2017, she released her sixth album „Diivan Jäljet – Shadow of a Diva“. With these colourful songs Johanna is now in march an april on tour in Germany. In Summer she will come to Austria too. I spoke to her to get to know more about her music, her inspiration for the new album and about her other music projects.
Interview with Johanna Juhola – Finlands greatest „fantasy tango“ accordionist
Moi Johanna, great to hear, that you are on the road again in Germany this spring with your band Johanna Juhola Reaktori. But before we start to speak about your music and current tour, I‘d like to know: Has it ever been your dream to become a professional accordionist?
I have to say that at some point, I just noticed that doing what I love the most, music, had become my profession. First it was a hobby , and I even started my course of studies in music at Sibelius Academy in Helsinki thinking that this is just something fun and maybe I will do something else for living. But before I noticed, music had taken all my time.
How old have you been, when starting to play the accordion and who inspired you to learn it?
I started to dance Finnish folk dances when I was three years old. In the rehearsals we always had live music played by an accordionist. I thought that the instrument with many buttons and moving parts was really exciting and when I was nine years old, my grandmother bought me my first accordion.
After playing the accordion for some time I got really inspired by folk music. One reason for that was, that I heard music of the Finnish accordionist Maria Kalaniemi and the great pianist and composer Timo Alakotila.
They really showed me how beautiful and also complex and interesting folk music can be. They have both been my teachers later when I studied accordion, folk music and improvisation at Sibelius Academy, the music university in Helsinki. Timo Alakotila is also my band member in Tango Orchestra Unto and in Timo Alakotila & Johanna Juhola Duo.
(VIDEO: Antti Kujanpää) Johanna has already played together with many famous Finnish musicians. Here you can hear her together with her band Johanna Juhola Reaktori performing the song „Tango kolmessa Erässä“
Are there different types of accordions, you are playing or do you have one favourite instrument with whom you are playing all your live gigs?
I’m playing the chromatic five row free bass accordion. I have two accordions of that type now, which were custom-made for me in Italy at Pigini accordion factory. They are great instruments, because I have decided about every detail and also draw pictures about how they should look.
I read that you played the opening song of the Eurovision Song contest in 2007 which is called „fantasitango“ and which is also the name of your second solo album. How would you describe your music style? What do you want to express with your music?
Fantasitango (Fantasy tango) is inspired by tango, but is not necessarily always so close to tango in the end. Fantasy tango has elements from folk music and electronics. It’s mostly instrumental music but based on stories, that I have been thinking of while composing.
I started to call all my music fantasy tango after getting that commission for Eurovision song contest opening. I thought that what they asked me to do, compose a tango fantasy or fantasy tango, was exactly how I felt my music was about, so I started calling my music style with that name.
You have already worked with several famous musicians right now and you are also a member of several bands like the Johanna Juhola Reaktori with whom you are touring in Germany and Austria at the moment? Tell me a bit about this band project.
I released my first solo album in 2006 and I had different musicians playing with me on different tracks of the album, but I wanted to have a band that would play the music of the album. That’s how Johanna Juhola Reaktori started: at the CD releasing concert at 2006.
(VIDEO: Antti Kujanpää) Johanna is performing the song „Road Assistance“ wither band Johanna Juhola Reaktori.
One of your other projects is your band project „Johanna Juhola & Imaginary Friends“. Tell us a bit about it and if you like also about some other interesting band projects of your choice.
“Johanna Juhola & Imaginary Friends” is a visual concert with me playing the accordion and also with two video screens on both sides of me. I use the video screens to show different guest musicians or sound sources, and they form a different kind of imaginary band for every tune.
I started this project when I had a gig at FINtango Festival in Hamburg in 2012, because my band members were too busy to come there with me. And so I decided to create my own imaginary band. I recorded a video of many Johannas playing accordions and other instruments and I performed together with the video projection.
For the Imaginary Friends-concerts I have created for example an accompaniment made of rain drops, umbrella sounds and traffic lights, animated folk dancers singing, clapping hands and stomping their feet and a choir leader and singer via Facetime and singing GPS navigator.
(VIDEO: Jukka Mantere) Johanna live on stage with her „imaginary“ band Johanna Juhola & Imaginary Friends.
Is there a special musician with whom you would like to make music together? Someone who inspires you the most?
There are so many amazing musicians already in Finland that it’s impossible to name one or two.
What inspires you for songwriting in general and what inspired you to write all the nice songs of your new album “Diivan Jäljet – Shadow of a Diva”?
My composing almost always starts with a story or an image. I get ideas from everyday life. I just start to think, how would this story or image or incident sound as a piece of music. I have composed music for the theater, for contemporary dance and the circus and this way of working clearly comes from there.
The compositions on the album „Diivan jäljet – Shadow of a Diva“ are mostly made between 2013 and 2015 for “Johanna Juhola & Imaginary Friends”. For the album I wanted to make versions with the musicians from my bands Johanna Juhola Reaktori and Johanna Juhola Trio. The producer of the album is Tuomas Norvio, who also plays electronics in Johanna Juhola Reaktori.
Which is your favourite song of the album “Diivan jäljet – Shadow of a Diva” and why?
This question is quite difficult to answer. I like all of the songs, but I could pick a few songs for you.
“New adventures in Candyland” makes me happy with the singing of Maija Pokela. The song is flirting a bit with pop music and it’s of light and pastel color.
When I was making “Three rounds of Tango”, I was thinking about how similar tango dancers and wrestlers looks like. They take a tight embrace and then start taking steps. I imagined how tango would be as martial arts.
“Road assistance” also makes me happy. Over the years my music has become happier after all the passionate and melancholic compositions I have made during 20 years. Road assistance is a great example of this.
The only song of your album „Diivan jäljet – Shadow of a Diva“ which is not written from yourself is called “Tanhutrauma” and is dedicated to your uncle? What is the song about?
Tanhutrauma means “Folk Dance Trauma”. The name is a small joke. At some point after dancing traditional folk dance, playing traditional folk music and wearing national costumes for performing, I really needed to forget about tradition to get forward.
But it’s always nice to return after a while and now it was time. This tune was played in our folk dance rehearsals when I was little and In Imaginary Friends concert, I played it as a duo with the accordionist who accompanied our dance rehearsals. He was on the screen, now already an old man. And there was animated little folk dancers singing as well.
What was the most extraordinary place you have already played music? Or which gig in the past was so amazing that you kept it in mind so far?
I think that the gig I will remember forever was the opening of Eurovision song contest in Helsinki 2007. It was a very good experience. The production was huge but I still got to make my own music inside that big machine.
On the other hand, I just played a very small house concert for 25 people with my guitarist from Johanna Juhola Trio and the atmosphere was amazing, so intimate and the audience can hear all the smallest nuances.
You have been in Germany on tour several times right now. What do you like about Germany. Can you see differences between German and Finnish culture? And do you have already many German fans?
Yes, I have been to Germany with my bands Johanna Juhola Reaktori and Johanna Juhola Trio several times. And also Tango Orchestra Unto and my duo with Milla Viljamaa have had gigs and tours in Germany too. Of course, I got some fans during these years, but think, that an amazing thing is, that the people also come to concerts to hear something they haven’t heard before. My music is not the music you hear on radio that much or on . So the audience also needs to be active and open-minded.
Thank you for the inspiring interview and have fun on your tour! Hope to see you live on stage soon! Just tell me if you are in Frankfurt for the next time.
Thank you too. Would be nice to meet you again.
(VIDEO: Jukka Mantere) The two musicians playing „Neljän minuutin rakkaus“ in front of the Tuomiokirkko in Helsinki.
About Johanna Juhola and her music
Johanna Juhola is a talented, modern accordionist from Finland. She calls her music style „fantasy tango“ and that‘s what her style is all about: A colourful mixture of Argentinian and Finnish tango, Finnish folk, pop music and electronic beats.
In the focus of her amazing music is her accordion, with which she is creating fantastic melodies. In February 2017 she released her sixth album „Diivan Jäljet – Shadow of a Diva“. In March and April 2019 she is touring with her band „Johanna Juhola Reaktori“ in Germany and Austria again. Her „Shadow of a Diva Tour 2019“ has already started on the 5th of March with the opening concert in the Theater Laboratorium in Oldenburg.
Johana Juhola has also several other band projects like her band Johanna Juhola Trio or the music project Johanna Juhola & Imaginary Friends. And she has made music with other famous Finnish musicians and bands too, like the Tango Orchestra Unto, Las Chicas del Tango, Troka and Spontaani Vire as well as with Timo Alakotila, Pekka Kuusisto, Milla Viljamaa or Emma Salokoski. Moreover, Johanna Juhola has already made music for the theatre or the circus as well as for film- and TV-productions too.
Discography of Johanna Juhola
- Miette (2005)
- Vapaassa Tilassa – Timo Alakotila, Johanna Juhola (2007)
- Fantasitango (2010)
- Tango Roto Live (2010)
- Fantasitango 2 (2012)
- Diivan Jäljet – Shado of a Diva (2017)
All tour dates of the „Shadow of a Diva Tour 2019“:
(PHOTO: Sami Perttilä) Johanna’s band „Johanna Juhola Reaktori“ is touring in Germany and Austria this spring.
- 5th March: Theater Laboratorium, Oldenburg
- 6th March: Jazz Club, Hannover
- 8th March: Orpheus Theater, Flensburg
- 9th March: Orpheus Theater, Flensburg
- 4th April: Zehntscheuer, Ravensburg
- 5th April: Café der Tafelhalle, Nürnberg