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Written in fRoots issue 358, April 2013


Global Music Centre GMCD 1223 (2012)

Sounds Tanzanian, but what’s that lead instrument… a kantele?
     In Sibelius Academy Folk Music Department’s studio in Helsinki in the mid-1990s we were having fun with some kwela-ish African approaches to a track for a Nikolai Blad album, when a beaming face appeared at the door. Turned out to be Arnold Chiwalala from Tanzania, the only African studying in the folk music department, with as his main instrument 5- and later 10-stringed kanteles. Back home he’d played the Tanzanian stringed instrument zeze, came across the kantele in Finland and was gradually developing ways of using it in Tanzanian-rooted music.
     The years have passed, Arnold settled in Finland, got his master’s degree and then a Doctorate based on combining Tanzanian and Finnish folk music and dance. Now comes this album, of his own music that he calls, combining the words Chiwalala, zeze and kantele, “chizentele”. He’s joined by Finnish, Tanzanian and Senegalese born musicians: guitarist and trumpeter Topi Korhonen, saxist/clarinettist Sami Kurppa, bassist Libasse Sall and percussionists Ricardo Padilla and Menard Mponda.
     The result, fronted by his warm, dusty vocals and the interlocking plucked strings of 10-string kantele and acoustic guitar, is joyful, loping, dancingly sprung; on the surface East African music, but with lots within it that could only have happened in Finland. Playing with the neighbours; isn’t that what folk music is?


© 2013 Andrew Cronshaw

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