Akasia News

World Music System at Feeniks club

Next Thursday (October 6th) is a great occasion for lovers of really good music around Helsinki. Camilla Heidenberg (FINLAND, former scholarhip holder of Villa Karo) and Georges Abgazahou (BENIN) are giving a concert at Feeniks club.
As the artists put it, prepare yourself “for a soulful mixture of afro, pop, jazz and classical music with piano, vocals, djembe, percussion”.

The group has been performing all over Finland and in France this past summer. As George’s stay in Europe is, for now, coming to it’s end in a few weeks, this will be one the last possibilities to hear their music live in Finland this year. Don’t miss it!

World Music System at

Musiikkitalon klubi, Mannerheimintie 13A

Tursday 6th October at 10pm.

A Glimpse of Villa Karo and Grand-Popo on YLE Areena

The Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra (RSO) visited Villa Karo in 2009 to honour the 10th anniversary of the centre by playing a concert for the people of Grand-Popo. The concert was held on the stage of Lissa Gbassa, VK’s exhibition and concert building, by the beach of Grand-Popo. RSO’s eventful trip became the subject of a documentary film (Afrikan sinfonia, directed by Jenni Nyberg, YLE productions).

Also meet the dancing and singing children of Grand-Popo as well as Noël Zaïzonou, a Beninese virtuoso in dance and music. How do they see our western musical tradition?

Click here for a taste of cross-cultural music.


Between a dream and reality, there seems to be a distance that is never measured but the most important thing is that the dream comes true whatever the distance. Villa Karo dreamt some years ago of having on stage a famous gospel artist. His name Djidjoho Hounkponou. A maraton of negotiation that took weeks finally proved futile with a signature of the renown gospel artist on a two page contract that was signed on the 9th of August 2011. . .

3rd September, preparations were set to receive the artist on stage at 9pm. As early as around 19 hours people from all nook and corners of Grand-Popo, Adjaha, Hillakondji and Comé took to the only unique paved street of Grand-Popo’s keskusta and trooped towards Villa Karo, just to witness their favourite program of Premier Samedi du mois; MONTHLY CONCERT.

Publicities from two local radios and posters intrigued all gospel lovers. Youth, elders and especially children trailed behind their parents to be part of the monthly event, “sans blague”. One could hardly move two steps on the parking lot full of mopeds without trying to avoid body collision with the incoming audience. Djidjoho Hounkponou alias Jonny Sourou is one of the greatest gospel artist in Benin today. Talented from his infancy he got lot of inspiration from music like Afro-beat and Djoudjou from Nigeria, M’bala from Senegal and Laroumba from the Congos.

Jonny Sourou

Pushed by his determination to succeed, he continued struggling despite hard times, he left the storm behind him and imposed his music to the gospel world. At present he is rated second in the Benin musical circus. 9 pm on the dot, Jonny Sourou was welcomed on stage by two lovely and elegantly dressed ladies, Sylvie and Georgette who presented in English, French and Mina for the benefit of all.
Temptation to dance, constantly run through my nerves but I tried to quench my desire with some quick steps at the background responding to the rhythm. Audience without hesitation danced their hearts out with unlimited joy. Villa Karo’s trainee Emilia also cracked, went wild with joy, responded to the invitation of the artist on stage. I hardly recognised my colleague in such a joyous mood.

Soaked from head to toe with popular gospel tunes, the great audience, one of the biggest of all times periodically exploded with great joy, since everything that commences has an end, so was the concert. We parted home fully satisfied.
Concert was great, Audience was great!! everything was great. Chaoo Chaoo till next time.


Jonny and Emilia

Music and language

Felix Agossou and Janne Storm

« BRASSAGE » Brewing two cultures depends not on language.

Janne Storm a Finnish musician stipendiate who arrived in Benin on the 30th of August, made his way to Grand-Popo comfortably via inexpressive transport services of Alphonse Bodjrenou, recently ranked to the grade of Field Marshal in Villa Karo. Felix Agossou, the African resident artist already mentioned in our precedent publication on Akasia News, is a great and respected saxophonist in Benin. Both, quiet, brainy and enthusiastic, effortlessly merged their energies to break a relative language barrier because Janne hardly speaks a word in French and Felix speaks no English at all.

They got settled down for business as fast as they can. Lissa Gbassa is the venue of daily practice after breakfast. Sounds that came from their direction pushed my curiousity to invest in their training session by becoming a lonely spectator. Both charming guys Janne and Felix ignored the problematic solvable language barrier with drums, saxophone and the gong all combined to give another language « MUSIC » which is understood by all. Even my five year old grand son understands them with rythmical body movements as I nod my head to accompany him. A third fellow Gabriel is a drummer who assists Felix in his arrangement with Janne. After two weeks of coperation, Janne, Felix and Gabriel have recorded four songs and are preparing the fith. Braaaavooooooo.



Janne, Felix and Gabriel

A Recipe for Understanding

The newspaper Kouvolan Sanomat published a large article about Villa Karo last week (by Henna Mäkelin, Sept. 6th). The article was based upon VK’s last year’s scholarship holder Aleksi Saraskari’s experiences in working with local musicians in Benin. According to Aleksi, a tuba player, his first impressions on his Beninese colleagues’ percussion skills weren’t favourable. The two fellows playing balafon and djembe seemed like nice chaps but their beat was odd, not precise enough to a highly educated musician.

Although their first session wasn‘t very satisfying, he decided to take part in another one the next day. This time the trio was joined by a fourth member, another local djembe player. When the locals started their odd beat again a revelation hit the Finn: the two djembes were playing the same weird, imprecise rhythm minute after minute, synchronously. Aleksi understood that this time it actually wasn’t their sense of rhythm but his that needed work. In his own words, he had to forget about what he had learned in Sibelius Academy and start from scratch in order to learn to play the local music. I wonder how often a hasty conclusion, like the one Aleksi first made, is the reason for misunderstandings in multicultural encounters. For it is so easy and yet so ineffective to try and grasp something that is different when the process of understanding is based merely on one’s own knowledge and experience of the world.

Aleksi’s method proved to be very effective. At first, he simply put his instrument down and started the process of learning by simply listening the beat that was so unintuitive for him. This resulted in friendship and musical partnership with the Beninese musicians. In fact, one of them, Georges Agbazahou, is in Finland as I’m writing this to teach music and play concerts with Aleksi and other Finnish musicians. And of course, to also take his turn in being the cultural pupil that Aleksi was in Benin a year ago.

Aleksi also learned from his African colleagues a motto that is always worth saying, writing, publishing, posting and even shouting out loud: L‘amour règne! Love rules! And that this thought should be the aiming point for all of us.

A clip from the article from Kouvolan Sanomat with Aleksi‘s colleagues‘ motto (never mind the typo).


She arived safely in Grand-Popo under a non protocol escort of Alphonse. Already enjoying the atmosphere and hospitality of her future co-workers for the next six months, Emilia Rüf immediately digested a clear and fraternal message of her collaborators, Staff introduction followed the next day under the famous akasia trees. Emilia took note and observed with attention during the meeting that took two hours. It’s no need asking her about the number of friends she made already in two weeks.


Change in deadline for applying for a scholarship / muutos stipendin hakuajassa

Artists, researchers, teachers, journalists, cultural workers! The deadline for applying for a scholarship for next spring  in Villa Karo has been postponed this year to September 15. Wanna go to Africa?

Taiteilijat, tutkijat, opettajat, toimittajat, kulttuurialan ihmiset! Villa Karon ensi kevään stipendin hakuaikaa on tänä vuonna pidennetty. Viimeinen hakupäivä on 15. syyskuuta 2011. Haluatko Afrikkaan?

Click here to learn more (in Finnish).