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).