I’m sure I don’t have to remind you that we have a whole lot of worries in Finland and Europe at this time. A little positive energy shouldn’t be too much to ask for.

The Beninese-Finnish jazz group Helsinki-Cotonou Ensemble (HCE) has been eagerly expected to tour in Finland and Europe to deliver us a truckload of groove again this summer in support of their award winning and highly praised sophomore album Fire, Sweat and Pastis.

But our hopes were dashed. Why?

The Embassy of the Netherlands in Benin, who is tasked with handling visa applications for the Beninese planning to travel to Finland, refused to grant a visa to 37-year old Noël Saizonou, musical frontman of the group. Hence, we’re gonna miss this.

Photo: Sami Mannerheimo

Noël is a percussion virtuoso, multi-instrumentalist, dancer, singer, composer and one-in-a-million talent. For over ten years he’s been performing in Finland and Benin with a bunch of Finnish and Beninese frontline musicians such as saxophonist Eero Koivistoinen. He’s been starring in Dance Theatre ERI’s productions. He’s been teaching future Masters of Music in Sibelius Academy. Just google the guy. He’s all over the place.

Beside his upcoming tour dates with HCE, he was to perform as soloist for the Finnish jazz institution, UMO Jazz Orchestra, alongside his HCE sidekick, guitarist Janne Halonen. He was also booked to teach at the Academy again among other artistic ventures.

Noël’s visa track record is clean. So the question is:

What does it take for an African professional such as Noël Saizonou to prove his worth to the bouncers at the gates of the EU? He shouldn’t even have to be a highly talented person to get here. He’s got work here to be done. Besides, Noël isn’t the only person now losing his job and income. This concerns the rest of the band, too, and compromises their status as the most influential current Finnish world music act.

And the right wing populists say that getting to Finland is too easy for foreigners. Yeah, right…

Photo: Wilhelm Kvist

However, Noël will be shortly filing another visa demand again backed with invitation letters and documents from Janne Halonen and the Finnish-African cultural centre Villa Karo.

But you can help, too. Spread this message. It is a way to say that we won’t tolerate this. Show your support to Noël and HCE. Why?

Because #wewannadance. And there sure as hell is nothing wrong with that.


Miikka Pörsti

Writer and friend of Noël’s