Sommelo festival celebrates its 10th anniversary

This summer a festival unlike any other, Sommelo is celebrating its tenth anniversary. Held on July 5–7, Sommelo is organized on both side of the borders of Finland and Russia. Selected five years in a row on the list of best international festivals by Songlines, Sommelo’s strength lies in preserving tradition.

In celebration of the anniversary we asked a few questions from the festival’s Artistic Director, Taito Hoffrén.

Tell us about the background of Sommelo.

Before Sommelo there’s already been projects concentrating on folk music in Kuhmo, mainly organized by Juminkeko Foundation [the information center for the Kalevala and Karelian culture]. Kainuu is a historically important area regarding Finland’s oldest musical tradition, the archaic runo singing. In cultural-historical terms the border separating Kainuu and Dvina Karelia is a relatively new and insignificant matter – as a cultural area it’s more or less unified and one of the birth places of the Kalevala: here Elias Lönnrot gathered a substantial amount of runo singing tradition for his national epic.

Although the significance of the border feels large nowadays, the appeal of Sommelo festival is exactly the fact that concerts and performances take place on both sides of the border. The most special one is the village of Haiko. It’s like a living museum, a place where there’s still no electricity and the light is produced with an aggregate. The phone lines were installed just a few years ago. 

An artist performing on a rock by the beach, the audience sitting in the grass, lake, smoke sauna and the nightless night ­ – that pretty much sums up the most important offering of Sommelo. It’s truly the real exoticism both for the Finnish and the foreign visitor. 

What can we expect from the programme of the anniversary year?

The programme is looking good! In addition to the small-scale events held on the other side of the border, Kuhmo will be filled with festival spirit in form of large concerts, programme for children etc.  Kuhmo is a fine culture city with good concert venues. Our biggest effort this year is bringing the vast ensemble of Sibelius Academy Folk Big Band to Kuhmo. 40th anniversary celebrating Piirpauke is also on the programme. Despite a great line-up, the overall experience and bringing archaic tradition to the fore-front is still Sommelo’s greatest strength.