Marjo Smolander: Cosmologies

October 28, 2021


Listening Post 324. Abbreviated version of Marjo Smolander’s biography: Born in the smallest village in Finland’s North Karelia region, she made the Sahara her second home and had to pull strings to get where she is today. Expanded story: It was in her fortunate village, Rääkkylä, that Finland’s most important folk band, Värttinä, formed in 1983; in the local music boom that ensued, young Marjo studied voice and kantele (the box zither that is Finland’s national instrument) and one of Värttinä’s founders became her teacher. Deeply rooted in Finnish-Karelian tradition, Smolander earned a folk music degree from Helsinki’s Sibelius Academy and at 19 had the pivotal experience of appearing at a festival in Senegal, where she performed with kora master Solo Cissokho. She returned to Senegal and Mali for extended periods, studying kora and ngoni and developing a musical language built on the extraordinary convergence of subarctic and tropical soundscapes. Cosmologies, the artist’s debut solo album, is a diary of her journey, highlighting cultural coexistence and the challenges of living and raising children in two worlds—framed by her graceful vocals and collaborations with a top-notch roster of Nordic and West African musicians. In Kukkani (My Flowers, video 1), kantele and kora provide a soothing backdrop to Smolander’s reflection on taking her daughters to the desert. Myöhästytään elämästä (Late for Life, video 2) is a frenzied reminder that motherhood can be just as demanding in the snows of Helsinki, while Mitä minä (The Anger, video 3) maps the mental bruises of a broken relationship. In Ténéré, a kantele-to-electric guitar progression and Ahmed ad Kaedy’s voice in Tamasheq steer the transition to a Sahara state of mind (video 4). And inspired by a visit to her grandmother’s home village, Sirkkala is a daydream of Smolander’s own childhood (video 5). With an expansive vision and a lot of pluck, she brings distant worlds together. (Manus)

Related post. Zäpämmät: Äiti Maa, Listening Post 260, July 7, 2020.

Marjo Smolander: Cosmologies
Marjo Smolander: Vocals, kantele
Ahmed ag Kaedy: Vocals, electric guitar
Eliza Boye Mouritsen: Violin, vocals, percussions
Dawda Jobarteh: Kora
Mikko Hassinen: Percussions
Jenni Hanikka: Bass, alto and sopranino recorders, vocals, diz
Yatma Thiam: Sabar, tama, tassou
Babacar Faye: Sabar, tama
Macodou Samb: Bongo


Kukkani / My Flowers
Lyrics & music: Marjo Smolander
Marjo Smolander: Vocals, kantele
Dawda Jobarteh: Kora

From the album notes: I see my little family, my two children and me, as an organic symbiosis where we all, in our own turn, push the boundaries. Everyone has her own role in a meadow. We grow together, but at our own speed, like different flowers. “Please forgive me if you suffer because of me.” This song was born when I lived in Mali with my children in 2014-2015. At the same time when I was living my dream, my oldest child was physically suffering from homesickness, which made me critically evaluate the consequences of my decisions on them.

(From the Finnish lyrics)
You are like a windflower, so sensitive and beautiful
Forgive me, please don’t wilt just yet

You are like a red rose, so furious and strong
You miss your father, you are a father’s daughter

I’m like a lonely lupine, persistent, I won’t ever give up
We are together, growing here together


Myöhästytään elämästä / Late for Life
Lyrics & music: Marjo Smolander
Marjo Smolander: Vocals, kantele
Mikko Hassinen: Percussion

Album notes: This song was born in the winter of 2018 when there was plenty of snow in Helsinki. Every morning I pulled two snarling children, neither wanting to walk, in one sledge in a terrible hurry so they wouldn’t be late for school. The children would arrive at school late and crying, I would walk back home in a rage, sweating and crying. The bottomless hopelessness and insufficiency took over me morning after morning. Can I manage parenting at all? To all my dear independent and incredible strong mum-friends: Without your solidarity I would not be here.

(From the Finnish lyrics)
What is the meaning of all this?/Two were given to me: two flowers, two birds, two beautiful little seedlings
Who thought I can do this, can raise two alone?/Who thought I can survive the lives of three?

It feels that we can’t survive mornings without all falling apart because of the wrong bread lost beanie ugly dress, sister’s friend’s mother’s wrong and stupid assumptions
We arrive at school. Lessons have already started/I push you inside, tearful. I run away like a criminal


In one minute can a candle fall down nerves explode, phone break down?
In one minute can the glass break, milk spill on the carpet, a shard of glass embed into a leg evening becomes a night at the emergency department, emergency department?
We are late for school we are late for work


Can’t give up can’t give up there’s nothing to give up. Hehehee/In one minute can a candle fall down nerves explode, phone break down?
In one minute can the glass break, milk spread in the carpet, a shard of glass embed into a leg evening becomes a night at the emergency department, emergency department?

We are late for school, we are late for work. You are late for school, I’m late for work. We are late for the elevator, we are late for the bus, we are late for the circus, we are late for the dance, we are late for the gig, we are later for the toilet, we are late for the doctor’s, we are late for the traffic lights, we are later for school, we are late for the end of semester assembly, we are later for the parent teacher meeting, we are later for home, we are late for going to bed we are late for life.


In the evening the house goes silent/I’m asking forgiveness from the sleeping ones
Why can’t I be present and just take on how much I love you?

What is the meaning of this all?/Two were given to me


Mitä miná / The Anger
Lyrics & music: Marjo Smolander
Marjo Smolander: Vocals, kantele
Eliza Boye Mouritsen: Vocals, violin, percussion
Jenni Hanikka: Vocals, recorders

Album notes: A spell to drive away bitterness and anger. What is the shared reality in an intimate relationship? Is there even such a thing? We all live in our own bubbles seeing other people’s thinking and actions from our own perspective only. This song is about the moment when you realize that, for years and years, you have lived in a different reality. You begin to see through the lies and the manipulation. Everything collapses. What is left from the past? To all who have been mentally bruised and controlled in an intimate relationship…

(From the Finnish lyrics)
What do I do with these eyes, with these eyes?/I’m not going to give them my gaze anymore

What do I do with these promises, these promises?/They were jingling like small bells in the wind, and I can still hear them jingling!

What do I do with that truth, that truth?/Should I make that Truth my obsession, and lose my sense and the last of my ability to trust?

What do I do with these memories, these memories?/They were decorated with cream and bitterness

What do I do with those words, those words?/Words are useless, only actions make a difference in the end

The anger is rolling inside of me and the bitterness eats all/It darkens the mind, cheats the laughter to my neighbour

But now I will lay it! I will force it to go!/To leave my poor person alone, to spare this lady from the huge anger and horrible bitterness!

What do I do with this anger?


Lyrics: Marjo Smolander & Ahmed ag Kaedy/Music: Marjo Smolander & Ahmed ag Kadey
Marjo Smolander: Vocals, kantele
Ahmed ag Kaedy: Vocals, electric guitar

Album notes: The Finnish part of this song was born in the back seat of a red van in Western Sahara when I was traveling by car from Finland to Gambia in 2017. The Tamasheq part was born in 2019 in Bamako when Ahmed and I started playing the song together. Ahmed is from Kidal, North Mali, and the part of the Sahara where he lives is called Ténéré. The desert is much more than sand, wind, and hot sun. It’s a state of mind. In this song Ahmed and I share our experiences of the Sahara. To the healing wind that waves my hair: “Wind bring me home when my time is over”

(From the Finnish and Tamasheq lyrics)
Wind catches my hair when I peek from the car’s window/Hands on the wheel are covered with sweat, sand, and the heat of the sun.

A boy with brown hair is standing on the border of two countries/He plants his tears in the Desert, like planting hope

Time can’t catch us now, it’s running somewhere else.


Lyrics & music: Marjo Smolander
Marjo Smolander: Vocals, kantele
Eliza Boye Mouritsen: Vocals, violin
Jenni Hanikka: Vocals, redorders 

In the summer of 2019 I traveled to the village of Häkkilä in Haukivuori, central Finland, with my grandmother Aune. We visited her childhood home in the middle of the bushes and millions of mosquitoes. I had heard from her so many stories about that little red house. She has millions of love-filled memories of her childhood there. After that trip I wrote this song for my childhood home. How would I see my childhood home when I’m old? I grew up there and experienced hundreds of adventures when time was passing slowly, as it does for a child. To my home in Rääkkylä.

(From the Finnish lyrics)
Birch trees in Sirkkala are painted in my mind/Aspen, midsummer roses, hay that swayed

A spruce is miserable and stooped over, watching in the fence/Those fields which are now flattened, the convoys of the rain

I will not let it disappear from my mind



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