Helsinki-Cotonou Ensemble
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Helsinki-Cotonou Ensemble

Helsinki, Central Finland, Finland | Established. Jan 01, 2014 | INDIE

Helsinki, Central Finland, Finland | INDIE
Established on Jan, 2014
Band World Jazz




"Oh Brother, these brothers!"

A new group appeared to Finland’s scene this spring complitely out of nowhere, Finnish-African Helsinki-Cotonou Ensemble. And quite a group it is.

Highly capable yet quite undefinable collective of approximately eight guys performs music, that inevitably reminds you of the audience friendly jazz groupings of recent years from Dalindéo to Ricky-Tick Big Band. Yet the style is complitely it’s own. Helsinki-Cotonou Ensemble diverges from it’s colleagues with a colourful Africa- connection.

The story of the band is great. A year and a half ago guitarist Janne Halonen, drummer Juha Räsänen and basist Sampo Riskilä travelled from Helsinki to Finnish-African culture center Villa Karo, Benin with a goal to put together a band and record compositions by Halonen. They took along a backpack filled with recording gear. A drum set was borrowed from the village of Grand-Popo’s lower elementary school, and a rehearsal space was found from a terrace of a restaurant. The additional musicians from Benin were project’s other founding father Noël Saïzonou and a local series of musician-brothers from a family of Ahouandjinou.

The recording sessions started in Cotonou in a studio of Oscar and Angelique Kidjo with equipment from the 90’s. Plenty of hassle followed. Massive amounts of cultural differences and technical problems. Yet judging from the outcome, the guys had also packed plenty of patience, determination and true musicianship for their trip.

”Beaucoup de Piment!” is a miraculously prime product both technically and musically. Of course the record has been post-produced in Finland with care. The Finnish-Beninese collaboration combines vivid Modern Jazz, Funky beats and edgy Afrobeat in an innovating manner. Behind everything one can hear the magnificient Beninese rhythms of Voodoo. Percussionist Saïzonou in the middle of his drum arsenal seems to be in flames. Hip Hop to the soup is brought by Axl Smith, who raps on one track called ”The Gong”.
If this doesn’t move the listener, then what does!

Different styles overlapp seamlessly. No wonder, since they are all related. While some songs are clearly jazzier, others are pure Africa. The soudscape is rich: there’s the softness of Rhodes, deep and crispy basslines, ringing of bells. Especially outstanding job does the horn section, that has been reinforced in Finland with Panu Syrjänen and Mikko Pettinen.

The only crack on the record is track number five ”Chop’n Chop” where the lead is sung by Janne Halonen, yet his pronounciation of English and singer habitus aren’t quite convincing enough.
The band will be touring this summer at many festivals in Finland. Boisterous flow of the record gives the impression, that there will be plenty energy reserved for the live shows - and even further.

-Mari Koppinen - Helsingin Sanomat (Finland's biggest Newspaper)

"HELSINKI-COTONOU ENSEMBLE "Beaucoup De Piment!", No Problem! Music."

Frozen Finland meets boiling Benin, which sounds like a treat for both parties and also the hungry listener. The story is that three Finns went to West Africa to investigate deep voodoo rhythms and they ended up with most of this CD and a band ready to tour the stages of the world. Weather Report meets Fela, you might say. They are good enough.

First impression is indeed something like afrobeat. Reasonable: Cotonou is an hour down the coast from Nigerian border. That impression is followed by a swaggering lump of big-band jazz – TV detective music, seamlessly blending bold horns and snaky rhythms. There’s even a rather polite form of rap to open The Gong, but it soon moves on. There’s plenty of variety, but actually this band doesn’t step too far from where it excels – arrangements that are complex but still somehow clean and powerful. All is well-regulated.

The pre-eminent figure in the band – producer, co-engineer and songwriter (with percussionist Noël Saïzonou) – is one Janne Halonen. He also happens to be a dramatic and eloquent guitar player, equally convinc- ing on stabbing interjection and fast, lyrical runs. He often takes the lead – and how lucky he is to have such a sharp and intelligent gang of collaborators. And such a rich and potent range of rhythms on which to build.

Rick Sanders - fRoots Magazine, October 2013


Single: "The Gong" feat. Axl Smith, release date: 15th of April 2013. digitally.

CD: "Beaucoup de Piment!", release date: 7th of May 2013. CD, Digital



" Weather Report meets Fela, you might say. They are good enough."

This is how Rick Sanders of fRoots magazine wrote about Helsinki-Cotonou Ensemble. With their debut album Beaucoup de Piment (a lot of pepper) released in May 2013, the band demonstrated they are a sharp and intelligent gang of musicians able to produce arrangements that are complex but at the same time clean and powerful. Drawing inspiration from the roots of Afrobeat, they use their jazz experience to expand on Voodoo rhythms with a modern urban touch.Their live performances put Finland under fire for the whole summer 2013.

HCE's story is rather unique. In january 2012 three musicians from Helsinki, Finland followed their dream and travelled to Benin, West-Africa. They hooked up with virtuoso singer/percussionist Nol Sazonou, called up the best musicians from the country's biggest city Cotonou, and so was the first edition of Helsinki-Cotonou Ensemble born.

During the period of six weeks, the group went through some incredible adventures in the homeland of Voodoo, rehearsed daily, played three shows and recorded an album. Later the album was completed and mixed in Finland, and it's release on May 7th 2013 was followed by a tour of 19 concerts and plenty of acclaiming press.

HCE's music is all written by the band's guitarist Janne Halonen and percussionist/ lead vocalist Nol Sazonou. The writing process started as early as 2009, when Halonen first travelled to Benin to learn the traditional rhythms of Voodoo. For three years Halonen and Sazonou bounced ideas and searched for the right people for their project.

When Sazonou visited Finland in 2011, drummer Juha Rsnen and bassist Sampo Risikil joined the project. The quartet became the core of HCE, and it was to be strengthened with local super musicians, whether the band operated on European or African soil. The current and for now established line up of HCE is listed below.

Helsinki-Cotonou Ensemble impresses it's listener not only with intense moods and joyful yet virtuoso performances, but also with fresh and carefully crafted songwriting. As composers Sazonou and Halonen are enough far apart to make the cocktail something completely new, yet they both possess enough musicianship to complement each other's works.

In January 2014 the dynamic duo sat down once again for 3 weeks on the sunny beaches of Grand-Popo, and finalized their sketches for the 2nd record. This summer the band will be on the road again, expanding  their travels from Finland to Sweden, Denmark and all the way down to Italy. By the end of the year, a 2nd record release is also to be expected.

Band Members