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50th Sata-Häme Soi: Festival of Diversity and Happiness – Finland

Pirt group pic
competition winnersRadu RatoiPicture above: Pirttilahti Tango Experience conducted by Sami Pirttilahti

Picture left: 2022 Golden Harmonica competition winner 16-year-old Ville Vehkalahti and the Children's Silver Accordion winner 10-year-old Samuel Heikola.

Picture right: Radu Ratoi

Music, accordion and bright summer nights immersed in an inimitable forest and lake landscape form a uniquely exotic atmosphere hard to find elsewhere. The Sata-Häme Soi Accordion Festival was founded by Heikki Eränen in 1972 and has grown from humble beginnings to over 30,000 attendees.

Ikaalinen is located on the border of the two provinces of Satakunta and Häme (hence the name) and over the years has been enchanted by the sounds (Soi!) of famous musicians: the Malando Septet, Alfred Hause and his Orchestra, Mantovani, Osvaldo Pugliese, Astor Piazzolla, Juan Mosalini, the Mantua String Quartet, the St. Petersburg Accordion Orchestra, etc. Even the Johann Strauss Ensemble of the Vienna Symphony Orchestra under Johannes Wildner accompanied by nothing but an accordion at his concert in 1989! In addition to the accordion, there are always other performances such as dance events, church concerts or summer theater in the program.

Although the festival has become more and more international over the years, it has a very important national significance: it is responsible for the fact that the Finnish accordion tradition has remained so intact and is currently gaining recognition from a wide audience.

It was Heikki Eränen's dream to bring together the great Finnish tradition of folk dance music and the accordion in one annual festival. At the end of the 1960s, on his initiative, there was already an accordion ensemble, a string group and other ensembles in Ikaalinen, which held concerts and other cultural events. A visit by Lasse Pihlajamaa, Finland's great accordion pioneer, provided the final impetus for a folk music festival in Ikaalinen, which attracted 15,000 guests as early as 1972. In 1985, 1,500 people came to the then new Ikaalinen Hall for a Taito Vainio concert. The first three-day festival was extended to a full week, later even ten days, and also included nearby places like Tampere, Jämijärvi, Ylöjärvi, Nokia and Parkano.

To kick off the 50th anniversary celebrations, the festival was opened by Eeva Viitanen, Mayor of Ikaalinen, Mikko Alatalo and 2021 Golden Accordion winners Vilma Wiren and Sonja Lampinen provided musical accompaniment to the ceremony.

The Golden and Silver Harmonica competitions were organized in cooperation between Sata-Häme Soi and the Finnish Harmonica Association. 2022 is an anniversary year for both of them, as Sata-Häme Soi celebrates its 50th anniversary and the association its 70th anniversary.

The 2022 Harmonica Gold and Silver finalists were announced at the Harmonica Cruise in May, with the finale now being broadcast live on Ikaalinen TV. The 2022 Golden Harmonica competition was won by 16-year-old Ville Vehkalahti from Lavia, the Children's Silver Accordion by 10-year-old Samuel Heikola from Pori (picture above left). Ville Vehkalahti played Black Eyes (trad.) in the first round and Minka Variations in the second. The jury described Ville Vehkalahti's playing as very musically and technically skillful and also admired his wonderful natural stage presence. Samuel Heikola won over the jury with Thibaut Trosset's adaptation of Pirates of the Caribbean. During the intermission, Netta Skog entertained the audience with I want my tears back on her digital accordion.

The jury consisted of musical professionals such as Siina Hirvonen, Henna-Maija Vannemaa, Sami Pirttilahti, Reijo Ahonen and Sirpa Kainulainen. Festival organizer Kimmo Mattila and Salla Paajanen moderated the TV finale in their usual skilful manner.

The international festival Sata-Häme Soi, which once grew out of the local Pelimanni tradition, honored its traditions with two concerts: in the Oma-Tupa concert hall, musicians from the famous Huhtasalo pelimanni family performed, and in the Röyhiö Municipal Hall, the evening turned to rhythm of accordionists and violinists from Ikaalinen. The Pelimann Competition is Finland's oldest continuously organized accordion competition. A total of more than 60 musical performances by players of different ages could be heard on the park stage. In a lecture in the Accordion Museum, Jouko Kulmala from Jämijärvis Pelimanni introduced the original world of Ikaali and Jämijärve folk music.

One of the highlights of the Jubilee Festival was the Jubilee Concert recorded by Alfa TV, featuring numerous soloists accompanied by the famous Dallapé Orchestra (picture below). Tango lovers were treated to the Pirttilahti Tango Experience conducted by Sami Pirttilahti, an internationally unique tango orchestra made up of professional musicians. Authentic Argentinian sound and original arrangements guaranteed the listener an unforgettable experience.

Later in the evening Janne Valkeajoki gave an atmospheric classical concert with works by Bach, Rameau and Shostakovich in the church of Ikaalinen. The Finnish Accordion Association has named Valkeajoki, who is at the beginning of a promising career, as Accordion Artist of the Year 2021.

Radu Ratoi from Moldova and the Austrian-Colombian duo Das Kollektiv conveyed international flair to the festival audience. Radu Ratoi has won various international accordion competitions in recent years such as Coupe Mondiale, Trophée Mondial, Klingenthal, Moscow, Arrasate and Castelfidardo. He enchanted his listeners with works by Bach and Liszt. The duo Kollektiv (Raphael Brunner, accordion; Juan Carlos Diaz, flute) is currently taking world music by storm. In their concerts, the Kollektiv moves between classical, folklore and world music. When the Kollektiv makes music, music becomes the universal language: "We never play a work as it is written, but always bring our own ideas and our soul into the music." (Das Kollektiv)

The melodies of the festival also reached the waves of Lake Kyrösjärvi. Jarkko Helin & Cajun Comets, digital accordion world champion Netta Skog and tango queen Pirita Niemenmaa performed for the audience on three artist cruises. Dance enthusiasts were spoiled in the park and in the tent. Dance music came from Tanssiorkesteri PNP, Jarkko Helin & Grawfish Kings, Jämijärvi Pelimannit, Vesa Formunen Dance Group, Pirita Niemenmaa Yhtyeinene and folk music group Nope. Parties should be aimed especially at young people. On the first night Patsas, Netta Skog, Jobo and Pasi and Anssi performed in the festival park, on the second Hamilton Jones, Telsonig, Werstailijat and the Oktoberfest Orchestra Oivaset performed at the ship's beach party.

In 2023, the direction of Sata-Häme Soi will be in the hands of new artistic director Sami Pirttilahti. He studied at the Art Academy in Turku and received a classical music education. He is best known as a specialist in tango and has an extensive musical network. Pirttilahti is Accordion Artist of the Year 2020 and a fixture in the international tango world. He names the band Tango del Norte and the orchestra Pirttilahti Tango Experience as his most important projects. Under his leadership, the Sata-Häme Soi Festival will also feature upbeat Finnish accordion music in the years to come.

Picture below: One of the highlights of the Jubilee Festival was the Jubilee Concert recorded by Alfa TV, featuring numerous soloists accompanied by the famous Dallapé Orchestra.
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