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A TRUE melting pot of global sounds, even Zapammat’s name is a fusion. It’s a conflation of Zap Mama — a Belgian artist imbued with the African influences of her Congolese roots— and the Finnish word amma, a derogatory term for a woman reclaimed by the female duo. It is a name that perfectly conveys Zapammat’s sound and message.
Their music centres around the traditional Finnish instrument, the kantele. Played virtuosically by Marjo Smolander it’s a 38-stringed instrument closely related to the Estonian kannel, Latvian kokles and Russian gusli, together known as the Baltic psaltery family.
Known for its distinctive bell-like sound, the instrument has an almost magical quality and features prominently in Finnish folklore. In Kalevala, Finland’s national epic, the first kantele is made from the jawbone of a giant pike and the hairs of a mythical stallion and its music draws the creatures from the forest to marvel at its beauty.
Percussion is new to the table in Finnish folk music and the other half of Zapammat — pop and rock drummer Pauliina Kauppila — became fascinated by the kantele as an instrument with which to collaborate.
The delicacy of the kantele poses a challenge for percussionists and Kauppila has approached it with a global open-mindedness, picking styles from whichever culture suits best. She has settled on a diverse array of ringing percussions, including the kalimba (thumb piano) and two-stringed bowed bass.
The duo met whilst Smolander was studying West African music and she explains that the meditative melodies and perpetual phrases have a similar aesthetic to Finnish traditional music. For Kauppila, it is “interesting the similarities that [Smolander] has found with Karelian kantele melodies and playing with Malian music.”
Thus their global eclecticism blends their Finnish roots with Senegalese, Malian, Afro-Cuban and even flamenco sounds.
Distinctive instrumentation and ethereal vocals are characteristic of Zapammat and the combined voices of the two women make for a powerful statement —their musical philosophy is to give a voice to those women who do not have one.
They released two singles on October 8, with the first, When the Soldiers Came to a Village, inspired by Nadia Murad’s book The Last Girl. An autobiographical memoir of the genocide of the Yazidi people in Iraq in 2014, it was an eye-opening story for Smolander, raising questions about why stories like Murad’s hadn’t reached the news in Finland, and it sparked the beginnings of the song.
Their second single, Millions, is a song that came from “a pain that’s been inside of me for years and years,” Kauppila says. It tackles female genital mutilation (FGM) and it speaks of the inequality faced by so many women around the world.
Girls’ access to education is of particular importance for the duo, with FGM, child brides, menstruation and countless other tragic reasons preventing girls all over the world from going to school. For years, Kauppila has met with resistance when trying to talk to people about these issues, especially “when they’re having a beer in a restaurant.” She hopes that through her songwriting, one day when they are ready, they will listen and they will start to think.
“I don’t mean that I have solutions or answers but I think that we should try to have more conversations or even just thoughts about these difficult topics.”
So, through a global approach to their music, Zapammat are addressing global issues and giving a voice to the voiceless — a fitting finale to the Global Music Match initiative that has connected voices around the world at a time when we most need to hear them.
When Soldiers Came to a Village is on YouTube, youtube.com/watch?v=ePDz3_XtPyU. You can follow Global Music Match at globalmusicmatch.com. The Magpies are on YouTube at youtube.com/watch?v=YJgHEQHzuO8&feature=emb_logo
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