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 



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Helsingin Sanomat 29.5.2013


Helsinki-Cotonou Ensemble: Beaucoup de Piment!

No Problem! Music


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