Text: Kasper Marius Nørmark / Photo: Heta Saukkonen (top)
In early December this year the Finnish singer and musician Ringa Manner a.k.a. The Hearing will be touring Latin America as a part of the music and culture project Días Nórdicos with musicians from other Nordic countries.
Prior to this year’s Días Nórdicos, which takes Nordic cultural expressions to Peru, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil, ROSA – The Danish Rock Council has talked to The Hearing’s Ringa Manner about being a female musician and radio hostess in Finland. Ringa keeps herself busy with no less than six different bands/music projects, and with more than 300 live concerts she has already been to 20 countries with her music. The Hearing is Ringa’s solo project, and at the moment she is adding the finishing touches to her third album.
I noticed that all your albums – including the one in the making – have boys’ names. Any particular reason for that?
They have names rather than titles, because each album is like its own person and has its own motives and reasons and ways of acting out emotions. I’ve sort of created a person in my head to match with the name and I try to represent that imaginary person in everything about the album and its artwork.
They are also literary references, since way back in 2011 I read three books – Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’, Stephen Fry’s ‘Liar’, and Herman Hesse’s ‘Demian’. They hit me really hard at a time when I was only toying with the idea of making my own songs and maybe, just MAYBE an album one day. The books and their characters made me want to write three songs called Dorian, Adrian and Demian, but I quickly realized that the things I was trying to squeeze into two-to-six-minute songs were way too big and would require more space. So that’s how I ended up naming my first three albums.
How far in the making is “Demian”?
There’s still quite a bit of sound work to be done but the lyrics, compositions, structure and the reasons behind the songs and production choices are there already. So it’s in the home stretch!
In Denmark right now there’s quite a lot of attention devoted to gender in the music world. As a female musician in Finland do you think being a woman has had any influence on your musical career?
My musical career started in the safest environment, my high school, which made music a top priority. I always sang in choirs and when school was about to be over back in 2006, we formed an all-girl riot-grrrl art-rock punk-garage 4-piece band called Pintandwefall. We each had our own individual musical background, we all wrote songs and we all wanted to play all the instruments and weren’t afraid of switching places and learning new things. Over the course of 12 years we have made 5 albums and are working on the 6th one. That has been the best teacher because I always had the support of three amazingly talented women. I have never had to navigate the male-dominated music scene alone, and whenever someone has acted unnecessarily condescending because of my gender, there were always at least three people on my side.
So as such being a woman hasn’t hindered me with things I have wanted to do, but it has taken a lot of time to unlearn all the negative stereotypes that have been voiced out throughout my entire life. In Finland the general atmosphere has become way more open in the last few years but there is still so much work to be done!
Has working internationally with your music shown any regional differences when it comes to the meaning of gender?
I can’t remember if it was a gig in Prague or Bratislava, where the sound engineer and his assistant were AMAZED by the fact that I carry my own instruments (heavy bag!) AND know how to plug in my own cables (so confusing!). They complimented me so many times I kind of started feeling weird about it! Why should it be so unbelievable that a female artist knows her own gear? I don’t know. There is still a long way to go I think, but we’re getting there!
Very soon you are playing at Días Nórdicos in Peru, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil. What would be the best possible outcome of that tour?
I would love it if the gigs went so well I could come back one day! This is my first time in all the countries and first time in the whole continent. I hope it won’t be the last <3
You sing in many contexts as a part of six active bands and musical projects. You sing in both English and in your first language – are there any differences in how you structure melodies?
It’s a little different since English has a lot softer consonants and the modern pop music that I make has a lot of its origins in rock’n’roll, blues or different types of jazz, which were sung in English. But I usually try to make my Finnish lyrics soft like that as well! So that it feels natural, like you could just say the words without the melodies and not sound silly. Somehow English is still the language I’m most comfortable playing with. In school I took lessons in Swedish, German, Spanish and Japanese too. I don’t know why I haven’t tried to write songs in any of those languages yet!
Photo: Sara Lehtomaa
I also noticed that you have your own show on Radio Helsinki. Could you tell us a little about the profile of that show and why you are doing it?
The radio show is called The Healing, and it’s beautiful music chosen by me, without any thoughts of genre or era. It might be jazz, ambient, modular synthesizers, melodic walls of rock guitar, country ballads, pop, album interludes, recent songs, unreleased or old. Anything I find beautiful. In the end of the two hour slot I always play a 5-10-minute improvised song on a Harpeleik zither. I have done live improvisation gigs on the Harpeleik as well.
The show is about me finding a calm space with anyone who’s listening, a space where you don’t have to pretend or be cool, you can just float in an audio safe space where you are good enough. But it’s not like it’s a meditation exercise or anything. Just a search for something beautiful.
What does hosting a radio show tell you about the musical scene in Finland right now?
For each show I tried to make a balanced set list with foreign and Finnish artists, and it turns out that a lot of Finnish bands make a lot of super beautiful music. It was nice to find out that for such a tiny nation (5.5 million people) there is an incredible amount of artistic vision, talent and a calm way to go about your own stuff.
Finally I’m very curious about how the picture with the green half mask was made?
Heta Saukkonen, my friend and an amazingly talented artist made the goo with what I think was a face washing gel and some food dye! I had had the image in my head and Heta realized what I wanted it to look like so it was super easy. Note to anyone who wants to try it at home: the food coloring sticks to your skin and hair for about 24 hours! So once you wash it off, the top of your head will look a bit like it belongs to a zombie for the next day or so.
Días Nórdicos Latinamerica 2018 is supported by Statens Kunstfond, The Nordics, Instituto Ibero Americano de Finlandia, Nordens Hus in the Faroe Islands, FFT – Den Færøske Sangskriverforening, and Atlantic Airways.
Días Nórdicos Latinamerica 2018 is arranged by ROSA and Zona de Obras in collaboration with Nordens Institut på Åland, Nordens Institut in Greenland, The Animation Workshop, Centro Cultural Recoleta (AR), Sesc (BR), Difusa Fronteira (BR), Plastilina (PE), and Contrapedal (UY).