The star of Finland Center’s upcoming fundraiser is singer Janita, whose chart-topping hits many Finns remember from the early 1990s. The now 30-year-old singer will be performing her new music, which she has dubbed “alternative soul,” for the benefit of the abused women of the Democratic Republic of the Congo this Wednesday. We sat down with Janita to find out what kind of a show we are in for, and to hear her thoughts on the music business and her own future.
Had you heard much about the situation in the DRC prior to agreeing to perform in The Panzi Hospital fundraiser?
“No, I hadn’t. I just finished reading a book called Poisonwood Bible that deals with the history of the country, but I wasn’t very aware of the current situation. Based on what I know now, this is a cause I am happy to support. There is a lot abuse of women in Africa, on many levels. This is clearly something we can have an impact in, so I’ll gladly do what I can to help. I’d love to be more involved in doing charity work. One of the most positive experiences of my early career was when a girl who was dying of cancer got in touch with me. I went to visit her in the hospital and we developed a type of a friendship. This affected me deeply. I’m glad if I can help people who I don’t even know. There are so many wrongdoings in the world, so I feel it’s our responsibility to help.”
What are your expectations for Wednesday’s event and why should people come hear you sing?
“First and foremost, I hope we’ll get many people to come to the event and can raise as much money as possible. And of course I want everyone to have a great time, so that they’ll support Finland Center in the future, too. I want to do my best when performing. I sing from my heart and I will work hard to touch people from deep within. Musically, this will be interesting for me, since I normally perform with just a guitar, base and drums. But I noticed that there’s a grand piano at the club, so we thought we’d take advantage of it. I think it’ll be an easier set of songs because of the fancy surroundings. It won’t be a rock concert. What I’m striving for is to give people something genuine. It’ll be a bit more rough and gentle, and the whole spectrum. We’re all packages made of layers and on Wednesday we’ll go through the different layers within me. I’ve termed my music “alternative soul.”
Many people remember your pop songs from the 1990s. Nowadays your music is very different. How did that transformation come about?
”I was really young back then. A person that age can’t really decide what she wants to do, but that music felt like the right match. There was nothing fake about it. Even though I’ve changed my style radically, I can see that my whole career has had a common thread going through it. It’s the natural growth of an artist and I have always had my own thing as a foundation. During the time in between my early years and now, I did a bit of jazzy music, which did well in the US and Japan. I have been releasing records in Japan since I was 17. I also have a lot of listeners in Seattle and Atlanta, but the US is such a big country that to be widely recognized requires a lot of work. Over the last few years I’ve moved onto music that has alternative shades of tones. I have been listening to different types of music than I ever did before, mixing it up. I have a lot of influences.”
How does it feel to be a little fish in a big pond in New York, when in Finland you were a big fish in a little pond?
“New York is a very difficult place to build a career. It can be very frustrating, because it seems there’s no progress at all. The only way to be successful in New York is if you become a widely known big artist. I haven’t managed to do it yet and it’s not even a priority for me, but of course it would be nice. I have performed in front of 5,000 people in a festival elsewhere in the US, but it doesn’t count for much here in New York. It’s a different world. The smartest thing would probably be to go to a place where you can be a big fish in a small pond. But I live here because the city inspires me. I have friends here and a foundation to build upon. New York kind of sucks in that it is so addictive. I’m addicted to the energy that I simultaneously hate. If I was only thinking of success, it would make more sense for me to move to Seattle and go from there.”
What’s new with you and your music?
“I’m going through a transitional phase right now, as there have been many changes in my personal life. I seem to find out more about myself everyday. New York is a hectic place: You are always on the go and you don’t have much time for self-exploration. I just finished recording my new album, Haunted. It has been released in Finland, and I’m working on the US release. I put a lot of my heart and soul to it.”
You sing in English and you’ve lived in the U.S. for nearly 14 years. How is your Finnish nowadays?
“Today I couldn’t think of such a simple word in Finnish as “intelligence.” It’s important to notice this happening. As a kid, I remember meeting someone who couldn’t speak good Finnish anymore, and I realized that this is not what I want for myself. I have a friend who has an awesome book collection of Finnish classics, so I borrow books from her. I go through a lot of trouble to maintain my vocabulary, in case I ever have to write anything in Finnish again. So I haven’t become another Andy McCoy. In the last few years I’ve started valuing my Finnish roots more, and all that is related to being Finnish, more so than when I left the country as a 17-year-old kid, thinking that “America is the best.” My views have changed somehow. I love thinking I’m a citizen of two countries and it’s important for me to understand both of the cultures that made me who I am today. In some ways I feel half American, but at the same time I think there are so many good things about being Finnish and European: The depth of our thinking, our cultural values, and how well we’ve been educated.”
Do you ever think about moving back to Finland or are you a New Yorker for life?
“Yes, the thought of moving crosses my mind every now and then and I want to keep my options open. But I just decided today that I’ll spend the next three years here. I got my green card a few years ago, and I don’t want to risk losing it. It was like a rock fell from my heart, especially because I like New York so much. In some ways commitment is a peaceful thing. When you commit to something, it takes the anxiety away. It has a soothing effect, whether it’s in a relationship or in deciding where to live. But you can’t just be in New York and push forward, you have to get out of the city sometimes. Yet there’s something in this energy that’s addictive. Something is always happening. But also, there’s so much happening that you don’t even remember what happened last night. That’s the good and bad side of New York at the same time. Though I’ll never leave for good, I also don’t want to spend the rest of my life in New York. I see Europe in my future, but I don’t know what part yet.”
Any final words on why people should come to The Panzi Hospital fundraiser on December 16th?
“I think this time of the year is great for events like this. We are living in abundance and Christmas is an important time to think about these things. Another responsibility we have in life is to make it as good as possible for ourselves. So any opportunity we have to celebrate and do something good, it’s extremely important to take advantage of it. I also know this event will be very cool. Salmagundi has a good atmosphere to start with, and when you add music to that and pool, which is one of my favorite hobbies, and an informative documentary film and all the good company, why would you not go?”