The Mint of Finland have launched a new silver coin that focuses on one of the country’s most popular pastimes—remarkably, it is the sultry dance of the tango. Finland’s tango culture has grown in popularity over the decades since the early 1900s, when it first made an impact in the Nordic country through the music and then with the immortal dance.
In a recent national survey in conjunction with the centenary anniversary of Finnish independence, an overwhelming majority of Finns voted “Satumaa” (“The Fairytale Land”) as their favourite tango. “Satumaa,” which was written by Unto Mononen and published in 1955, is the quintessential Finnish tango. (One of many recordings of “Satumaa” on YouTube can be found here. Frank Zappa even performed the music once during a concert in Helsinki in 1974, his band sight-reading from sheet music.)
The Mint of Finland’s head designer, Erkki Vainio, designed the coin. The obverse (above; hover to zoom) honors both the music and the dance: in the left foreground, a man in a jacket and open-collar shirt is singing as he faces the view, while behind him to the right a couple dance alongside a body of water, beneath a brooding sky. The surrounding legend reads SUOMALAINEN TANGO • FINSK TANGO.
The reverse depicts lyrics from “Satsumaa” at the center, surrounded by concentric circles that suggest both a blank staff from a sheet of music and the grooves of a vinyl record album. Within the staff or grooves at the top are the words SUOMI • FINLAND 2017. The denomination, 10 EURO or 20 EURO, appears below.
|€10||.500 silver||10 g||28.5 mm||Proof||9,990|
|€10||.500 silver||10 g||28.5 mm||Proof, numbered||100|
|€20||.925 silver||25.5 g||38.6 mm||Proof||4,990|
|€20||.925 silver||25.5 g||38.6 mm||Proof, numbered||100|
The collector coin is a part of the Finland 100 centenary programme of Finland’s independence. In line with the theme of the centenary, the design for the collector coin was created collaboratively. The online shop will accept advance orders from the 1st June, with dispatch commencing on the coin’s official day of release, the 15th June. The numbered commemorative coin is packaged in a protective clear capsule set in a glass case that displays the beautiful coin brilliantly.
A certificate of authenticity containing the coin’s technical specifications is also included in the package. The number of the commemorative coin is stamped on the coin’s reverse; these coins are delivered on a first-ordered, first-served basis, beginning from number 2. The commemorative coin has been granted the Key Flag Label of the Association for Finnish Work. Please visit the e-webshop of the Mint of Finland for additional information on these and other coins on offer.
“Across the vast open sea, somewhere there’s a land…”
The story of Finland’s love affair with la danza del amor
Now, how does one begin to think that a dance originating in Argentina, South America, would ever make an impact in the cold and snowy environs of Finland? What came to be known as the Finnish tango (or often “tango Finlandia”) was apparently introduced in Helsinki in 1913, right around the same time it was gaining great popularity in other European cities. However, the difference between Helsinki and Paris or Madrid was a lack of direct exposure to Argentines, mostly due to proximity and also a lack of family and cultural ties between the countries. The early tango music played in Finland included tango melodies from Argentina, as well tangos composed by Europeans from other countries, with a particular route via Germany. Thus, even early in its exportation to Finland, tango music had already been modified to have a more northern European character than Argentinian.
During World War II, Finland became more isolated from the remainder of Europe. Its tango music developed a more Finnish character, as most of it was written and performed by Finns. As a consequence of this geographical and cultural difference, Finnish tango music is almost always in a minor key, a characteristic of Finnish folk music in general (in contrast to tango Argentino and ballroom tango). Most Finnish tango music has vocal accompaniment with lyrics in Finnish, and the melodic Finnish language is where the difference between Argentinian and Finnish tango are at their greatest. The lyrics of Finnish tangos are mostly sorrowful tales about love lost, loneliness, and nostalgia for the past, often longing for a simpler life in the countryside.
During the 1940s, it was tango music that became the most popular genre in terms of sales in Finland, and although until this time tango dancing had been primarily an urban phenomenon in Helsinki and nearby cities, remarkably, it made its way to the smaller towns and even to remote rural areas.
Most Finns know by heart the classic tango entitled “Satumaa.” Composed in 1955 by Unto Mononen, a 1962 version became a bestseller. Its title translates as “Happyland” or “Fairytale Land,” and its words embody that tell-tale melancholic longing:
Beyond the open oceans, there is somewhere a land, where the wave softly takes the shore of happiness… But without wings I cannot fly, I am a prisoner of the ground… Fly my song to the place where you see the happyland, to the place where my own love waits for me.
Thanks in part to popular cultural influences emanating from the United States and Great Britain, the tango’s popularity peaked in the two decades between World War II and the swinging ’60s. More tangos were recorded and sold in this era than at any other time, and much of the music from this decade is still played for dancing. Interestingly, there has been an ongoing tango revival in Finland since the 1990s, and tango is once again widely popular there—and since Finland’s entry into the European Union in 1995, there has been more awareness of Finnish tango outside the country. It may be a chilly afternoon in Helsinki in the very middle of winter, but it’s warm inside the local tango cafe, where the mood is set by the minor-key tunes playing perpetually in the background, and the couples moving sultrily across the dancefloor…
The Finnish Tango commemorative coin will be featured at the Tangomarkkinat tango festival held in Seinäjoki in July. See the festival’s website here.
Editor’s note: “Tango in Depth: A blog about classical tango music” has an excellent article on Finnish tango, including audio comparisons of the Finnish and Argentine styles. And this tourist video on YouTube captures the lovely—and somewhat surreal—sight of an outdoor Finnish tango competition, the dancers floating over the snow in spite of their winter clothes.