Northern and Western Europe


Anette Åkerlund

The Åkerlund Family: a Finnish Powerhouse for Music and Social Change

Tuula Åkerlund is the director of Romano Missio, which works in the field of child welfare as well as organising Romani cultural events.

Musical dynasties

In Romani cultures, kinship structures often scaffold people’s working lives – whether it is the immediate family (a father-son music project, for example) or a business that employs extended family members. In religious, educational and activist projects, too, the cohesiveness of family groups tends to play a role, as, for example, when a Romani woman leads a youth ensemble, assisted by her eldest child and involving her relatives as well as other children from the community.

In Finland, a number of Romani cultural events have been spearheaded by Tuula and Valfrid Åkerlund, a husband-and-wife team.

Tuula Åkerlund performs on stage at the Bohemian National Hall in New York City, 2012.

Rights held by: Jan Žahour | Licensed by: Jan Žahour | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Jan Žahour – Private Archive

Romani gospel music

Valfrid and Tuula Åkerlund are Romani musicians with a repertoire of many original songs, most notably the Romani gospel songs they wrote in the 1970s. At that time, Romani gospel music – which grew out of Finnish Romani folk music – became an established style among Roma in Finland and a new crop of singer-songwriters emerged. Although most of the songs were composed for solo voices, some are sung by choral groups. Today, many Roma in Finland are active in Romani gospel music.

The Åkerlunds are well known throughout Finland and Sweden thanks to the Romani gospel music events in which they perform as well as a number of gospel albums they have recorded. The pair have also performed and published traditional Finnish Romani songs, part of the musical heritage in which they grew up. They have passed this tradition on to their daughter, Anette Åkerlund.

In addition to performing in church concerts, Tuula and Valfrid appear alongside Anette at Romani music festivals. As a family band, they have travelled to venues in Europe, Asia and America. Valfrid Åkerlund is also a studio musician who plays the piano, guitar and accordion. At Studio Miritz, which he owns, he has recorded the albums of many Romani musicians in Finland. (Part of Valfrid Åkerlund’s repertoire can be heard by searching for his name on YouTube.)

Language and educational projects

Many of the Åkerlunds’ songs are written in the Finnish Romani dialect. In the 1990s, as one of the activities demonstrating their commitment to the Romani language, Tuula and Valfrid worked as Romani language teachers with children in schools in the Helsinki area.

Both have also been long involved in Romani politics. Since 2006, Tuula Åkerlund has been the director of Romano Missio, the oldest Finnish association of Roma. Romano Missio, which has more than fifty employees, works in the field of child welfare as well as organising Romani cultural events.

In November 2017, Romano Missio organized concerts in Helsinki and Turku to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Finnish declaration of independence. More information can be found on the Romano Missio web page.

Anette Åkerlund

Anette Åkerlund, the daughter of Tuula and Valfrid, specialises in both flamenco and Finnish Romani performance. Since 2009 she has been studying flamenco singing, dance and composition at institutions such as the Fundación Christina Heeren in Seville, the Centro de Arte y Flamenco de Sevilla and the Escuela Superiór de Música Cataluña in Barcelona.

Flamenco has also been an important part of her studies at the Folk Music Department of the Sibelius Academ in Helsinki, where she has studied singing, piano, improvisation, modern dance and composition. She has performed with groups such as Zugara, an ensemble she founded with the Swedish flamenco guitarist Patrik Bonnét, and Amaro, in which she joins Miritza Lundberg to perform Romani songs from various European countries.

She has cooperated with the Camerata Flamenco Project, with which she appeared at the “Etnosoi!” festival in Helsinki in November 2015. She organised a master concert at the Sibelius Academy in which she brought together her two main passions: Finnish Romani songs and flamenco. Her first solo album is in the making.

Rights held by: Anette Åkerlund | Licensed by: Anette Åkerlund| Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: RomArchive