Global Hit – Jimi Tenor

The World

Today’s Global Hit features an artist who’s been described as “electronica’s first cabaret artist.” But that barely begins to explain this flamboyant Finnish musician. Jimi Tenor has a huge following in Europe. Reporter Susan Stone caught up with him recently in Berlin.

Jimi Tenor with one of his invented instruments, the “noisebox”: photo James CumpstyJimi Tenor with one of his invented instruments, the “noisebox”: photo James Cumpsty

With his space-age grooves and out-of-this world stage outfits, Jimi Tenor may sometimes seem like he’s from another planet. But he’s really from the town of Lahti in Finland, where he was born with the name Lassi Lehto. He studied CLASSICAL flute and music theory but he realized early on he wasn’t comfortable with that world.

Jimi Tenor: photo: Kitty-Yo RecordsJimi Tenor: photo: Kitty-Yo Records

TENOR: When I was in the music school, I couldn’t get along with the people. So when I really learned how to play was when I left the music school and tried to practice and play with bands.

Jimi Tenor: photo: Dirk MertenJimi Tenor: photo: Dirk Merten

Sitting on the lawn of a Berlin hotel after a gig, Tenor is soft-spoken and low key. THAT’S IN contrast to his energetic stage presence. The Jimi Tenor experience includes jazz, industrial, world music, and a techno hit ten years ago.

He’s a multi-instrumentalist who plays flute, piano, and his namesake, the tenor sax -to name a few. Tenor has also invented instruments MADE out of wood from OLD saunas, used bits of film, and solar cells, to create the sounds he needs for HIS music.

TENOR: It’s a pretty romantic view I have of music – I always have. I try to do things which are fun but somehow touching at the same time.

And presentation is part of that mix as well. TENOR performs in red kaftans, silvery gowns, and embroidered robes.

TENOR: I think it’s very traditional show biz thing, you go on stage, you put something on, which is interesting and I think it’s just like “respect the stage.

Jimi Tenor’s style also gives hints to his influences of 70’s funk and soul. He even throws classical into the loop. Tenor was asked by German music label Deutsche Grammophone to re-interpret music from ITS back catalogue. He chose this song – Six Pianos, by minimalist composer Steve Reich, which, not surprisingly is written for six pianos.

Tenor, ever a maximalist, adds a few extra instruments and some vocal harmonizing to the mix, creating a lush soundscape.

After stints LIVING in New York, Barcelona, London and Berlin, Tenor is back Finland, living and making music in the house where he grew up.

Tenor seems happiest and most successful being a hybrid; playing with the Deutsche Oper orchestra in one performance, and West African musicians Kabu Kabu in the next. Though he says he sometimes finds it hard to connect with other musicians as dedicated to music as he is.

CLIP: The best thing would to be some kind of semi-religious leader and have people following you everyday – you would do music everyday together. But not so many people are willing to do that. But that would be my goal. Another way to do it I guess is to pay people.

Either way, the cult of Jim Tenor continues. For the World, I’m Susan Stone in Berlin.

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