Tuomo – The Voice of Finnish Soul
by Jonathan Mander :: 2009
The voice stops you in your tracks. Tuomo Prättälä really has a voice and he knows how to use it. How can anyone with three ä-letters in his name sing like that? And he's not even Swedish! Tuomo's voice is mature and sweet, and instantly lights up visions of a stylish 1970s. Prättälä himself was born in the last year of that decade and his music in the 21st century.
Soul music hasn't been a sales draw for a while in Finland. In the 1990's there was a wave of lounge-friendly Finnish-language Suomi-soul with Aki Sirkesalo and Sami Saari as its figureheads. But such squeaky clean sounds are a far cry from Tuomo's organic retro sound, which is ever nodding to the likes of Stevie Wonder and Curtis Mayfield. With his backward gazing and uncompromising vision Tuomo has found an audience who appreciates his warm yesteryear sounds. His soothing voice and seducing melodies bring relief in this cold country. Unexpectedly Tuomo's debut album My Thing (2007) earned a gold record in September 2009 – a true rarity in Finland for a non-metal English-language album.
"Tuomo has received very little airplay on nationwide radio stations, which also means that the majority of his fanbase is confined to the Helsinki region," mentions Texicalli Records managing director Martti Heikkinen in Finnish Music Quarterly (3/2009).
Right behind Tuomo there are other emerging soulsters rushing from the Helsinki club scene's underground. Prättälä has been involved with many of them contributing to ten albums with seven line-ups between the years 2002 and 2006. One of the more promising talents is Janna Hurmerinta, who shares Tuomo's aesthetic. A significant band in Tuomo's career is Quintessence, who announced the emergence of a soul scene, and in hindsight look like a Helsinki soul supergroup. Tuomo was not the lead singer in the band, but he performer an impressive vocal on the second album 5 am's (2004) song Dig Deeper. The band's lead singer Emma Salokoski is now gaining mainstream attention with her solo career. Aki Haarala also featured in the band, and he has produced Janna's music.
Nothing in Tuomo's music indicates that it should be saved exclusively for Finns. There is definitely a crowd out there interested in soulful music that harks back. Reaching them is the challenge. Luckily Tuomo pens such catchy songs with genuine hit appeal that they may well find welcoming ears through the radio waves.
Already his first single Don't Take It Too Hard found an influential fan in British DJ and broadcaster Gilles Peterson. After the release of the first album Tuomo toured internationally in Japan, Germany, Austria and Estonia.
Especially the Japanese warmed to Tuomo, where Don't Take It Too Hard reached No. 5 on J-Wave's Tokyo Hot 100 Chart and the top ten on other radio station's playlists. In Japan My Thing has sold roughly 10,000 copies – not a mean feat, when you think that superstars like Madonna sell about 100,000 units.
In 2007 he received the Sony Jazz Award from the Finnish Jazz Federation and Sony Music Finland. In May 2008 his debut was given the Finnish Grammy-equivalent Emma for best hip hop / dance / r & b album. In early 2009 followed Tuomo's second album Reaches Out for You (2009, which continues in a similar vein as the first, and enforced the musician's reputation
Tuomo will release his third album titled My Own Private Sunday already in January 2010. On his blog he says that it will be more intimate.
"I listened to the raw mixes of what we had done and kept thinking "I could add some horns/strings/backing vox/extra synths/extra percussion... but should I?" At this point on previous albums I've gone "symphonic" and added loads of stuff. And usually it's worked pretty well. This time, however, I decided to keep it simple."