Skip to content

Sanna Ruohoniemi makes her dream come true around the world


Among the Finnish Jazzahead! delegates there is a jazzvocalist and composer Sanna Ruohoniemi. Ruohoniemi has been building her career from an international standpoint from early on, since she lives in Sweden, has been touring around Nordic countries, and also in German and Australia.

This week Ruohoniemi visits Jazzahead for the second time. She is leaving for Bremen to meet other jazz professionals and create new contacts. Ruohoniemi waits the weekend eagerly, even though the networking isn´t always easy. “It demands courage to present and sell your music”, she reflects. Her first time in Jazzahead was couple years back, and now she’s wiser and better prepared: she has searched through the attendee list and made appointments beforehand.

Contacts have had a significant role in Ruohoniemi’s career before. Born in Ostrobothnia, Finland, she left for Sweden because of studies, love for jazz and making music – contacts and work possibilities made her stay there. “I came to Stockholm to study and really became fond of the atmosphere of the school and the city. I found this new kind of freedom to make music here, that gave me concrete work, gigs, new contacts and musician acquaintances, even tours.” Ruohoniemi has worked both in Finnish and Swedish jazz scene and wishes to see the cooperation of the countries in the jazz field grow stronger. “I hope I could have a positive impact on that.”

Sanna Ruohoniemi released her second album Start from Nothing in September 2018 and now she’s working on the next one. Album process includes a lot, but the main thing right now in Ruohoniemi´s life is composing: “I try to be sensitive to notice what is about to be born and work that forward.” Ruohoniemi starts her composing process with the piano, usually with improvisation, sometimes recording some tunes, sometimes working the ideas forward. Composing needs time and ability to pause with oneself. “I try to create circumstances that are as comfortable as possible, and to give myself enough rest (or coffee at least) and plenty of time.” On the other hand, sometimes the best work is done under pressure. That’s why Ruohoniemi gives herself tasks and deadlines. “The entire process demands quite a disciplined balance between work and all the rest there is in the world. But for me composing is rewarding and it lets me spend time with myself.”

Besides making an album, Ruohoniemi performs gigs and teaches singing. Next summer there will be several gigs in German and in the autumn she performs at Stockholm Jazz Festival as part of three different ensembles. Lately Ruohoniemi has toured around Europe and even further away – last November she performed at Sydney International Women’s Jazz Festival in Australia for the first time. When traveling constantly, moods and feelings vary. Ruohoniemi remembers listening the master tracks of her Start from Nothing album from an iPad in Barcelona, feeling exhausted from all the traveling, but happy for what they had accomplished. The experience from around the world teaches and helps forward. “Nothing is pointless. Many experiences, even the failures, might follow up with something surprising and good”, Ruohoniemi sums up.

As a Finnish person living in Stockholm, Ruohoniemi feels at home in two countries. “Even though I enjoy Stockholm, I think Finland as a dear homeland and I always like to visit Finland to perform and otherwise. From behind a distance your own culture and growing environment can be seen in a new light.” Internationally performing musician has to settle in to continuously changing scenes. “I remember that Arska from a band Tehosekoitin once said in an interview: ’Home is where you lay your head into a pillow’. Sometimes I agree with this view, and sometimes I feel like a drifter or disjointed. However, feeling connection and belonging to something depends largely on your own mind.” Dream of being a singer and joy of making the dream come true pushes Ruohoniemi forward. “I would like to perform and make music as widely, largely and long as I possible can. I’m so happy and proud of everything I’ve had and have a change to do even though it has demanded and will demand a lot of work.”

As Ruohoniemi has an identity hovering between Stockholmer, Finnish and an international jazzvocalist, also musically she visits the scenes of several musical styles. Her album Start from Nothing combines jazz tunes with some Nordic folk music and little bit of experimentality and pop aesthetics. However, jazz is a homely ground for Ruohoniemi: “My relationship with jazz music is very warm and respectful. To me, jazz is freedom. Its history and diverse tradition is a major source of inspiration.”

Live jazz attracts Ruohoniemi because of its energy and power and the way it forces the musicians to put themselves out there, for better or worse. “’If the music isn’t enough, you got to have a show’ musician Jussi Kannaste leading the Jazz department of Sibelius Academy once said ­– I agree with him. In jazz, if you fail you fail with style, and then you clear your way back on track. Jazz is a question of attitude. It requires talent but also courage, sensitivity and presence.”

Even when traveling the world, jazz makes Ruohoniemi feel at home but also excited. “There is always something similar when singing for people in a concert situation: where ever you go, there is always a sense of thrill. Connection between music and the listener must be created again every time. Even though the certainty and freedom increases, you always have to find the courage again.”

Jazzahead! is held 25.-28.4.2019 in Bremen, German. Jazzahead! consists music trade fair and high-quality showcase programme. This year Jazzahead! is attended by about 30 delegates from Finland, such as jazz artists and representatives of record labels and agencies. Finnish talent is heard in the official showcase programme: Verneri Pohjola performs both in Sunna Gunlaugs´ and Janning Truman 6 ensembles. In addition to that, Verneri Pohjola, Katu Kaiku and OK:KO perform in the Finnish night of Karton club on Saturday. Also Aki Rissanen Trio will perform in KITO Club the same night.


Written by Jenni Köykkä
Photo by Anders Björklund