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The Band

Noël Saïzonou

A vocalist, percussionist, dancer, composer and a band leader. Since a Finnish author Juha Vakkuri set up a Finnish -African Cultural Center, Villa Karo, to the village of Grand-Popo, Saïzonou has worked with numerous Finnish artists from jazz, hip hop, rock and theatre.  He has also released two solo albums as a band leader, Democratie (2008) and Minazewe (2010), and is a member of Afrojazz group ”Trio Toffa”. In 2018 Saïzonou was granted a Bronze Panther -award by the Villa Karo foundation. Bronze Panther is an annual cultural award for a person who has significantly promoted mutual understanding and diminished prejudices between cultures.

Janne Halonen

Guitarist, producer, composer, arranger and bandleader. The mind behind Helsinki-Cotonou Ensemble’s musical concept and production has a long history of freelancing both in music and theatre. Before forming HCE, Halonen lead a jazz act ”Carnivale”, and lived a life of a vagabond musician: every week working with different people with no artistic continuity. Currently, besides HCE, Halonen works as a guitarist and producer with a Latin pop artist Vili Mustalampi, and runs an independent record label / music management, No Problem! Music.

Sampo Riskilä

Bassist, project president. A versatile bass player and music enthusiast with a backround in rock, blues and old school R&B. On top of his bass playing, Riskilä also leads a sociocultural initiative ”Roso-tuotanto”, a creative online-community that works with young adults with a threat of exclusion or disabilities.

Juha Räsänen

Drummer. An all-around groove machine who has worked with numerous pop-, rock- and hip hop -acts. Räsänen appears on Finnish television in a weekly prime-time comedy show ”Putous”, and a is a requested studio and live drummer in multiple genres.

Visa Oscar

A pianist, keyboardist, producer, band leader and composer. Visa Oscar has worked with a wide variety of jazz-, Pop and Rock artists and released one solo album, Visa Oscar Group: ”The Fusion Treatment”, in 2015. Visa Oscar is also a doctoral student at the University of Arts in Helsinki, and released a TED -talk ”3 steps to learning improvisation” in 2018.

Mikko Pettinen

Trumpetist, keyboardist, vocalist, composer, band leader. Mikko Pettinen is a long time member of UMO Helsinki Jazz Orcherstra, Finland’s only professional big band. On top of his ”day job”, Pettinen leads his own Soul/Funk -ensemble ”Happy People” and two critically acclaimed jazz acts ”Mikko Pettinen Why Not” and ”MP4”.

Joakim Berghäll

Saxophonist, multi-instrumentalist, producer, composer and band leader. Joakim Berghäll plays pretty much all instruments from woodwinds to strings, percussion and keyboards. For this ability, along with a wide ranging taste in music, Berghäll has worked extensively in all genres of music and theatre. Berghäll also performs as a solo artist and leads a jazz ensemble, Joakim Berghäll Dark Roast.

Kasheshi Makena

Percussionist, vocalist, trombonist, dancer, teacher and composer. Makena is the last member to officially join Helsinki-Cotonou Ensemble in 2019, although he had been working with the band on and off for several years already. Makena leads his own musical group Kasheshi Makena and the Bhutula Band and is a member of improvisational vocal group AITO Collective along with other varying works as a musician and music teacher.