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New Interpretations: Night of the Arts 2022

Author: Kirsti Salmi-Niklander & LOTTA LEIWO

New Interpretations – Night of the Arts 2022

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On a hot summer evening on August 18 our project organized an event that was part of the Night of the Arts concept in Helsinki. Night of the Arts is part of three-week Helsinki Festival, a night when anyone can organize an art event in the city. The theme of our event was “New interpretations”.

Our project’s artistic John Westmoreland and his “found friends”; Luode band plus folk musician Emmi Kuittinen performed to a crowd of approximately 100 in Topelia courtyard, a beautiful garden in the University of Helsinki city centre campus. Most of the crowd enjoyed the gig at Thirsty Scholar’s terrace. Before their performance, our PI Kirsti Salmi-Niklander presented our project to the audience. You can watch the presentation on Unitube or read the transcript below. After the introduction you find two recorded videos of the musical performance.

People sitting on ground, band playing: keyboardist and guitarist.
People listening John Westmoreland perform at Topelia. © Lotta Leiwo 2022.
Female speaking to a microphone. Band set: keyboards, drum set. A van and Topelia building in the background.
Kirsti Salmi-Niklander presenting the project. Click the image to view the presentation video (mostly in English). © Lotta Leiwo 2022.

”Welcome to this music event presented by the research and artistic project T-Bone Slim and the transnational poetics of the migrant left in North America funded by Kone Foundation. This project explores the transnational poetics and networks of the migrant left in North America through the unique character of T-Bone Slim. This was the pseudonym of Matti Valentininpoika Huhta (1882–1942), who was one of the most seminal figures in the US Labor movement. He was born in Ashtabula, Ohio, 1882. His parents and most of their siblings had emigrated from Kälviä, Central Ostrobothnia a few years earlier. He died in 1942 in New York by drowning to the East River. T-Bone Slim was a legendary hobo, songwriter, poet, and columnist in the periodicals of the IWW (the Industrial Workers of the World) movement. He wrote his texts in English, even though we now have discovered at least one text which he might have written in Finnish in a local newspaper in Ashtabula when he was about 20 years.

T-Bone Slim’s writings were forgotten for a long time. They were published in newspapers and periodicals of the IWW movement. In 1960s T-Bone Slim’s writings inspired the Chicago surrealist movement and the Civil Rights movement. But, he stayed out of the limelight and his identity remained as a mystery for most of his readers. Few years ago, John Westmoreland, the musician and artist in our project, discovered that T-Bone Slim actually was his great-granduncle Matt, who was kind of black sheep of the family. Our project has originated with John’s residence period funded by Kone Foundation last year.

In our artistic and research project we trace the life and networks of T-Bone Slim, and the social, cultural, and political movements in which he operated. Our project group is very international: Myself and our research assistant Lotta Leiwo work here in Topelia, and we have focused on T-Bone Slim’s family history and his early years, based on materials in National Library and Finnish Literature Society. We also made an exciting field trip to Kälviä in May. Saku Pinta is Finnish-Canadian researcher based in Thunder Bay and Winnipeg. Marija Dalbello is originally from Croatia, but now a professor of Information Studies at Rutgers University in New Jersey. Saijaleena Rantanen from Arts University and has been working on IWW songs, and Samira Saramo from Migration Institute of Finland are also involved in the project. Owen Clayton from University of Lincoln in the UK has written so far, the only academic articles on T-Bone Slim’s literary works, and he is a collaborator in the project. Our project functions mostly virtually, and we have explored archival and library materials both in the US and in Finland. Next year we will finally meet face-to-face in Finland in our final seminar. There will be events both in Helsinki and in Kokkola and Kälviä in mid-August, so stay tuned! Our project has a website and a blog, Facebook page and a Twitter account where we publish the results of our research.

John Westmoreland has been working on new interpretations of T-Bone Slim’s songs, and his album “Resurrection” will be coming soon. Two songs have already been released on YouTube: music video “Harvest Land” and “Weary Years”. John has also made research on the background of these songs. He will introduce the texts of the songs he’s performing. Tonight, we will hear some of these new interpretations of T-Bone Slim’s songs. John will be accompanied by “Luode” band, Antero Kulju and Jussi Villgren, and folk musician Emmi Kuittinen.”

After Kirsti’s presentation, John Westmoreland & co. performed new interpretations of T-Bone Slim’s texts.

“Popular Wobbly”

If the video is not showing, you view it on YouTube here.

In “Street Beggars”, folk musician Emmi Kuittinen performs a lament inspired by T-Bone Slim. Emmi introduces the lament:

“The short lament piece in this song is created following Karelian lament style in my own language, Finnish. T-Bone Slim’s text “Street Beggars” inspired me to create this lament.”

Translated lament lyrics:

“Listen how the wretched vagrants,
Are forced to wander through miserable alleys,
Look at the poor fellow-travellers,
Who gather terrified glances.

Who could help those dejected citizens,
To get the most merciful lodgings,
Oh, where are the fairest nurseries to be found,
To all the good fellow travellers.

Oh, have we tried enough together,
That we may all live in integrity,
That not only the lucky ones,
To take all the happiness for themselves,
All the power, all the wealth,
And rule all alone.

O, merciful divine powers of ancestors,
Have mercy,
To the downtrodden inhabitants,
And to the wretched wanderers.”

If the video is not showing, you view it on YouTube here.

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