Home » Interview: The history of Afro Sunday club in Helsinki, challenges and future plans

Interview: The history of Afro Sunday club in Helsinki, challenges and future plans

by Admin

Afro Sunday needs no introduction for club lovers & night-crawlers within the capital area. The afro music-driven club has carved out a niche for itself as an abode for lovers of good music originating from the Afro world despite the prevalent challenges. Finland being a homogeneous country where whiteness continues to eclipse Africanness in all its structures and institutions, has never had an institution like Afro Sunday that has given other white dominated clubs a run for their money. The genesis of Afro Sunday dates back to almost a decade though many are bereft of how it started and those who founded it.

Afro Sunday Team: From left; DJ Hermanni, DJ Nice, Mad Ice & DJ Goodblood


In this interview, DJ Hermanni, one of the founders of the club unravels how the club was founded, its challenges and the future plans.

The story of Afro Sunday began in 2013. We started a Sunday club in mbar based on our radio show on Basso Radio, Boom Shakalaka. The show was all about playing club music from all over the world to get some diversity on American and Finnish music dominating the party scene in Helsinki at that time. After one summer, we decided to define our genre and we narrowed down our genre to afro music since that’s what we love playing the most and the raison d’être of being together.

Those who started what is known today as Afro Sunday are; DJ Goodblood, DJ Hermanni, DJ Emil and Mad Ice. DJ X-Ray (Ehi) joined the DJ team in the summer 2014. MC Baby Joe was the MC at the first events in 2013.

The group started to organise an afro club and we were bringing in foreign African artists. We had FOKN Boys from Ghana, Moelogo and Mista Silva from the UK. We had parties after those gigs and more live performances. After the start, we focused on DJ music, since people were not that interested in a not-so-well-known live act, they just wanted to dance. The club gained popularity fast, but after a couple of years the hotels that are around the bar started to complain about the sounds and we had to move to Freedom in Töölo. It was a huge challenge because the club was far from the city centre and it wasn’t so big. At that time we used to have about 100-150 people every Sunday and with the deal we had, it was difficult for us to survive.

We started looking for a terrace that will accommodate more people and after two summers we found Apollo and things blew up. That was the beginning of our breakthrough. At that time when more people joined, it became clear that some kind of change was needed, so after long talks and consideration, DJ Nice joined the group to replace DJ Ehi. Apollo Terrace was completely packed that summer and the owners suggested we would run the club all year round, so we started to have clubs at Maxine during winter when the Terrace was closed. Things were running smoothly and the club was constantly growing from strength to strength. We started bringing in younger people, which is essential for club survival. The clientele also started to diversify more, bringing in more people with different backgrounds and a lot of tourists began to visit, those who have heard about this great tropical vibe in the middle of the cold North. At that time, MC Mad Ice rejoined the group after being away for a few years, when we were in the smaller venue. The vibes at the club were excellent and things couldn’t have been better.

In 2020, during the beginning of the pandemic, coronavirus brought severe restrictions. At first, we were closed for three months, then all of a sudden open again for the summer. This time, more people were wanting to party than ever before. We had to open the inside club of Apollo to get all the people in. That caused a lot of problems. First of all, most of the people wanted to be outside at the Terrace, but the restrictions and the high number of people coming prevented most of the people to get in. A lot of people decided to queue to the Terrace anyways and the line could be about 2hrs long. The scenario generated aggression and dissatisfaction among our clients. Some people who weren’t interested in the party or the music saw an opportunity to do some kinds of illegal business. They started to come in to carry out their nefarious activities. They came in hiding some illegal items within the premises. All of these things led to a situation where things got bad very quickly with some fights erupting and bad vibe emerging in the club. It was a very stressful time for all of us because we were all compelled to ensure a healthy environment inside the club. Because of this, Afro Sunday, the biggest Sunday club in the history of Finland began to lose the good vibes that have characterized the club for years. The pressure of dealing with things properly got overwhelming and after the summer, DJ Emil announced that he would leave and gave no explanation. We were left to deal with the situation by the four of us. (After two years of his departure, DJ Emil wrote an article about why he left the group, which can be read from his research group, Suoni ry website).

Two Covid years were undoubtedly the hardest for Afro Sunday coupled with all the problems and uncertainty we had to deal with. It took a lot out of our energy, but now when things are again back to normal, we have been again gathering together and made solid plans for the future. Mad Ice and DJ Nice are taking more responsibility for the development of the club and we are back again with the focus on finding new talents, giving opportunities to perform and DJ for a wide audience at the premier nightclubs in Helsinki.

Afro Sunday club

Without a doubt, I think that Afro Sunday has grown to become part of the Afro-Finnish culture and I’m very proud to be part of it. It feels so nice to see a lot of people of African backgrounds come to our club for good music and networking. I’m super glad to be part of this great impact. During these years, I have learnt a lot about African culture and tradition and I’m especially proud that I have been given opportunities to play also in parties that are 100% of African background, such as weddings, independence parties and especially the first African nightclub in Finland, Fontana Afro Club in Kontula.

Challenges so far?

We have had several challenges but the first one was when we had this strict sound limit in mbar which made us reduce the volume of sound that doesn’t encourage people to dance. Also, the renovation at mbar was a challenge for us. We had to move to Freedom in Töölo and the attendance dropped drastically due to the far distance from the city centre. During this time, it was difficult to cover the expenses made. One of the challenges confronting club owners today is trying to ensure a peaceful atmosphere inside the club. We have had a situation where some groups of people create problems inside the club. We have to salvage the problem. The security at the door tried to identify those who cause problems and make sure they don’t come in. When a group member leaves the group it poses a challenge to the entire group. Afro Sunday is an all-inclusive club. We play music from different parts of Africa, so we tried to balance the music we play so that people will not get offended when the music from a particular country or region becomes the most played. The challenges will not be complete without mentioning the coronavirus lockdowns and restrictions. At some point, it was so difficult to operate because we had to ensure that those who come in have their covid-pass, stick to the required number of people that can come in and the openings and closing time. This took some energy away from us.

Future Plans?

This is our ninth year and next year we will turn 10. We are planning on bringing more African artists to Finland to perform and also have some Finnish artists on board as well. We plan to include more of the Afro community into Afro Sunday so that it will be a place for all where communities can come and have their parties, concerts and ceremonies, etc. We have to give back to the community that has shown us immense support.

The article written in June 2022 by one of the founding members of Afro Sunday, DJ Emil (KIM RAMSTEDT) who left the group two years ago was viewed with mixed feelings. Key promoters and stakeholders of the entertainment industry who are mostly from Africa expressed their views on the important issues raised by the white DJ Emil. Some of the key issues he pointed out are; white DJs’ involvement in music associated primarily with Black people and a lack of accountability in addressing racism in club culture. Acknowledging that white people have often benefitted from the work of Black artists, at times even stripping away their cultural autonomy and right to tell their own stories. Veto power over most decisions has stayed with the white majority, who have also voted out Black members of the team. Afro Sunday refusal to address the issue of Black Lives Matter when the club was called out. Racism at the door and the profiling of particular African nationals.

Afro Sunday Resident DJs Have This To Say:

MC Mad Ice

Mad Ice

What have you experienced all these years of joining Afro Sunday?

Being part of Afro Sunday has been one of the best experiences for me as an artist and someone who celebrates cultural diversity. Afro Sunday started as a club but now I can proudly call it a strong movement that advocates for African music and lifestyle per se. About ten years back when it all started, it was not that easy to sell an afro music concept to a mainstream club but Afro Sunday has changed it all and I’m proud to be part of the journey. Seeing young Finns coming to our club dancing and singing to almost every African tune played is a beautiful feeling and makes the journey worthwhile. There is still a lot of work to be done but I’m grateful for what we have achieved and ready to push on.

African music is yet to have a breakthrough in the Finnish music industry. What could be the reason and the way out?

As a society, change takes place at a very slow pace but we hope soon we can start to hear African music play on Finnish maintain stream stations. Finnish people, especially the young generation, are nowadays ready to explore African music due to the influence of social media. We have witnessed this through Afro Sunday and other events related to Afro music. However, the Finnish music industry is a different ball game. It’s a business run by some who still believe that only the Finnish language music is the one that sells and it’s very difficult to change such a mindset. I believe African music can do well if given a chance by mainstream stations in Finland but for years I’ve been trying to understand why this isn’t happening and I honestly can’t find a good answer. Of course, you will hear some say, there is no market for that kind of music but I disagree cuz we all know how diverse African music is and if labels and radio/TV stations pushed it out people would enjoy it as they do in our clubs. This question is good for me to air out my views but I believe the right people to answer this are the decision-makers in the big music labels and mainstream media.

DJ Goodblood

DJ Goodblood

Can you share your experiences so far since joining Afro Sunday?

Next year it will be 10 years since we started Afro Sunday. Our first party was at Mbar Terrace on May 19, 2013. I had returned from Ghana a few months before that, and I was excited to play Afrobeats here in Finland.

Afro Sunday became very important for me right from the beginning. I had been organizing other events before, but Afro Sunday was something I wanted to focus on and work hard for. It was great to have a chance to play the music that I love, for people who also love it. Back then, there were not so many opportunities to play Afrobeats in Helsinki nightclubs, and it was also hard to imagine that superstars like Davido could come to perform in Finland. Thanks to all the promoters, DJs and music lovers that kept pushing Afrobeats in Finland, things have changed a lot.

You visited East Africa recently, kindly share your travel experience with us?

I spent around four months in Kenya last winter, and I loved the vibes in Kenya right from the beginning. The nightclubs were closed in Finland due to Covid restrictions, so I decided to stay in Kenya longer than I had planned. Also, the fact that I was getting booked to play gigs in Kenya made me stay for longer.

I’m very grateful to my friend who helped me to get my first DJ gigs in Kenya, and to everyone else who helped me along the way. Eventually, I played in so many places, way more than I had expected. Mainly in Nairobi and Eldoret, but also in different towns like Lodwar, Bungoma, Nakuru and Kitale. Kenyan TV got to interview me.

My stay in Kenya inspired me a lot. It was exciting to learn more about Kenyan music, the party scene and the way DJs work there, and about local culture and lifestyle in general. Since then my friends have also been trying to teach me some Swahili and Sheng.

I was lucky to see artists like Bensoul, Nviiri The Storyteller and Khaligraph Jones perform live. There are so many talented artists coming from Kenya. I also loved to see how South African Amapiano has also been getting very popular among young people in Kenya. It was inspiring to see so many great DJs and MCs and to work with them. I was documenting my experiences in Kenya on Instagram. You can find a lot of material on my Instagram Highlights “Kenya 2021”, “Kenya 2022” etc. ( @djgoodblood on Instagram)

DJ Hermanni

DJ Hermanni

What have you experienced while working with African artists and DJs?

I have produced, recorded and/or mixed several tracks from different Finnish-based African artists and I have to say there is a lot of talent in the Afro-Finn community. The longest work relationship is between me and Mad Ice. We have made music together for well over a decade and performed all over Finland in clubs and festivals and also in Zanzibar. He has grown to be like a brother to me also in my personal life and working with him is a great pleasure and honour. Overall with African artists, I have worked with, the work ethic is on a very good level and the drive to make things happen is there. On the downside, it’s very difficult to break into the Finnish society with a foreign language and even more difficult to get tracks to the charts outside of Finland. The quality of the performance needs to be top quality before it can happen and when you have moved here from another country, it’s very hard to just focus on making music, when you have to work for your money often in a poorly paid job.

In my opinion, the Finnish society needs to recognize the hidden and sometimes not-so-hidden racial discrimination and hire people not based on their background or name, but on their capacity of doing the job in question. The second-generation Afro-Finns are in a much better position because they can enter the Finnish market with the Finnish language, so the record companies are more willing to invest in their development. There’s a lot of young talent emerging and we already have had Spotify’s #1 hit from people with African and other non-Finnish backgrounds. I think we will see a lot more of these and soon enough a major global breakthrough also. But to answer the question, I have played with a lot of DJs and artists and I couldn’t be happier than to be part of this artistic community we have here in Helsinki and Finland.

DJ Nice

DJ Nice

You have been a member of the Afro Sunday team for many years. Kindly share your experiences. You are reputed to be the person who has brought and still bringing into Finland African biggest artists. Where do you derive your strength from?

The idea I have is to upbeat African culture into Finland and with that integrate Finland with Africa. I get my strength from bringing African artists here and seeing how every time things get bigger and better and more customers find their way to afrobeat. I also get more strength from people giving good feedback from all of the events I participate in. For example, after Burna Boy’s performance in Helsinki, we saw huge growth with afrobeat in Finland. July this year, I brought Diamond Platnumz from Tanzania to Kaapeli tehdas in Helsinki, who is one of the biggest star artists in Africa at the moment. We can build afro beat stronger together. We are not alone, we have to stand together.

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