Lyhty - Finnish Punk Rock and Much More

A Finnish community hub which is helping people with intellectual disabilities create music, media and so much more.

Author: Simon Duffy 

Lyhty is an innovative organisation, based in Konala, on the western edge of Helsinki in Finland. [Lyhty means “lantern” and is pronounced loo - ch - too]

The organisation provides a mixture of supports to people with intellectual disabilities and has been the spring board for an exciting range of bands, arts and media projects.

One powerful group to come out of Lyhty is Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät (Pertti Kurikka’s Name Day): a Finnish punk rock band.

Bass player, Sami Helle describes the band like this “The members of our band are four middle-aged, mentally handicapped men. The music is, of course, Finnish punk.”

Only formed in 2009 the band have already toured in about 10 countries, made a film (The Punk Syndrome) and several records including their latest Album "Kuus kuppia kahvia ja yks kokis" (Six cups of coffee and a coke) They are now earning enough money to live a more elaborate lifestyle and become less dependent on support from the welfare system.

When I asked their singer, Kari Aalto, about their songs he said that the central message of the band was “We are different to other people - some people are just different - but we have the same rights as everybody else.”

All of this was only possible because of the determination and drive of the men themselves, but as Sami said - they needed support to make their dreams come true.

The set up at Lyhty is inspirational in itself. Key features include:

  1. They have the best instruments, a real Rickenbacker bass - not a copy - and high quality studio resources and sound proofing. The best quality kit makes the possible the best quality results. It communicates seriousness of purpose and it makes it easier to bring in talent from outside to assist.
  2. Excellent professional support, from people with training both in support and in the necessary musical and technical skills.
  3. When they need extra support they go directly to the music, arts and design community in Finland - they work with the best people.
  4. They constantly look to give something back to the community - providing resources and support to others.
  5. They start from people’s real gifts, desires and talents and build from there. Kalle Salonen, an expert keyboard player, plays music in bars, his church and for older people in his community, and he says “The Hammond Organ is in my heart” and they way he plays you know its true. Kalle will get his first solo record published through a proper music publishing company in autumn 2013 and he will host his own Jazz Club once a month in the centre of Helsinki.
  6. It is a real long-term base, it is not 'processing' people, it is helping people make a real difference, grow, develop and connect.
  7. It is always trying to grow capacity - resources, money, space, facilities, skills, equipment - it is building its own power to make a difference.

It is not just punk rock, there are many different projects that are rooted in Lyhty:

Markus Vahala, one of the leaders at Lyhty, described the challenge of developing such a high quality support system for people with disabilities:

The old models are very strong in Finland, it would be easy to fall back into the way that the bureaucratic machine works. To combat this we must engage in continuous ethical thinking and ask ourselves - what are we really doing - who are we here for.

One expert observer (a woman) notes:

Lyhty really shows what good support looks like. It is genuine facilitation - enabling people to be the best that they can be, based on their dreams and aspirations. Unusually Lyhty has at its heart a group of men, and they may take a more robust approach to risk-taking - not so keen to ‘take care of people’. They are facilitators - not supervisors.

Sami told me this:

You’ve got to give people these opportunities in the UK. If we have raised the standard you have to come up to that standard. But people must be at the heart of it. You cannot do this for people with disabilities - you have to do this with people with disabilities - even if that means starting one person at a time.

With special thanks to Kari Aalto, Sami Helle, Kalle Salonen, Markus Vahala, Elina Antikainen and Susanna Hintsala.

The publisher is The Centre for Welfare Reform.

Lyhty - Punk Rock and More © Simon Duffy 2013.

All Rights Reserved. No part of this paper may be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher except for the quotation of brief passages in reviews.

Inspiration | 18.02.13

intellectual disabilities, Finland, Inspiration

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