Reggae meets Finland, eh? Take a multicultural vacation with Conga Se Menne
By Kristi Kates
Its one thing to try and describe your average band to readers. One generally narrows down the bands genre to something easy to describe, like funk-rock group or folk four-piece.
Its another thing entirely to attempt a translation of Upper Peninsula band Conga Se Menne.
Formed in 1994 by Derrell Syria, Conga Se Menne takes Syrias original compositions and songs, arranges them utilizing elements of both Finnish traditional music and Jamaican reggae, adds in comedy lyrics about Yoopers and other facets of U.P. life, and performs them on guitar, bass, keyboards and percussion instruments (and occasionally horns). Whew. So how did they get to this admittedly zany mix of musical styles?
I am 100 percent Finnish - second generation American - and Im influenced by many different genres of music, Derrell Syria explains. Our aim when Conga Se Menne was founded was to perform my tunes in a reggae-slash-traditional Finnish style. The name of the band is a play on words taken from the Finnish phrase kuinka se mene, meaning how are you doing?
Syria says that the band started out as a three-piece, but today has evolved into a floating cast of musicians, ranging from two to seven, depending on the gig and venue. They include Syria, Dave Ziegner, John Kumjian, Jerry Kippola, Gary Parkonnen, Paul Neumann, and Kay Smith.