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Helsinki-Cotonou Ensemble

”Weather Report meets Fela, you might say. They are good enough.” – Rick Sanders, fRoots


Finnish guitarist Janne Halonen was obsessed: He couldn’t stop listening to Lionel Loueke, the guitarist in Herbie Hancock’s ensemble. He knew Loueke was from Benin, and had to know what made his music tick.

Before he knew it, his fascination took him to Benin. Travelling to Cotonou, Benin’s most populous city, for the first time in 2009, Janne explains, “I was asking who is The Man? Who should I meet?”  Everyone pointed to vocalist and percussionist Noël Saïzonou. “The first time we met we greeted each other like old friends,” remembers Janne.  What followed was several years of songwriting sessions as Noël came multiple times to Finland.

They learned about each other and crafted their sound.The two connected and the unexpectedly perfect Finn funk meets voodoo rhythms of Helsinki-Cotonou Ensemble was born. The band deliver lively shows of voodoo grooves meshed with funky beats, jazzy harmonies and soulful songwriting.

Helsinki-Cotonou Ensemble has performed at e.g. Sziget, Masala Festival, Kaunas Jazz, Pohoda, Pori Jazz, ACC World Music Festival in Korea, and toured in Canada including Sunfest and Montreal Jazz Festival, among others. Their latest, the 5th studio album carrying their own name, was released in May 2021.

The band were selected to offWOMEX showcase in 2018 in Las Palmas and in November 2022 they showcased at Mundial Montreal. Janne and Noël continue to be together with the impressive 8-piece band formed of the best talent of the genre. HCE were credited with a nomination of The Best Artist of The Year 2018 at local Etnogala.

Noël Saïzonou – lead vocals & percussion
Janne Halonen – guitars & vocals
Sampo Riskilä – bass & vocals
Juha Räsänen – Drums & vocals
Mikko Pettinen – trumpet & vocals
Joakim Berghäll – saxophone & vocals

Kasheshi Makena – percussion & vocals
Visa Oscar – Keyboards