Evoking collective memories with songs

Having graduated in International Politics from the University of Helsinki in 2000, the Northern-Irish Steafán Hanvey enjoys a career as a singer-songwriter today.

Evoking collective memories with songs

It was a typical November afternoon in Helsinki: cold, damp and dark. More than one hundred international students and staff had gathered in the University’s Big Hall for the annual International Evening. Amidst them stood a man equipped only with a guitar and his voice: Steafán Hanvey.

Twelve years after graduating in International Politics from the University of Helsinki he has returned to share some of the songs he wrote in and about Finland. His songs deal with lost love and the subjectively never-ending Finnish winter. Even a tribute to the Finnish public transport finds a place in his repertoire.

"With a Masters in Political Science you can become whatever," smirks Hanvey, "a journalist, an academic, or a singer-songwriter, like me." The Northern-Irish born musician is gearing up to release second long-play album in North America called Nuclear Family. The album was mixed by Tore Johansson, who is known to have done production work with The Cardigans and Franz Ferdinand.

"Nuclear Family is a collection of ten songs that meditates on the constructive and destructive forces inherent in most families and relationships," says Hanvey.

Hanvey’s songs are influenced by 1970’s singer-songwriter traditions, guitar pop and easy listening. His melodies range in tone between melancholy and sereneness; his lyrics are sharp and mildly ironic.

Despite striving to make a living from music, the political has never entirely vanished from Hanvey’s work, and has now returned more strongly than ever before. It is mostly Hanvey’s personal past that stirred his deep interest in politics. His childhood and youth had been characterised by the public violence of the Northern Irish Troubles.

"I was born in Downpatrick in 1972, thirty kilometres from Belfast and just a couple of months after Bloody Sunday," Hanvey explains. The Troubles lasted for 26 years. “Ironically,” reflects Hanvey, “once peace was restored in 1998, I left my home to study in Finland.”

This year, Hanvey will embark on a tour through the United States, which combines music and personal memories of the Northern Irish religio-political conflicts into an interactive multi-media performance entitled Look Behind You! A Father and Son’s Impressions of The Troubles in Northern Ireland Through Photograph and Song.

"I’m going to tell my story and reflect on, amongst other things, the function of family in a conflict society." His multi-media performance-lecture will draw on news bulletins from the Troubles, on the language of the Troubles and on photos of Hanvey’s father, Bobbie Hanvey, a renowned journalist and photographer who captured The Troubles with his camera.

Text: Claudia Gorr
Photo: Ari Aalto
University of Helsinki, digital communications

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