The genesis of the Hensinki-Cotonou Ensemble is fascinating. In January 2012, three Finns (guitarist Janne Halonen, drummer Juha Räsänen and bassist Sampo Riskilä) followed their dream and travelled from Helsinki to Benin, West Africa. They hooked up with virtuoso singer/percussionist Nol Sazonou, called up the best musicians from the country's biggest city, Cotonou, and so the first incarnation of the band was born, leading to an acclaimed debut recording (completed and mixed back in Finland) and 19 tour dates.
The Helsinki-Cotonou Ensemble impresses not only with intense moods and joyful, virtuosic performances, but also with fresh and carefully crafted songwriting. Rick Sanders of fRoots Magazine described their sound as “Weather Report meets Fela Kuti,” a perfect reference to how the group uses their jazz experience to expand on Voodoo rhythms with a modern urban touch. All of HCE's music is written by Sazonou and Halonen. The original writing process started as early as 2009, when the latter first travelled to Benin to learn the traditional rhythms of Voodoo. For three years, the pair brainstormed and searched for the right people to complement their project. When Sazonou visited Finland in 2011, Räsänen and Riskilä joined the team. The quartet became the core of HCE, and it was to be strengthened with local super musicians, whether the band operated on European or African soil.
In January 2014, the dynamic duo returned to the sunny beaches of Grand-Popo and finalized sketches for their second album. Ten months later, Fire, Sweat & Pastis was released in Finland, soon after receiving the Ethno Album of the Year Award.