Former punk rocker teaches children how to play in a band

‘Cee, cee, cee, what a fab note that is!’ warbles Ilpo-Risto ‘Pablo’ Salmes at the Kurkimäki Playpark, teaching pre-school children to play the ukulele.

The next day, he is beating time behind the drums with primary school kids, and the one day after that he runs a band club.

For 21 years, Pablo has worked as a social instructor and team leader at the Kurkimäki Playpark, which has introduced the local children to music, rhythm, and band activities.

It was on his initiative that the band premises, called the Bunker, were established at the playpark in the early 2000s. There, kids can try different instruments from drums to the guitar and bass. Many have shown an interest, and even 7-year-old children have started their very own bands – despite none of the members originally knowing how to play at all.


Music provides positive experiences

‘They are touchingly enthusiastic’, Pablo says, smiling. He explains that music improves children’s motor skills and concentration.

‘At the same time, it makes a good hobby that provides positive experiences, helping to keep the kids on the straight and narrow.’

Having studied music therapy at the esteemed Sibelius Academy, Pablo is a trained musician who knows what he is talking about.

His musical career began in the 1970s as the drummer in a punk group called Äpyli.

‘[The popular Finnish musician] Juice Leskinen praised our album in the Soundi magazine, but in the end punk wasn’t really my thing’, Pablo reminisces.

After a couple of years, he decided to leave the band and went on to play in a number of different blues, soul, gospel and rock ensembles. Today, he spends his free time at the rehearsal room and on gigs with the energetic children’s rock band Takuumiehet, which has already appeared at various music festivals and on school tours around Finland.


Skidirock – a stage for kids

In 1996, Pablo was drinking tea in the break room with a fellow instructor and musician when the two men had an idea: ‘Why don’t we organise a music festival?’

The result was Skidirock, a children’s music festival held annually at the Kurkimäki Playpark, which has hosted some of the best-known musicians in Finland as well as the children’s own bands.

This spring Skidirock celebrates its 21st anniversary. The festival will take place on 27 May and will be featuring children’s choirs, big band ensembles and rock bands alike.

‘Helsinki has no shortage of artistic events to provide cultural education for children’, Pablo comments in praise. He also likes the greenness of the suburbs and the great sports opportunities provided by the parks, woods and beaches.

‘This is not just another grey city of concrete blocks.’


Stability from a gang of one’s own

When Pablo moved to Helsinki from Northern Karelia 34 years ago, he wanted to blend in with the city dwellers. He stopped using his Karelian dialect and adopted the city slang with its sibilant s’s. ‘I was afraid I might otherwise be asked whether I’m some sort a peasant. But when I grew up, I started respecting the roots of my evacuee parents and started using their brogue again.’

The same kind of acceptance of oneself is what Pablo wishes to teach to the children at the Kurkimäki Playpark, too. He never tires of trying to make sure that everyone feels a part of the gang.

‘I like to think of myself as the captain of a hockey team – I’m an important part of the group. That is why I find it difficult to imagine living anywhere else.’


Text and picture:
Venla Pystynen


Pablo Salmes chose Larri Helminen as a maker of the Helsinki of the future.