MERI NIKULA is a vocal artist, composer, performer and transformational healer currently living in Nikkala, small town in Sweden, right beside the border of Finland. As a vocalist she creates holistic, healing, mystical and free flowing sound fabrics often using a technique that she refers to as a “voice mosaic” - a practice that she has developed for her solo work. Nikula also gives workshops under the title “Voicing your body”, where she guides the participants towards deeper self understanding combining methods from different breathing, movement and voice practices. Recently Nikula has also started to offer individually created “Irindira blessings”, recorded sound creations for private audiences and customers.
I became interested in Meri’s work after by coincidence visiting her beautiful, open and honest webpage and blog where she shares glimpses of her practice, art and spiritual explorations. In her blog texts there is a deep mythical undercurrent and understanding which threads her work together in a holistic way. I got a feeling of an independent and free spirited artist who boldly shares her journey and findings with the world. Meri also writes about authenticity in her blog and since I am always interested to find out how different people interpret and embody this notion I decided to interview her a bit closer.
A summary of the background and professional history:
Music has always been an intrinsic part of Meri’s life. In 2007 Meri graduated from Royal Academy of arts and Royal Conservatory of den Haag. Her musical background and education is vast and covers styles from classical and jazz to indian music to name but a few. In addition to the more traditional musician education Meri started to collaborate with experimental choreographers during her studies. Influenced from the collaborations her own approach to voice also evolved towards more performative directions. Meri became more interested in creating music from her own starting points using her body and her voice as the material. This subtle transformation didn’t always go smoothly in the academic environment she found herself in.Surrounded by a panel of 16 all male professors, Meri felt a bit restricted artistically. During her exchange year spent in Japan, Meri gained a bit of distance to the academia and felt more free to explore the more performative and physical approach to art making.
Since her graduation Meri has worked with dance, performance and voice, created many solo performances and performed and taught around the world. Music has still always remained the strongest artistic element and nowadays Meri almost exclusively concentrates on sound art and sound improvisation. The more embodied approach is nowadays present mainly in the workshops and in the teaching practice as well as in site specific works and collaborations. Recently Meri has also collaborated with a sculptor who creates multifaceted dresses inspired by the old Kalevala tradition and mythological characters.
When asked, what authenticity means to her, Meri goes back to her experiences as a young music student, having to study and memorize material that felt completely unauthentic to her at the time. Meri emphasizes the importance of self-knowledge, getting to know oneself and one’s body and finding out what feels true to the self. According to Meri young people often live a bit outside of themselves and that it takes some time and practice to learn how to live as an embodied human being in a shared reality with others. Through different, sometimes extreme artistic explorations Meri has expanded her palette as an artist and also found her own voice, expression and freedom inside of the creation. In order to feel authentic artistically and as a person Meri feels that the scale has to be really vast so that the choices made inside of it feel free rather than forced.
At the moment being the space of Meri’s universe reaches through many layers of time, space and dimensions and keeps on expanding further.
The voicing your body -experience
After the initial interview and reading through the blog texts I attended a two-day workshop given by Meri in Helsinki in November. The classes were organized in a beautiful small yoga studio and the group consisted of six people. I was the only participant who attended the whole two days and because of this the content of the class was a bit different than usually during a 2-day-intensive.
Meri is an accomplished and experienced artist and during the two-day workshop she introduced the group to various ways of approaching the sound and voices of the body. In addition to the apparent knowledge in singing and sound techniques Meri’s work is also inspired by the more eastern traditions flowing through the chakra-systems and more meditative approach. Meri told, that many of the practices that she introduced to us were developed by herself. She usually starts her days with a small free flowing sound meditation out of which many of the practices are being created.
Some of the most inspiring exercices for me had to do with spending time and researching the consonant sounds. During the first day we did a durational exploration into the cave of the mouth starting from the lips, proceeding slowly to the far down throat and finally returning back to the lips of the cave. This exploration was made eyes closed sitting with others in a circle, listening and trying to follow a common journey. The soundscape made me think of a deep jungle or forest where all the invisible creatures would slowly reveal their hiding places. The soft and watery materiality of the flesh and muscles of the cheeks was an experience in it self. It was also surprising to notice the vastness, depth and the enormous plasticity of the inside space of one’s own mouth. Focusing in this way to the capacity and structure of the mouth cave enriched the qualities of the more free flowing sound journeys for me made later during the workshop (and also in my own artistic practice).
Another inspiring exercise had to do with the vocals and how they are connected to the chacric system. From the root to the top of the head the sounds create a continuum of sounds, something like: UUUUoooOOOAAAEEEIIIMMMmmm. We started the exploration by voicing and listening to the different vocal sounds in our own bodies. We also explored the vocals and their vibration in the body in pairs by voicing out the vocals of our own names and creating small melodies according to the positions of the chakras and their inner sounds in the body. When really focusing on the vibration of words, sounds and names it was interesting to start to see the connections between the symbolic words and their vibrational patterns in relation to which body center they were connected to.
Using the voice and getting to know one’s vocal abilities is a liberating experience. The vibrations created by one’s own body can feel surprising at times but never intrusive or violent, even though the energies may be quite powerful at times. Also assisting others in their vocal journeys, holding the back as the vibrations are flowing through or the hand as the partner is voicing her body, moving eyes closed in the room, is both an intimate and a vibrant experience.
After the workshop experience I decided to approach Meri with a few more questions...
Would you consider yourself more as a performer or as a healer?
MERI: Mostly I talk about performing and organizing concerts but the actual performance event also has mediating and shamanic qualities to it. I am a performing artist but more and more during my performances different kinds of energy currents with healing effects have started to appear. And it is good to understand that the healing energy is not necessarily always pleasant! Mostly people experience the concerts as something enjoyable and positive. Sometimes the singing can also set in motion something, that can feel frightening or unpleasant as some old storaged energies start to flow in the body and mind.
As a performer I also embody some shamanic characters, such as Louhi. (Louhi is a mythical witch like matriarch of the North pictured in the Karelian mythologies) Portraying these kinds of strong characters as a performer I also get to deepen into certain kinds of strong energies that I wouldn’t necessarily look for other wise. As Louhi I also use the drumming and create sounds that I wouldn’t normally create as a musician.
All in all, it is important for me that the art that I create is of high-quality but that my work also has a catalytic quality to it. Yes. it is not that much about healing energies but rather about remaining and enabling in a catalytic flow, where things are able to move, flow and transform into something else.
Your artistic name, Irindira, could you tell me a bit more about it? How did it come to you and what does it mean?
MERI: The name came to me during a meditation in Christmas holidays in 2016. I
also had to google the meaning of the word, since it wasn’t familiar to me prior to me receiving it.
Irindira is a combination of two words. First part, Iridescence has to do with surfaces, such as the wings of a dragonfly, that seem to change their color depending of the angle from which you look at them. It is also about Iris, which in the greek mythologies referred to the rainbows as a connecting link between humans and gods. The latter part of the word, indira is simply a word for beauty. Irindira is my source essence or a spiritual name if you will. Many people believe that you should get these kinds of spiritual names as a blessing from your guru or teacher, but I have always embraced a more private and individual connection with the divine. I do think that you can always learn from and with others and share experiences, but there is no need for any kind of mediator when it comes to a prayer, meditation or connection of any kind with the universe or god or the divine.
My relationship with the spiritual is colorful. As part of my education I also took studies in etno-musicology and got familiar with many cultural, musical and spiritual traditions. I have also for instance spent three months in Ghana, where I participated in a spiritual ceremony in a voodoo temple. When it comes to spiritual matters, I don’t think that the cultural differences and boundaries are that relevant at all: When entering these kinds of experiences with a clear mind and open heart one will discover the same energy floating inside of the different spiritual traditions. In my personal spiritual approach it is important to view the human as an embodied experiential spiritual being. There is no ONE religion. The energies and wisdom flow in through different channels that one needs to learn to recognize in the self.
The most strikingly distinctive feature about the picture that I have formed of Meri, is a sense of space, courage and curiosity. Meri is a young artist and a mother who has decided to settle in a small town far away from the cultural societies and cocktail parties. There is a deep sense of trust and willingness to surrender to follow a personal path and journey as an artist, healer and a human being. In my own private meditations I have lately been questioning the notion of a career in relation to the arts field. Meri’s approach to her work to me serves at least as one good example on how to create an artistic career:
One needs to surrender to the isolation.
One needs to surrender to the collaboration.
One needs to open the heart and clear the mind.
One has to explore and experiment and blow up the universe of the artistic practices in order to create a sense of spatiality and freedom to maneuver in.
One has to create a direct relationship to the divine.