“I hate to use the N-word,” said the Estonian president, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, 62.
The crowd held their breath and listened while the president stood behind the turntables and a laptop and talked between songs at club Kaiku on Thursday evening in Helsinki’s Kallio district.
“I mean the Nato.”
The crowd exploded in laughter and the president followed with another rock classic from the ’70s.
Kaiku was packed with a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd. The President’s gig was supposed to start at 20:00 but at the time there was still a queue of about 250 metres outside and it was pouring rain. The crowd strolled through metal detectors, which made a routine entrance slow. The tickets were sold out hours before the set began, and extra tickets exchanged hands rapidly in auctions at the event’s Facebook page.
But wait a minute. Why is the Estonian head of state playing records at Kaiku in the first place?
Firstly, Ilves is a true lover of rock music. He grew up in New Jersey and New York region and listened to rock ‘n’ roll from his small 12 transistor radio for redemption. “Back then my life was saved by rock ‘n’ roll,” he said in an interview.
Secondly, the president was promoting his compilation CD with some of his favourite tunes. Teenage Wasteland consists of 16 songs from David Bowie to Ramones. A donation from every sold record will be received by an Estonian charity project for children who are seriously and chronically ill.
In Kaiku, the president was wearing a dark suit and a bow tie, surrounded by tough-looking security guards. With the aid of an assistant, Ilves played some of the songs from his CD but included other gems as well.
The legendary Finnish rock band Hurriganes was on the president’s list. Before putting on “Get On” he said that when it comes to “garage bands . . . there is only one band that did it right.” The crowd seemed mesmerized. And while the listeners stood in one place Ilves said, “You are just like Estonians.” “You can dance!”
Ilves paid tribute to great musicians who have passed away this year. About Prince he said: “Eric Clapton was asked ‘How does it feel to be the greatest guitar player in the world?’ and he said ‘I don’t know. Go ask Prince.'”
The crowd laughed and cheered and then Ilves put on one of the funkiest of Prince’s songs: “My Name is Prince.” “Prince was one magical motherfucker,” Ilves said.
After playing for over an hour with a local DJ and musician Sami Yaffa joining him at times, President Ilves sat at a table, where he posed for photographs and signed CDs.
The following day at a café in Töölö, a man was reading a newspaper with an article of Ilves’ performance.
“Look at that! Is a thing like this really suitable for a president’s image?” the man uttered loudly.
“Yes, I was there. The gig was good,” I said.
The man smiled.
On Thursday, President Ilves exited the club under the eyes of an astonished crowd, with one looming question on the spectators’ lips.
When will President Niinistö pull off a gig like this?