1994 - 2001

Heikki Lunta goes to Jamaica and Back

Conga Se Menne, c. 1994. Clockwise from top: Dave Ziegner, Jerry Kippola, founder Derrell Syria, and Les Ross, Jr. Photograph courtesy of Derrell Syria.

In 1994, Heikki Lunta once again made the radio with a song by Marquette based band Conga Se Menne. Named by a play on the Finnish-American phrase, “Kuinka Se Menee?” [“How is it going?”], Conga Se Menne brought an entirely new dimension to the Heikki Lunta story. Known for “Finnish Reggae,” Conga Se Menne mixes tropical sounds with traditional Finnish-American music for a style unlike any other. In a 1997 Minnesota Public Radio interview, bandleader Derrell Syria said of the unique stylings: “I used to play my grandfather's 78s all the time and I got into the marches and schottisches and I don't know when I first started realizing that these two beats were running parallel, and I came up with the first song I wrote that was like a Finnish reggae tune was "Come-a Take-a Sauna," and from that moment on we were hooked as far as blending those two styles together.” Following this successful experiment, reggae became a central source of inspiration for their music, and their Heikki Lunta songs have been strong parts of this tradition.

Conga Se Menne’s 1994 album featuring the song, “Guess Who’s Coming?” Heikki Lunta is featured on the cover, enjoying his summer home in Jamaica.

“Guess Who’s Coming?” was a play on the famous Caribbean reggae song, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? (Natty Dreadlocks).” The chorus, “Guess Who’s Coming to Sauna: Heikki Lunta,” captured local attention, and soon radio stations across the Upper Peninsula were playing the hit. In Marquette County, it was even listed among the most requested songs of the year. Had it been released a few months earlier, it would certainly have made the top ten.

Conga Se Menne’s 1996 album featuring “Look Who’s Sitting.”

Following the success of the 1994 release, Conga Se Menne recorded “Look Who’s Sitting in the Sauna (Heikki Lunta)” in 1996. This song provides a look at Heikki Lunta’s summer home in Jamaica, tying Heikki’s summer disappearances to this migration, and providing a connection to Conga Se Menne’s musical stylings. The song tells of Heikki’s return to Upper Michigan each winter, and how he must “Throw away the coconut/ Eat the kalamojakka” [a Finnish-American fish stew]. In an accompanying music video, Heikki is shown in the sauna, and dancing in the snow in a bathrobe and snowshoes.

Band leader Derrell Syria pointed out in a 2005 interview that in the song’s music video, Heikki Lunta’s face is not shown. This contributes to the folkloric anyman quality that Heikki Lunta enthusiasts have promoted since he was created. By leaving a certain amount of mystery to Heikki’s exact identity, to his exact location, and to his goings on, others are free to create their own works about him. It perpetuates the story.


In 2001, Heikki Lunta inspired Conga Se Menne once again, in the song, “Make it Snow.” Telling the story of locals who want Heikki to do his dance, this song features a chorus of children’s voices. A notable feature of this song is the fact that Heikki Lunta joins forces with “Miss La Niña” to make the snow come.

By using reggae fused with traditional Upper Michigan sounds including schottische and polka, Conga Se Menne reflect pride in their home region and culture. The associations of reggae music with sublime environments and a happy, carefree, existence translates to local pride in and love of the Upper Michigan environment. In the Conga Se Menne music video, song after song features people snowmobiling, enjoying a sauna, fishing, and dancing together. Common to popular discourse about Upper Michigan, though, one finds deprecation in this message of pride. Band mate Les Ross, Jr. said, also in 1997, “The past two winters in a row we set records for most snowfall and before that we set records for the coldest winters, so you have to do something to keep warm. So we take a lot of saunas, but that only goes so far. But music helps. Especially music that comes from where palm trees grow.”

Conga Se Menne’s 2001 album featuring the song, “Make it Snow.” In this song, children sing to Heikki and to La Niña to make the snow come, canceling school, and helping locals enjoy the winter in other ways.

COPYRIGHT:© Hilary Virtanen 2006
Accessibility concerns to sjziemen@wisc.edu