Anni Pohto is an acclaimed singer-songwriter and Berklee College of Music scholar. She just released her new single “DEEP” from her upcoming album “The Rising”. In addition, she is an advocate for women, peace & security with a degree in world politics, and believes in music as a tool for healing both individuals and societies.
Could you tell us a bit about yourself?
I am a singer-songwriter, and I just put out my first song “DEEP” from my upcoming album “The Rising”. Also, I’m a political scientist with a degree in world politics and security studies.
The foundation of my music is built on layers of old school songwriting, 90s hip hop, and a dash of 21st-century pop music. I started playing piano and writing songs when I was 6 years old. From early on I was exposed to both jazz and classical music, as well as our Finnish classics such as composers Jean Sibelius and Oskar Merikanto and more popular songwriters and singers such as Tapio Rautavaara and Laila Kinnunen. Slowly things became more and more serious until I got my first major label record deal in my early twenties. It didn’t really work out, but it was a meaningful step on my path.
While working as a songwriter for other artists and struggling in the maze of the local music industry, I found myself both as a Berklee College of Music scholar and Master of Global Political Science to-be. After my world-view widened both academically from my new studies, and socially from living in Boston, it was pretty much impossible to fit in the old mold anymore.
I worked on my indie artist career for a number of years before my EP ’Redemption Street’ started to get some traction. ’Stains’ was chosen as the song of the week at YleX radio. This, together with my prior collaboration with the acclaimed Finnish rapper, Pyhimys, co-writing and co-producing his album Medium, in a way cast the foundation of my career.
Now I’m ready to start releasing my new songs. Those have been written during the last three, four years in several places in Finland, Central Europe, Africa, and the US, truly proving the meaning of music as a global language. My album is a wakeup call for people to realize their own powers. The album dives deep into our roots and ancient mythologies while taking inspiration from everything that's going on in the world right now. During the writing process I also learnt about my own roots, and took my ancestral name, Pohto, as my stage name.
How about your free time?
Besides music I am an active advocate for a more peaceful and sustainable world. I truly believe we create more peace only by becoming more peaceful within. So besides music and global politics I’m really into self-development: how to learn to live with myself with more grace and create routines that support my wellbeing.
How would you describe yourself?
I guess my defining feature is the need to grow, to understand, and to learn both about myself and the world around me. So I’m an adventurer. I don’t shy away from tricky things or situations, because those usually define an adventure.
I’m also a forever optimist. In the past, sometimes being too hopeful about things (or people) changing for the better tricked me into being stuck in a fool’s hope. But now I understand it better. The word optimist stems from “optimizing”: finding the best in everything. Making the most of things. So I do believe that as long as I have my ability to find meaning, gratitude, beauty, and progress in any given situation, I will keep on living a life that feels mine and which hopefully leaves this place in a slightly better condition than when I came here.
What drives and brings meaning to your work?
I’m a fond believer in humanity. Once I realized that my music is not about me, but about me serving my audience's emotional needs, everything changed. I am here to help people wake up to their own power. It happens in a two-fold way: on one hand by empowering, inspiring and bringing joy. But all that will be built on sand if you don’t deal with the darker emotions. So on the other hand it is as crucial to embrace your darkness. And that’s what my first song, DEEP, is actually about.
What do you respect, what’s valuable for you?
Everything is valuable! I guess it’s more about us valuing what is.
But to actually answer the question, I respect life itself in a way that I try to support life in all its forms instead of destroying it. In a nutshell, this means treating my body with respect, treating the environment with respect, and treating everyone and everything around me with respect. Honestly, it is a miracle that we exist.
And what is valuable to me is honesty. I want things that are real. People that are real. Food that is real. Emotions that are real. I’m tired of likeability, and things that are made to be consumed mindlessly and without focus.
How do you balance your life and find time for everything?
I think the question is a bit funny. I’ve made a very conscious choice of steering myself out of the attitude of “busy and stressful life”. (Doesn’t mean I would never be busy or stressed.) Instead, I simply always try to be present. So whatever it is that I am doing, I try to focus on just that. For me, using an actual timer (i.e. the pomodoro technique) has been very helpful.
Also, I do live a very simple life. I eat simple plant-based food, and my daily goals are very simple. I always try to remind myself of the bigger picture before jumping into anything. There’s no use of running fast if you are going in the wrong direction. Everyday, I try to move my body, focus on my work by choosing a few tangible things or projects to work on, have meaningful conversations, create space and good energy around me, and be present. I’ve come to realize that when there’s quality over quantity it actually starts to build up.
What skill are you still going to learn?
Oh, there are so many! As I’ve wrapped up my Master’s in political science, I’d like to get back on track with my language studies, including French, Spanish and Arabic. And there’s always more to learn in music, too. I am never done honing my skills as a singer, pianist, songwriter, producer, storyteller. And finally, on a totally different note, I’m looking forward to eventually getting my “driver’s licence for sailors” so I could rent a boat and sail away once this pandemic is over.
Who or what inspires you?
Right now I find inspiration in things that ask endurance: like reading “a bit heavier” books and doing long, slow exercises. Especially in this time and age, I do believe the ones who are able to endure – focus for long periods of time in one single task – will be the ones who will eventually stand out. That’s real stamina and resilience, at least for me.
What cannot you live without?
This sense of divine connection. Without that, there’s nothing.
What do you expect from the future?
Right now I am looking forward to releasing the songs on my album “The Rising”. The album itself will be out 13 August 2021, but I will be releasing some of the songs throughout the months prior to it. Regarding the album I have two goals: to be of service by helping people wake up to their own power; and to get to work with some of the people I look up to.
In addition I have some plans as a peacemaker, as I’ve been doing work with different NGOs throughout my career. Music is a wonderful tool for healing; it can bring people in connection with themselves and each other. I’m eager to see how I can further use my expertise in these two fields in the future.
What would you tell the teenager Anni?
You’re awesome. Just do your thing!
What is your relationship with fashion and style?
To be honest, it’s a bit problematic or two-fold. There are a lot of problems in the fashion industry from environmental issues to societal ones, as well as how women are portrayed in the media. But then again, fashion and style can also be a form of self-respect. Beautiful, fitting clothes make me feel good and trust myself. And if you know what you buy, you also know the money goes to the right people. So I think it’s important to be aware of both sides and work from there.