Cultural Personality of the week: Charles Gil
This week’s Cultural Personality is Charles Gil, Festival Manager heading the Raahe Jazz on the Beach for the seventh year running. Hailing from Lyon, France, Charles arrived in Finland in 1995 and the very next year, 1996, he visited the Raahe Jazz on the Beach for the first time. Then in his thirties, Charles says he fell in love with the festival right away.
“Since then, I’ve been to Raahe countless times.
The 33rd Raahe Jazz of the Beach took place on 28–30 July 2022, and Charles says it was a great honour to be part of such a committed and professional organising team.
Charles is also the manager of the touring and booking agency Vapaat Äänet. The first tour of the agency started in 1996 from Raahe. Since then, Charles has been the promoter of French jazz in Finland with a passion for building cultural bridges between Finland and France. Vapaat Äänet organise four to five tours of French jazz every year, with Charles in charge of tour planning and the practical arrangements.
“It is important to me that artists feel at home and that things go smoothly. That’s when artists feel welcome, are able to give their best and the audience enjoys the performances.
Charles’ agency also helps Finnish musicians to promote their international careers. Collaboration with artists such as Mikko Innanen started more than two decades ago. The French jazz export through Vapaat äänet has been supported from the beginning by the French Ministry of Culture and the French Institute.
On top of all that, Charles also served as the Artistic Director of the Pori Jazz Ultra Music programme from 2003 until 2013. In addition, he is working on his Slow Touring concept particularly in Finland and the Baltics.
What are you up to these days? How do you spend your spare time?
I’m great, busy getting ready for Jazz on the Beach as we speak. Festival organisation involves a lot of practical, invisible work, from catering to scheduling and logistics, so that’s what has taken up my summer.
I do try to take an occasional break and spend time in the Inkoo archipelago. My aim is to always take some time off even in the midst of a busy schedule. I read a lot and swim in open water all year round. I discovered swimming even before I moved to Finland, it is something that really helps me to wind down. Although I don’t really go to saunas much, I do enjoy a good, traditional smoke sauna.
What does our leading theme, Cultural Climate Change, mean to you?
I started my career as a tour promoter way back in 1987 in Lyon, and the job has taken me around the world. I got tired of one-off events and deliberately try to avoid unnecessary travel. I don’t organise one-off gigs for my artists either, as I’d rather book more gigs within one region to make the journey worth their while. This approach is not just more ecological but it also improves the wellbeing of the crew from the artist to the light technicians. If it means I can’t book a certain act this year, I’m happy to wait until the next year. Life is all about knowing when to give in and wait. Because we postpone one or two artists until next year, does not make this year’s event any worse.
The entire Raahe team is on the same page with me on this, as we don’t want to overburden the planet. Sustainable development is at the heart of what we do and therefore we serve local plant-based food and fish at the festival. We source the equipment locally, which helps us avoid unnecessary transport. Raahe Jazz on the Beach is an artist-driven festival focused on sustainable development.
We have plenty of young, enthusiastic team members with whom the more experienced organisers are happy to share best practices.
What is it like to work in Northern Finland? How do you find the Oulu2026 region at this present time?
The importance of openness and transparency has become more emphasised, which is having a positive impact on culture. Culture is extremely important in the current global situation. We need to think what different cultures can give us and what Northern culture can give to the rest of the world. After the coronavirus pandemic, we must restore the value and status of culture to the level where it belongs and to get back to being a community.
I have visited Oulu several times on tour and I find that Oulu is beginning to come out of its shell more and more. The Oulu Music Festival is a welcome injection of energy to the cultural ecosystem and I enjoy collaborating with people from Oulu.
What will the Oulu2026 region look and feel like in 2026? How do you think the Capital of Culture title will impact Northern Finland?
I hope that by 2026, culture has regained its position. Engaging with audiences is crucial for artists and I hope 2026 offers a major opportunity for that. We mustn’t forget the mistakes that were made in the field of culture during the pandemic, we must learn from them. I believe that as a cultural capital, Oulu will grow even more open and attractive to new international interest and opportunities.
Without volunteers, none of these events would be possible, so I hope that the joy of working together is something that lingers long into the future.
What does culture mean to you personally?
To me, culture is life. It is the film I watch, the book I read, the theatre shows I go and see, and all the dance, music and song. Without culture there is no meaning to life. Culture need not be present at all times but it does need to be accessible, always. It means sensations, and even sports culture is part of all culture. Culture means wellbeing.