Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho and Senegalese percussionist, songwriter and Mbalax pioneer Youssou N’Dour have been awarded the 2013 Polar Music Prize.
The prize was founded in 1989 by the highly influential publisher, lyricist and manager of ABBA, Stig Anderson, to annually recognise exceptional achievements by individual artists or groups. One of the most prestigious and unique music awards in the world, the Polar Music Prize crosses all musical divides, genres and styles.
Saariaho and N’Dour are the latest names to join a stellar list of previous winners that includes Sir Paul McCartney, Witold Lutoslawski, Ray Charles, Bob Dylan, Ravi Shankar, Stevie Wonder and Steve Reich; a roll of fame hat spans a wide range of countries and cultures.
The daughter of a Finnish metal worker, Kaija Saariaho wasn’t born into a musical or particularly cultured family life, but even at an early age she became extremely sensitive to the sounds she found while scanning the radio and listening to her own musical imagination. So vivid were the sounds she could create within her own mind that the young Kaija would ask her mother to turn off her pillow, assuming that the music was being produced by her bed just like the radio she played with in the day.
From such highly gifted beginners, Saariaho made her way to the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki as the only woman in her class, going on to create some of the most futuristic music of the 20th century, and continuing to innovate and blur boundaries between classical, avant-garde and electronic music today.
Check out the announcement videos below to hear how Kaija Saariaho and Youssou N’Dour were selected to win this year’s awards:
Find out more about the Polar Music Prize and its history on the official Polar Music Prize website.