This is how the adventure about KEiiNO began.

From / Her og Nå
Translated by: Linda Karina Brandt

When KEiiNO received the message that they had been selected for the  Norwegian Melodi Grand prix (Norwegian selection of ESC, /Red.), they still hadn’t met each other. Now they are the grand hope during Eurovision in Tel Aviv.

KEIINO will stay: In December, Tom Hugo, Alexandra and Fred were gathered in the same room for the first time. Today they are like siblings and have plans of continuing this adventurous journey, also after Eurovision.
Photo: Morten Bendiksen / Her og Nå

27th of October 1979, Tom Hugo Hermansen (39) saw the light of day at Kristiansand hostpital. For two years the parents stayed together, before they parted and went each their way. Tom Hugo remembers the growing upbringing as a harmonic period though.

  • My upbringing was safe and fine. My parents were young when they had me and chose to get divorced after a few years. I have no memories of them together, and today I have a good relationship with both of them. But I can’t picture them as being married! I’m very happy they have found partners on each their part. They have given me two brothers on my father’s side and a sister on my mother’s side, tells Tom Hugo.
Life lie: tom Hugo Hermansen was 27 years old before he was honest with himself about his own sexuality. Today he is married to co-songwriter for “Spirit in the sky”, Alex Olsson. Photo: Morten Bendiksen / Her og Nå
  • I grew up with my mum, but I also lived with my dad. I have always been a nomad, both inside my head and in my life. Freud would probably have said that it has something to do with my childhood. Tom Hugo laughs lightly.

Here, in an apartment in an apartment building in the happy South, the interest for music began to grow at an early age.

  • That “Bobbysocks” won with “La det swinge”, is one of the really big things I remember in life. I was five then. My mum has told me that I during childhood sat glued in front of the LP-player with some huge headphones. Then I sat in front of the piano and composed for myself. And if there was a stage anywhere nearby, I tried to get up on it, remembers the “Eurovision”-hope.
Tom remembers one of the very first songs he wrote. He was six years old and wrote the song “Brøster” for his coming brother or sister. (combination of brother and sister – bror/søster, /Red.) Photo: Private

Not just easy

But childhood wasn’t just a dance on roses.

  • I was rather good and chubby and was probably a bit teased because I was big. But I was really good at giving back verbally – with good and bad. Many probably tok me as precocious, thinks Tom Hugo.

Luckily he had extremely many friends during childhood.

  • I had friends amongst all groups, both the cool kids and those who were regarded outcasts. I wandered between the groups, at the same time I felt I didn’t really belong anywhere.
Precocious: When Tom started school he had problems finding his place in the social groups. He wandered between groups and did his best not to stand out. Photo: Private

Never thought I could love a man

It was around this time the sympathic singer began to understand that he was not quite like everyone else. It was the beginning of an inner tug-of-war which then would continue the next 20 years.

The MGP-winner never thought he would marry a man: – I felt ashamed.

– Allerede i tenårene forsto jeg at jeg likte gutter. Men dette var følelser jeg la lokk på. Jeg hadde planer om å få meg kone og barn, og leve ut sørlandsidyllen. Jeg bygde opp et forsvar mot følelsene og ble 27 før jeg innrømmet det overfor meg selv – og de rundt meg, forteller Tom Hugo.

  • Already in my teens I understood I liked guys. But it were feelings I put a lid on. I had plans of wife and child, and live out the southern idyl. I built up a defense against the feelings and was 27 before I admitted it to myself – and those around me, tells Tom Hugo.

And when his husband, Alex Olsson, showed up, the last pieces of the puzzle fell into place.

  • To be honest is the best decision I’ve made. I never thought I could love a man. And now I’m married to one! When I met Alex, it was like we had known each other all our lives. It was almost like love at first sight. Finally, I was able to be myself, privately and on stage. And with honesty came also the success with the music, tells Tom Hugo.

Fred Buljo was proud to be Sapmi – until he moved to the big city

Rich background: Fred Buljo is greateful for his upbringing as Sápmi in Kautokeino. It has helped to form him into the person he is today. Photo: Morten Bendiksen / Her og Nå

Nine years after Tom Hugo arrived at a hospital in Kristiansand, Sápmi Fred René Buljo (31) entered this world in the same city. Fred’s dad studied music in the Southern city when the future rapper saw the light of day on February 6th 1988.

He spent his two first years as “Southern” before the little family set course North towards Kautekeino.

  • My parents split up around the same time we moved North. Since then I’ve had six half-siblings, a step-dad and a step-mom. Growing up in a two-parted home probably wasn’t optimal. I would have loved a firm place to grow up. It was difficult to bond with the step-mom I had back then. I have thought a great deal about it as adult, remembers Fred, looking back. 
Musical genes: Fred started early playing the guitar like his dad, but it was when he began making music on the PC he found his place. Later he started the Sápmi rap-group “Duolva Duottar”. Photo: Private

Held concerts at home

In the middle of the center of Sápmi culture and history, it was the music which caught the interest of young Buljo. For a long time the family held reindeer, a tradition which was lost in favour of the music.

  • In the 60s my family had one of the largest reindeer herds. When my granddad became ill my dad got the offer of taking over, but he would rather play the guitar. They were probably not all that happy with that. For me who am allergic to reindeer, it would have been a problem having reindeer herd. Biology pressured me into the music world, grins the Finnmark-boy.
  • Fred draws a picture of a guy who was standing in his bedroom and performed his songs in front of a visualized audience. He had hung up a bedsheet as a backdrop and was in the middle of a passionate performance, when the mother showed herself in the doorway. 
  • I was so embarrassed! There I was, performing THE concert, and then mum showed up! But it’s special to think that I already then dreamt of performing my music, tells Fred.
Two-parted family: Fred was only two years old when his parents split up. Since then he has become six half-siblings. Photo: Private

Looked down at

At school he quickly found his place. As sportsguy and musicial he was well liked. The friends he has today, has followed him since kindergarten.

  • That’s how its like to grow up in a small town, he explains.

It was when he moved from the safe environment in Kautokeino as 19 year old, he for the first time met the feelings of not fitting in.

  • At that time it was looked down at being Sápmi, especially in Tromsø. There was a bad mood and I was confronted. I constantly had to defend being Sápmi and spoke my own language. For the first time, I was a minority and got to feel what it was like to be different. It was a difficult time, admits Fred.

The situation has changed

Since then, Fred has experienced the situation changing. After he with the Sápmi rap-group “Duolva Duottar” went all the way to the finale in “Norway’s got talent”, he has walked around with his head held high and is proud to be Sápmi. In the later years, he has also engaged himself within the Sápmi government, Sametinget.

  • I wouldn’t be the person I am today, without the Sápmi culture. It’s a large part of my personality. It has taught me to respect and protect nature. It has also given me an understanding of minorities. My heart beats for the weak in the society. It’s also the background for why I wanted to work with children. As a pedagogic leader in a Sápmi kindergarten, I get to take part in protecting and bringing up children, tells Fred.

Alexandra Rotan was frozen out: – I had to change school

Living out the dream: For Alexandra Rotan it has always been the biggest natural thing to stand on a scene. She has been told she could sing before she could talk. Photo: Morten Bendiksen / Her og Nå

On a warm summerday in 1996, KEiNo’s youngest member came into this world. At Lørenskog hospital was “a little princess with a royal name born in an emperoius manner”. At least according to Alexandra Rotan’s (22) baptism book.

I was named after a princess, born by C-section (called emperor’s cut in Scandinavia) and I was born as the firstborn in the family. I was lucky. I was served well on, was round and good, firm and stubborn. But most importantly of everything, I was brought up by loving parents who have  always made me feel safe and accepted for exactly the one I am, tells Alexandra. Later the brother Tobias (16) and sister Cornelia (12) were born.

Passion: Alexandra remembers that she as little could lie in front of the radio and listen to songlyrics. For the Råholt-girl there has never been an alternative to the music. Photo: Private.

Completely like others, this little princess wasn’t. It was soon clear that the had an unusual talent.

  • I could sing before I was able to talk. Tones of music came out of me all of a sudden. As a child, I would lie quiet as a mouse next to the radio and listen to music. The lyrics got stuck. I could sing everything by ear. It has followed me on. When I listen to music, it is like the lyrics are glued into my mind at once, the Rotan-girl smiles enthusiastically. 

The stage became her home. When Alexandra got to perform, she was happy and she never felt performing nerves.

  • I wasn’t standing there because I wanted the attention, but because I loved it. I have always felt that nothing can stop me! It was so omni-consuming that I still today haven’t had the experience of having a best friend. When others put out pictures on social media, and talk about friends they have had since childhood, I become a little sad. But at the same time, it has always been right to prioritize my passion. The music has meant everything, Alexandra admits and points out that she is very social and good at surrounding her with people who give her pleasure and energy on a daily basis. 
Mom’s princess: Alexandra has a close relationship both to her mom and dad. They have given her the stamina to stand by herself also through the tough parts of life. Photo: Private.

Participated in “MGP Junior”

As 15-year-old, Alexandra was thrown into the MGP-junior adventure. (Junior ESC, /Red.) A few years later, she tried herself in “Idol”.

As long as she remembers, she has taken her place, and thanks to a supporting family, has Alexandrea dared to offer herself completely without shyness. But not everyone around her liked her success. 

  • The times I was frozen out at school has settled inside me. I recall how it happened, what was said and how the environment was. Like when we went on a class excursion and was about to eat lunch together. All the girls sat together. When I went there and asked if I could sit there also, they said there was no room. I remember a girl who turned her back on me and left every time I walked by. If she came into a group, she would turn and leave, Alexandra tells with a clear look.
  • I could walk into a classroom and there would be written about me on the blackboard. In high school, I changed to another school. I didn’t fit, I wasn’t cool enough for those who went there. You need hardship before success, that’s the way it is with everything. Luckily I opened up to my parents at that time. 

After high school, it became easier for the songbird. The Idol-participation became a jump to a two-year long tour with the known DJ, Alan Walker. Later the participation in MGP with the “Haba-Haba” vocalist, Stella Mwangi.

When three destinies become one

Photo: Morten Bendiksen / Her og Nå

Tom Hugo, Fred René og Alexandra er født over tre forskjellige tiår. De er oppvokst i hver sin ende av vårt langstrakte land. En homofil, en same og en kvinne – alle representerer de folkegrupper som har kjempet en historisk kamp for rettferdighet. I desember 2018 befant de seg for første gang i samme rom – med et felles mål om å vinne Eurovision i Tel Aviv.

– Først 4. desember, én uke etter at fristen hadde gått ut, fikk vi beskjed om at «Keiino» var med videre i MGP. Da hadde vi enda ikke møttes! Jeg hadde kontaktet Fred noen måneder tidligere, og vi hadde sendt ideer frem og tilbake. Alexandra ble egentlig tilbudt å synge en annen sang, men ville kun delta om vi fikk fremføre «Spirit in the sky». Nå gjensto det å spille inn sangen – og vi hadde to dager på oss! avslører Tom Hugo.

A nerve-wrecking first meeting

Fred recalls the first meeting as nerve-wrecking.

  • It was Tom who had handpicked us. It wasn’t a given that it would work. When I met the others, I had only just handed over my apartment. I had been through a break-up and moved back to Oslo after some time in Kårfjord. A lot of things happened right then. KEiiNO was exactly what I needed, to be able to look forward again.

Above all expectations

lexandra thinkgs the first meeting went above all expectations.

  • With such different people and such large age-gap, one should really think it was doomed to fail. But the chemistry was in place straight away. And everything has just become better and better as we have opened up more. Since then, we have traveled country and beach together, and shown ourselves from our most vulnerable sides. It has made us become like siblings. We are hard-working and really want this so badly, all of us.

Tom Hugo agrees with Alexandra’s thoughts. 

  • I feel I have become new siblings in Fred and Alexandra. Its like in a love realationship where you find “the one”-. That’s how it feels with KEiiNO. We work so well together and will continue working together, far our over the Eurovision-participation. 

Have a goal

But first, they have one goal: winning the people during the big final in Tel Aviv.

  • Already when I contacted Fred, I said we were planning to win Eurovision with a song about respect and equality. Of course, we weren’t we would win MGP, but it was an important partial goal on the way. Today I’m a realist, but I also have faith, tells Tom Hugo.
  • We are people of the people: Fred from Kautokeino, Alexandra from Råholt and myself from a less hipp place in Kristiansand. None of us are from a finer cultural home. We like music which most people like. And we have the faith that we are going to win the people’s votes.