esmaspäev, juuli 26, 2010

folk you

Who knew Estonia had so many "dirty hippies"? At least that's what my curmudgeonly punk-rocking friends would call them. From some unknown well in the mists of Estonia's bogs spurted forth this month enough natty dreads and nose rings to fill a small city. And of all Estonian cities they chose this one, Viljandi, in which to congregate.

Well, they were invited. They were promised music -- at a price -- and access to alcoholic beverages. There was also food, lots of it. During the Viljandi Pärimusmuusika Festival, also known as the Viljandi Folk Music Festival, held here over the weekend, decent food was to be savored and enjoyed, and all of it a five-minute walk from my house. If only the food vendors could stay on. If only there was a an ice cream jahutus punkt ("cooling station") operational from noon to midnight every day, right there, next to the Johan Laidoner memorial. If only.

It's good the concertgoers left though. Despite the music, the food, the cosmic vibration, things got a bit too wild outside our window on Saturday night. I heard drunk Estonian guys trying to pick up foreign girls, their voices echoing in the cobblestone streets: "Hey prrretty girrrls! Wherrre arrre you going? You look verrry nice!"

Each morning I woke up to a heavy metal concert broadcast from someone's massive car sound system on the lake. Estonian heavy metal is noxious: I can't get into it, never will. The muddy growling, the repetitive trashing of electric instruments. But if you attended the Meestelaulutuba ("the mens' singing room") then you'd see that traditional song and Estonian metal are linked. Estonian guys have deep voices. When they sang together, some drinking beer already at 11 am, the floor of the room vibrated with the all-bass choir. A typical verse:

Läksin metsa puida tooma/Läksin metsa puida tooma. ("I went to the forest to get some wood"). The bold denotes when the chorus of voices sing together with the song leader.

As they went around the room trading verse about leaves and forests and the sea, I started to nervously formulate my own lyrics, fearing I might have to lead the room in a song. Something like:

Üleeile läksin ma Selverisse/Üleeile läksin ma Selverisse. ("The day before yesterday, I went to the supermarket").

Fortunately, I didn't get to try it out this time. Maybe I'll work up a whole regilaul ("runo song") about shopping at Selver for my next male singing experience. I left half way through because I had no idea what we were singing. I did learn some sexual metaphors though. Who knew that metsakaev ("forest well") could be such a loaded term? Don't bring that one up in the presence of grandma. I wonder what the Estonian ladies sing about in private.

So, Estonian folk culture is like anything else. It has its good sides and bad sides. Good sides are probably the singing and the clothes. Runo songs are ancient and interesting: it's a literary language in its own right. One verse we sang was about the Swedish king ... and the last time Estonia had a Swedish king was 300 years ago. Estonian folk costumes, at least for men, can be extremely accessible. All you need is a pair of medieval-looking workman's clothes with a folk pattern on the neck and a skullcap and you're set.

But what's bad about Estonian folk culture? The dancing. Estonian folk dancing is like the final question on your tenth-grade math final. You keep looking at the equation, trying to reduce it to something less complex, but no matter how much scrap paper you use, you just can't solve it. That was me trying to comprehend the mix of line dancing and polkas that comprised the Estonian dance taught at a festival workshop. Dancing in such conditions is dangerous. Do not polka if you have not polkad before. Someone could get hurt. Believe me, I know.

This amuses me, because I really enjoyed dancing to the Habana Son Club. They did a salsified version of "Sunny," which was closer to the Boney M. '76 version than Marvin Gaye's '66 rendition. See, I know pop trivia. I used to work in a music store. I know music, but I don't know how to polka. And I could dance to a lawless Cuban rhythm but not an Estonian one. Or maybe there were Cuban laws, ones I understood innately as a former denizen of the Western Hemisphere? The more I thought about it, the more Estonian dancing seemed like a social activity, an clever way to get to know the opposite sex, while Cuban dancing seemed to operate on an entirely different spiritual level. There seems to be a religious quality to Latin music that is absence from the valley of the polka, or maybe I just haven't done enough polkas yet to get to the next level.

The festival happened to coincide with a full moon, and it was an evil, yellow one at that. Lightning and thunder twirled around Viljandi Lake almost every evening. The seemingly non-stop parties lasted until 5 am. Walking around, unshaven, dressed like Kalevipoeg, I kept thinking about David Crosby, not Stephen Stills or Graham Nash or Neil Young or Roger McGuinn or Chris Hillman, but Crosby, and only Crosby. He was there in a way, counseling me about how to escape a gathering of the tribes unscathed. Of all people, Crosby would know how to survive an event known colloquially as "Folk." Crosby's folk days were colored with mind-altering substances and licentious women and Hells Angels and did Viljandi Folk not differ ? Mind-altering substances? Check. Licentious women? Check. Motorcycle gangs? Check. I imagined a new bumper sticker for concertgoers. Rather than, 'What would Jesus do?' attendees could ask themselves, 'What would Crosby do?'

The most obvious answer is, "get high," just like everyone else. But beyond that, I think that Crosby and other prophets of the sixties milieu would manage to extract something profound and borderline divine from the naked squalor of music festivals. In the face of 21st century e-oppression, forced to be available to all around the clock to provide any service at any time, I managed to mostly disconnect for a few precious days. In spite of the trash, in spite of the heavy metal campers, in spite of the drunk hooligans, there is something redeemingly positive about Folk, which is why it has been a successful draw for 18 years, even here in Viljandi, this country's very own Glastonbury or Roskilde or Coachella.

Which doesn't mean that I don't despise drunk hooligans. Nothing like being told to Mine ära ("go away") by some idiot who, upon observing my public use of the English language, decided to make it known that he was a supporter of a homogenous, vanilla Estonia.

"Mis asja?" ("What do you mean?") I responded to the idiot.

"Mine ära!" he repeated.

"Kust? Viljandist või?" ("From where? Viljandi?") I asked.

"Üldiselt," ("In general") he grumbled.

My wife took me by the hand as we walked away. "Those people are really dangerous," she whispered in my ear. Were they? I wanted to ask the idiot if he was Estonia's last Nazi. He probably wasn't, but his presence did behoove me to get away, from him. I wondered how he felt about the Austrian yodelers and Cuban conga players and Irish fiddlers and all the others who had taken over his town, at his own people's invitation no less. How did he feel about the Hungarians and Poles and Spaniards and Somalis who had come to conquer Viljandi's hills and valleys. I felt encouraged by it. Moved. Empowered. Bring them all to Viljandi. Come tattoos, come nose rings, come squalor and empty beer cans and accordions and bagpipes. Come bad pickup lines and carrot smoothies. Come to Viljandi. Rescue us from the tyranny of the idiot. Infuse this provincial town with diversity, cleanse it with noise, like fluoride to teeth, soap to skin, seawater to natty dread.

34 kommentaari:

Rainer ütles ...

"...Walking around, unshaven, dressed like Kalevipoeg..."

That regal-looking gentleman in white linen outfit actually was you? Hmm...
I also saw you with the Naine & Lapsed, knowing for certain it was you. So the Kalevipoeg-version wasn't your not-so-evil twin after all.

PS. I'd rather go with "üleeile KÄISIN ma Selveris", because it took place in the past.

PPS. I don't get that Estonian Heavy Metal business either.

Rainer ütles ...

PPPS. Folk you right back!

Giustino ütles ...

PS. I'd rather go with "üleeile KÄISIN ma Selveris", because it took place in the past.

Gramatically better, rhythmically lacking. I haven't perfected my Selver Regilaul yet.

Eppppp ütles ...

I advise "Eile käisin Selverissa..."

Kaspar ütles ...

I believe you heard some metal/death/whatever -core genre, this is not heavy metal.
Real king of Estonian heavy metal was Gunnar Graps.
Today, unfortunately, we do not have heavy metal bands in Estonia anymore.

Rainer ütles ...

"Eile käisin Selverissa..."

That's exactly what I woud have proposed ;)

merje ütles ...

Eile käisin Selverissa
tähtsal kõhutäitemissal.
Maksapasteeti, värsket piima,
maitsvat kala, kommi "Tiina"
- kõike plaanis osta mul,
kuid deebetkaardilt vastu vahtis "0"

suicidaalnemees ütles ...

Sammusin minä eila Selverissa
ostsen kraami kaupmihemissal.

Maksapasteeti, värsküt piima,
maitsvat kala, kompvekki "Tiina"

Tääd kraami plaanin osta mul,
kaardimassinast vastu vahtse "0"

Letti panin mina oma õlleraha pisku
Müüjaprouad aga tahtnud võtta liisku.

Järgmine kommenteerija parandab ja lisab.

notsu ütles ...

Come on, these last examples are rhymed and what have rhymes to do with regilaul? it is all about alliteration, parallelism and metric trochees. Rhymes are optional, the meter isn't.

Eile käisin Selverissa
õhtusööki ostemassa,
käisin, kange, kurkidessa,
poekäruga poosetamas...

catalina ütles ...

Eile käisin Selverissa
Ostusida ostlemassa
Joogi järel janutamas
Sööki-saaki sahmerdamas
Tengelpunga tuulutamas
Rahapiskut raiskamas
Leiba, õlut osta tahtsi
Null see kaardilt vastu vahtsi

Well, just one version...and of course repetitions and chorus is a "must".

Btw, to get more into the style one should just read/listen many old texts or songs. Its contaminating - you read/listen and then start thinking like this for some time.Well, some people do at least... After reading peasant laws (from the beginning of the 19th century) as a student many years ago I had to force myself back into normal language. And this is not runo, but most "effective" for me are Nordic sagas' translations by Rein Sepp. Wonderful language,their rhythm is easy to copy ...e.g. "kähmlusekärss" can be used as synonym for those drunk and aggressive guys :)

Giustino ütles ...

I don't get this -issa ending. They never taught us that in Keeltekool. If I could have said 'käisin Selverissa' I would have done it, but I thought it had to be 'Selveris.'

Piimapukk ütles ...

I have the same problem as Giustino - I completely lack any fear of white hooligans. In New York you are dedinitely not afraid of anybody who lookes like the gangsta wannabes in Viljandi. They just make you chuckle.

And chuckle I did.

I have a fractured cheekbone to prove it. Never saw it coming. Nor Ffrom an Estonian. For no reason no less.

So much for our national unity or purity or whaterver.

F it.

notsu ütles ...

They probably taught to say "puid tooma" as well in Keeltekool, instead of "puida tooma". Well, one thing about archaic poetry forms is that they work better with archaic morphology too. Think early modern period, if not earlier.

John Anthony Allen ütles ...

I liked what you said about the Estonian folk dancing.

About two years ago my wife and I joined up with the Tulehoidjad, Estonian folk dancers here in Portland, Oregon. As you can imagine, it's a small cadre of dedicated, long-time participants who have danced all of the dances hundreds of times. On our first day, when we expressed some reservation that we didn't know what we were doing, they smiled cheerfully and said, "Don't worry, we'll push and pull you along until you get it."

I still haven't learned those damn dances, no matter how many times I've been "pushed and pulled" ... In fact, the only dances I know the new ones our group learned from scratch for last year's Tantsupidu.

And I agree with Catalina about that old-timey rhythm getting stuck in your head. It always takes a day or two to fade after my yearly attempts to read Kalevipoeg.

Anonüümne ütles ...

Polka is the easy thing, try some folklore waltz or swedish hambo!

martintg ütles ...

Piimapukk ütles...
I have the same problem as Giustino - I completely lack any fear of white hooligans. In New York you are dedinitely not afraid of anybody who lookes like the gangsta wannabes in Viljandi. They just make you chuckle.

And chuckle I did.

I have a fractured cheekbone to prove it. Never saw it coming. Nor from an Estonian. For no reason no less.

So much for our national unity or purity or whaterver.

I think having a chuckle was probably a mistake. Some people take these things as a challenge.

Showing astonishment at the lack of "national unity" seems somewhat naive, that kind of dynamic is a common human feature seen in certain socio-economic circles.

Go to any red-neck bar in the USA and stare at some guy and have a chuckle when he objects, see if you don't end up getting a knuckle sandwich.

Giustino ütles ...

Go to any red-neck bar in the USA and stare at some guy and have a chuckle when he objects, see if you don't end up getting a knuckle sandwich.

I went to play a gig at a bar in Virginia once. I took one step in and saw the guys at the bar and promptly left. Not my audience! But, Estonia is maybe a bit safer. No dragging deaths so far.

cara-blog ütles ...

thanks bro for this information, visit back to download ebook gratis, please :)

Anonüümne ütles ...


Piimapukk ütles ...

Naive is the word. I am no longer naive about eesti and eestlased. I no longer get teary-eyed at Laulupidu.

Just a cold stare from me. Ready to punch first. That makes me like most everyone else.

That too is naive? Of course it is. But a bit safer.

martintg ütles ...

Piimapukk ütles...
Naive is the word. I am no longer naive about eesti and eestlased. I no longer get teary-eyed at Laulupidu.

Sad that you have projected your unhappy experience upon Estonia generally. Bashings are unfortunately a fact of life anywhere. Just recently is this report about the chronic level of mindless random violence by gangs of roaming youth on Melbounre trains:

Mai ütles ...

Tegelikult, Justin,
on Sul nüüd piisavalt materiali My Estonia II jaoks, ootan ammu põnevusega. Sul on hea silm ja mõnus huumor. Tahtsin Viljandis korduvalt öelda AITÄHH Sulle ja Epule,
aga siis olite jälle tantsiskledes kadunud....

Justin ütles ...

I've always wondered what the local Viljandi residents think of the festival. The population of their city more than doubles during this time. The place is full of people, and as can be expected, people are loud, there's trash everywhere, etc.

However, I wonder if they put up with it as it must be a big boost to the local economy. All the shops, bars, lodging places, and restaurants must make a killing during those few days.

Do the residents who don't want to deal with it just leave?

Sharon ütles ...

The little I've seen of Estonian folk dancing does not appeal to me. I quite enjoy Scottish Country dancing, where the movement of the feet is simple while the figure of the dance is intricate. Estonian folk dancing looked like things might be the other way around

viimneliivlane ütles ...

Good, compact report on Viljandi Volgi which I concur that while celebrating feel-good diversity with music from everywhere else, Estonian music doesn´t get lost but rather recognizes its place more clearly. I´m not sure the same can be said for dance - seems to me that everything the wind has brought along has been added to the mix of steps. Native dance was single-line formation with two-step, I believe. Every year I watch the new batch of toddlers having a go in the mosh pit area of the Roheline Lava (Green Stage) to see if there is anything 'Estonian' in the dance steps of the new and unspoiled set, and it seems to be a basic hop up and down system of dance that comes naturally (as compared to what - Africa, Japan). I was left with the lingering doubt that dance may not have been a good choice for a theme for this year and hope they go back to music themes going forward. Seems to be a lot of serious interest in regilaulud - nice work with the Selverissä -

viimneliivlane ütles ...

You mused if there was a female counterpart to the male metaphor of going into the woods to seek the metsakaev. As you raise two daughters you might want to look into the plethora of kiigelaulud. These songs were sung by groups of young maidens, as many as could fit onto the village swing, as they fantasize about all the wondrous things they can see if they swing high. However, they also worry about who will catch them if they fall.

Tradition and village solidarity played a strong role in what regilaulud got sung over and over again and passed down through the generations, of course, so there are a lot of songs about the baby that is born after the virtue has been lost. It is no surprise that there are also a great number of regilaulud about courting, and what kind of kosilane is acceptable.

But back on topic, I think if you are looking for pure visual imagery then the theme of the man emerging from the sea is the closest there is to the phallic symbol because of course he has to be tall and straight, not a slobbering drunk. This reminds me that because we don’t practice eugenics even the bigot who told you ‘mine ära’ procreates, as they do in the US and elsewhere. The best you can do here or in Brooklyn is to sing appropriate songs to your daughters as you push their swing in the park – or in any park anywhere for that matter. Is that not the message of Viljandi Volgi?

viimneliivlane ütles ...

I don’t get why you don’t get heavy metal in Estonia. Can you break this down for me and tell me why Metsatöll has such a large following and why they don´t deserve it?

Lauri Õunapuu who is the ethnic dude among the black leather band members is also the teacher of men´s songs at the Viljandi Volgi õppetuba, possessing of not only a low-reaching bass voice but also great physical endurance as I recall at one Volgi opening ceremoney he had the whole assembled crowd following his lead singing for 25 minutes after I decided I should time him when he had already been singing for some time.

Here I will allow myself to borrow from the world of opera, where the bass voice always symbolizes the authoritarian father figure whose role is to tell the wayward tenor son that the love interest that he has been following is not acceptable and so on. Russian opera as we know has gotten carried away with the bass singer as has the authoritarian form of gov´t so will you allow me this aside that when Estonian heavy metal puts it in your face about the proper role of the bass singer we recognize where they´re coming from. Russia will either allow themselves to be enlightened or not - we have done our job. I think Metsatöll will continue to have a large popular following for the above-mentioned reasons and maybe some other reasons, like hey, you bigot, live out your domination fantasies through music and don´t insult the people who for one weekend a year make Viljandi a mecca for music as an expressive form. Someone help me out on where these bigots are coming from – they can´t be the result of a union of love - - -

Piimapukk ütles ...

In my humble opinion, Metsatöll is unlistenable. Maybe I am taking them outside of some limited context, but they are asking for it by sticking to 1980s Metallica wannabe imagery.

I have a CD and I cannot stand to listen to it. And I love good music. Help me out here.

珍盈洪 ütles ...

It is easier to get than to keep it.......................................................................

Giustino ütles ...

Can you break this down for me and tell me why Metsatöll has such a large following and why they don´t deserve it?

While I have respect for Metsatöll and the way in which they have rejuvenated, in their own way, Estonian folk music, it doesn't appeal to me as an individual ... I wouldn't listen to it of my own volition. To me it's northern European pagan stuff ... one could imagine Thor himself rocking out to something like that, and I think that's why it appeals to lots of Estonians (Lordi, while completely different, probably appeals to the same northern collective unconscious). But to me, it just sounds like a bunch of Vikings grunting. I like Kihnu Poisid and Zetod much more. I might even invest in a Kihnu Poisid or Zetod CD.

建邱勳 ütles ...


家唐銘 ütles ...

Care killed the cat. take care yourself.............................................................

Anonüümne ütles ...


Anonüümne ütles ...