FolkWorld #63 07/2017
© Ando Kiviberg / Viljandi Folk Music Festival

A Colourful Symbiosis of the New and the Old

Viljandi Folk Music Festival

27 - 30 July 2017
Curly Strings
Elof & Wamberg
Kapela Maliszow
Maarja Nuut & Hendrik Kaljujärv
Mari Kalkun
Marko Markovic Brass Band
Otava Yo
Ro:Toro & Finlay MacDonald
Svjata Vatra
Artist Video

The non-profit organisation Estonian Traditional Music Center, located in Viljandi, Estonia, organises one of the biggest music festivals in the Baltics, the Viljandi Folk Music Festival, with its 25th edition in 2017.

Viljandi Folk Music Festival is celebrating its 25th jubilee this summer. We are marking this impressive occasion with the jolliest party of the last quarter of the century which concentrates on the theme “New and old”. The theme “New and old” talks about the great contrasts and changes which propel us forward. “New and old” means competition and overtaking, which captivates the audiences and stimulates the performers. Music which is both old and familiar while also offering something new and interesting, mysterious and motivating is immensely enjoyable.

Viljandi Folk Music Festival together with Viljandi Culture Academy and Estonian Folklore Archives have helped to revive traditional music in Estonia. In addition to authenticity, people started to value improvisation and learning from other people. This is how the term “Estonian traditional music” was coined. The goal to make traditional music an inseparable part of the contemporary cultural space, which was set 25 years ago, has been achieved.

Traditional music is alive and kicking and changing together with us in time and space. New traditions are being created by following the example of something old and original and adding a fair amount of personal touch to it. Traditional musicians learn from feisty experts and old recordings – this is how their music springs to life in the contemporary context. They play traditional melodies on new and unusual instruments which have not been used before to play traditional music, for example playing dabket on a synth, reele on a piano or labajalg on a hang drum.

Ando Kiviberg

A good party is a colourful symbiosis of the new and the old – inspiring music, spontaneity, soul-stirring emotions, old and new friends. It is uplifting to feel the energy of old instrument players and the enthusiasm of young musicians, see different generations have fun together and notice contrasting worldviews enjoying the hustle and bustle of the festival amicably side by side. The most natural hotbeds for traditional music are family bands and master-apprentice setups which are popular in numerous cultures. Different generations complement each other and this is the way it is supposed to be.

The jubilee festival will be jumpstarted by scorching hot bands and charming wizards who create pure magic with their instruments. Everything old is new again!

The Birth of the Festival

In 1989, the folk instrument programme led by Ene Lukka was launched at Viljandi School of Culture (nowadays known as UT Viljandi Culture Academy). The aim of the course was to train conductors for village bands and folk instrument orchestras. It was a tumultuous time in the School of Culture and in the society generally – Estonia had taken decisive steps towards freedom and the school had applied for the status of an institution of higher education.

The folk instrument department was immediately faced with a task of finding a new identity. On the backdrop of a quickly changing political situation, they had to find a way of breaking out from the Soviet pseudo folk art scene to offer a quality education in traditional music. The head of the programme, Ene Lukka looked abroad for help. The political situation had loosened up a bit and travelling to Finland was no longer the utopian dream it had been a few years ago. Anneli Kont, who was a former member of the folk band Leigarid and had graduated from Tallinn National Conservatory, was studying on a traditional music course at Sibelius Academy in Helsinki. Having heard about the developments in Viljandi, she hurried back home to help which meant that unprecedentedly exciting times were ahead for the newly-formed Viljandi Culture College. The students and lecturers from Sibelius Academy became frequent guests in Viljandi. The traditional instrument course was turned into a traditional music department following the example of Finland and new students were admitted. In addition to many others, Ando Kiviberg, Piret Aus, Ülle Jantson, Liina Kanemägi, Tuuli Peters and Raivo Sildoja „landed“ at the traditional music department.

Curly Strings

Artist Video Curly Strings @ FolkWorld:
FW#62, FW#62

While launching the organisation, we also started to think of other activities we could organise. At first, we had two ideas in mind – a festival and a children’s camp. The festival was to take place in Viljandi and the camp could be held in some other naturally beautiful place, preferably by the sea. (In 1997, a folk music study camp for youngsters took place as part of Viljandi Folk Music Festival which was run by Krista Sildoja. Nowadays, it has become the Estonian ETHNO camp which has more than a hundred participants and carries the youthful spirit of traditional music while being a meeting and study place for many young traditional music fans.)

The question of the name was a bone of contention. We did not want to use the word traditional music in the name. We wanted to boldly say that everything is different now in the world of traditional music. Ants Johanson reminded me that the group Kukerpillid used the word “pärimus” which means “folk” on their albums which is why we decided to use that to refer to the new type of folk music. The term “pärimusmuusika” was precise and clear but unfortunately a bit too long. That was at least our impression at the time. The guitarist from the band Ummamuudu and our good friend Sulev Salm thought that shortening it to “pärimusa” would be a good idea. The young men felt it was fashionable and youthful enough so we used that term even though it did not feel quite right.

The line-up for the first festival consisted of Väikeste Lõõtspillide Ühing, Untsakad (known as Rahvastepall at the time), Tiit Kikas and Peeter Rebane, Justament and of course Alle-aa which had downsized from being basically an orchestra to only five members. The American-Estonian bagpipe and zither player Ain Haas added an international dimension to the event.


Artist Video Estbel @ FolkWorld:

After having acquired our first experiences as festival organisers, our plans became a lot more ambitious. I made it clear to my friends that we have to make friends with the national media channels, extend the festival to two days and create more stages. The festival needed an international name because we realised that it needed to appeal to people beyond the Estonian borders. Following the example of similar events held in Falun and Kaustis, we decided to go with Viljandi Folk Music Festival. The popular Estonian nickname of the festival “Viljandi Folk” is derived from the English name.

And then it happened. After the 1994 Viljandi Folk Music Festival, the daily newspaper Postimees announced in a heading, „Three days which shook the world.“ We succeeded in highlighting the cosiness of Viljandi and its beautiful environment to create a perfect place for enjoying music. We managed to create an atmosphere which elevated the musical experiences. As expected, numerous spontaneous jam sessions sprung up and both the audience and the journalists loved it.

Viljandi Folk Music Festival has made impressive progress since its conception. The small traditional music party has become one of the largest music festivals in the Baltic and Nordic countries which attracts thousands of people every year. Our joint efforts have made Viljandi a household name at home and abroad. In addition to all the aforementioned awards and acknowledgements, the festival was also named the most successful tourism object or project in Southern Estonia one year which shows that the festival has given a boost to the tourism industry.

Elof & Wamberg

Artist Video Elof & Wamberg @ FolkWorld:
FW#50, #60

All in all, the most important thing is and always was reinvigorating and promoting Estonian traditional music. We want to inspire young people to sing their own songs, play their own tunes and dance their own dances to keep our traditional culture alive and kicking similarly to the mother tongue which we use to communicate with each other. See you soon!

Curly Strings (Estonia)

Curly Strings with its memorably beautiful songs, sincere emotions and spectacular concerts has taken the festival stage on several occasions. Fresh spring winds are telling us that the band is working on a new album and they will play it for the first time at the concert at Kirsimäe.

Estbel (Estonia/Belgium)

Estbel is a band with an extraordinary line-up. It consists of two Estonian dreamers and the Belgian Dhoore brothers. The band was created in February 2016 when the foursome first met in Saaremaa. A 7-day stay on the island was an intense experience in a wonderful setting. After this week, they released their debut album at Tallinn Music Week 2017 which is symbolically named "Saar" ("Island").

Artist Video

Leana Vapper-Dhoore is a singer and musician who plays both the Estonian bagpipe and the French D-bagpipe. When she was young, she went to the Estonian Ethno camps and visited Viljandi Folk Music Festival every year which deepened her love for traditional music. In 2006-2017, she lived in Flanders in Belgium where she learned to play the Flemish bagpipe. Her collaboration with Harwin started with them playing together and performing at concerts.

Sänni Noormets is a composer, violinist and singer who is very interested in different genres of alternative music. She studied traditional music at UT Viljandi Culture Academy and is currently acquiring a Master's degree in composing at the Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre.

Hartwin and Ward Dhoore form musical core of the band. Hartwin has been playing the accordion for over ten years and his innovative and melodic sound has been acknowledged by many. Ward plays the acoustic DADGAD guitar. He uses different effects and loops in ingenious ways in his imaginative arrangements.

The music of Estbel is diverse and colourful which pleases the ears of traditional and indie music fans, both young and old!

Kapela Maliszow

Artist Video Kapela Maliszow @ FolkWorld:
FW#60, #60, #61

Elof & Wamberg (Denmark)

The world has been taken over by a ukulele craze! The small Hawaiian instrument with a friendly sound is winning over people’s hearts here and abroad. The Danish duo Elof & Wamberg is an extremely inspiring example of how this exotic instrument can be used in completely new and fresh ways and how the ukulele can be combined with Nordic traditional music. Tobias Elof is the world’s first ukulele player to have received a degree in the subject. He has studied under several great ukulele players like James Hill, Kimo Hussey and Byron Yasui. Nicolaj Wamber is a contrabass player whose playing style is characterised by a lot of movement, depth, subtle nuances and brave improvisation. Together they create harmonious Nordic soundscapes with a gentle ukulele and a juicy contrabass.

Kalascima (Italy)

Kalascima is currently one of the hottest bands in Italy. The men from Salento mix the old local tarantella tradition with electronic music and the result is explosive, energetic and hypnotically gripping. Tarantella is based on the ancient life-threatening healing ritual called pizzica tarantata and it is related to the local cultural phenomenon called tarantism. This includes mad drumming and crazy trance-inducing dancing accompanied by suitable music which can last for hours or even days.

Maarja Nuut

Artist Video Maarja Nuut @ FolkWorld:

According to a local belief, tarantism arrives after a tarantula bite. The venom of the spider takes the victim into a heightened state of excitability and restlessness which can only be healed by manic dancing. The men of Kalascima bring with them an impressive collection of instruments.

In addition to the Italian bagpipe (zampogna), they also entice the audience’s senses with a selection of percussion instruments from Southern Italy and elsewhere which together with a looper, bass guitar and mad vocals put the audience in a state of trance.

Kapela Maliszow (Poland)

The family band Kapela Maliszow comes from a small village in the Beskid Mountains. The band consists of the multi-instumentalist Jan Malisz and his children. The musicians draw inspiration from the traditional music of their local region – the songs and dances of the Gorlice area. Their instrument playing is genuine and archaic, spurred on by freedom, joy and improvisation. They do not just dryly play archival materials, they bring the old melodies to life and have fun with them.

Mari Kalkun

Artist Video Mari Kalkun @ FolkWorld:
FW#54, #63

In addition to old songs, their repertoire also includes original songs which are inspired by Polish traditional music and its unique style. Musical instruments have been handed down from father to son for generations in the Malisz family and the skill is inherited together with the instrument. In addition to playing music, the members of the family also make musical instruments. They are the true keepers of the Polish culture.

Maarja Nuut & Hendrik Kaljujärv (Estonia)

Maarja Nuut is a fiddler and singer who combines the sound of suggestive vocals and traditional instruments using electronic instruments. Manipulating sounds with analogue effects, adding in the impulses created by synthesisers and rhythm machines and improving the flow by looping which has become her trademark. This is how a wholesome composition is created which in its sensitivity and raw fickleness creates a fireworks of psychedelic elements.

These musical chains are created in collaboration with Hendrik Kaljujärv, who has channelled his creativity into many different formats – created music for plays and dance performances, made installations for galleries, directed and attracted attention with the group Cubus Larvik.

While the echoes and reverbs are playing with your frontal lobe, the bass notes are passing through your body with all their strength. From the sound massive created by these two emerge expressive qualities which are characteristic to traditional music.

Otava Yo

Artist Video Otava Yo @ FolkWorld:
FW#57, #58, #59, #61

Separately, both Maarja and Hendrik are independent artists whose works are defined by intensive and deep request for creating a certain mood but they use different means and techniques to achieve this. Working together opens new doors for them. Serving the same purpose, they inspire each other to take bolder steps to create bigger and more dynamic forms. It is important to sense each other to understand where the other one is at any point in time and then keep up with what is happening in the moment without ever losing sights of the target.

Mari Kalkun & Hendrik Kaljujärv (Estonia)

Mari Kalkun is a singer, lyricist and musician from Võrumaa whose sensitive melodies and sincere soundscapes are inspired by Estonian poetry and nature, runo songs and world music. She plays various instruments – different zithers, the accordion, the guitar and the piano – but she is mainly known for her powerful voice. Mari Kalkun’s music is best described as authentic. Her solo concerts are sincere and personal, reflecting the rhythms of seasons, stories of the current moment and inviting the audience to sing along. In addition to her solo project, she also performs with the groups Mari Kalkun & Runorun and Upa-upa trio which has been acknowledged at the music awards and by critics. The singer and lyricists has toured around the world from Germany to Japan. In the end of this year, she is releasing her third solo album. Some of the songs from this album will be heard at the concert at St John’s church which will be recorded by Klassikaraadio.

Marko Markovic

Artist Video Marko Markovic @ FolkWorld:

Otava Yo (Russia)

Otava Yo does not probably need a long introduction because these Russian musicians were chosen by the audience to be invited back to Viljandi. The Otava Yo boys from Saint Petersburg with their white tank tops, peasant coats and flapping bomber hats bring the traditions of Russian folk songs to the digital era. Be warned, large-scale circle dance outbreaks and wild jumping have been observed at their concerts! The lyric gusli, universal guitar, howling bagpipe, scratchy violin and hearty Slavic rhythms ensure that you can dance your heart off. Peasant ballads, stories of heroic sailors, goats and plinis caress your ears. All this is accompanied by witty humour and unexpected testosterone-filled dance numbers. It will be a proper Russian party brimming with passion, madness and fun!

Marko Markovic Brass Band (Serbia)

These men will show the audience how it is done! Marko Markovic inherited his love for music from his father, the legendary trumpet king Boban Markovic who has played the trumpet for more than 30 years. In line with the family tradition, Marko started playing the trumpet already before turning five and has been passionately concentrating on the instrument ever since. Marko and Boban have been playing together in an orchestra for years. Marko Markovic has collaborated with many famous musicians such as Emir Kusturica, Goran Bregovic, DJ Shantel, Ivo Papazov, Esma Redzepova, etc. He started his own wind instrument orchestra in 2006 and now he is bringing his hot pipes and energetic gypsy music to Viljandi.

Svjata Vatra

Artist Video Svjata Vatra @ FolkWorld:
FW#33, #37, #44,
#51, #58, #59

The Balkans are living and breathing wind instrument music – no wedding or other celebration goes by without a wind instrument orchestra. It is hard to describe, you have to experience it yourself. It is more than music, it is part of their identity, a matter of honour, their essence – it is a living and breathing part of culture. The Balkan Peninsula is the area with the largest population of Roma communities. Gypsy music with its exceptionally fast tempo and unbelievably gripping energy has become one of the trademarks of the area. Their characteristic tremendous vitality comes with a marvellously Eastern melancholic soul. The mix of immense energy and longing melancholy does not leave anyone cold.

Svjata Vatra (Estonia)


Artist Video Ro:Toro @ FW:
FW#35, #36

Svjata vatra - holy fire! Estonian Vikings have created music together with a domesticated Cossack for already 12 years and it is their 11th time to perform at Viljandi Folk Music Festival. Blending together the folk music from the Ukraine and Estonia, the have created their own recognisable style of fiery folk which is enjoyable for both young and old folk music fans.

Ro:Toro & Finlay MacDonald (Estonia/Scotland)

Finlay MacDonald is one of the best contemporary Scottish bagpipe players who combines traditional style with a contemporary sensibility and original music. He was the first piper to receive a BA in Scottish music and piping from the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. At the moment, he is the head of piping studies at the National Piping Centre in Glasgow.

Together with his team, Finlay organises the festival Piping Live! which is devoted to bagpipe traditions and the soul of Estonian bagpiping, Cätlin Mägi has been invited to play at this festival. The two met at the festival and made a promise to join their forces for a collaboration in the future. Their first collaboration became possible thanks to the Erasmus's teacher exchange and Finlay came to Viljandi to teach students. By that time, the two had already made plans to combine two powerful bagpipe cultures – the Estonian and Scottish.

The first rehearsal with Ro:toro took place this spring and everything went swimmingly! The concert will delight both serious bagpipe fans and those who do not know much about music. When taking into account Ro:toro's level of concentration and their talent – for example, their successful project concerning the more than peculiar Khanty songs or reviving the crazy tunes of Torupilli Juss - and the Scottish piping superstar's interest towards Estonian songs, one can conclude that the concert will be a display of real Estonian-Scottish bagpipe fireworks. How will Estonian songs sound on the famous Scottish bagpipe? Which one is older – the Estonian or Scottish bagpipe? Will you even hear the Estonian bagpipe because the Scottish great highland pipe is as loud as a power saw?

Photo Credits: (1) Viljandi Folk Music Festival, (2) Ando Kiviberg, (3) Curly Strings, (4) Estbel, (5) Elof & Wamberg, (6) Kalascima, (7) Kapela Maliszow, (8) Maarja Nuut, (9) Mari Kalkun, (10) Otava Yo, (11) Marko Markovic, (12) Svjata Vatra, (13) Ro:Toro (unknown/website).

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