Tii ilo (The Beauty Of The Road) by Mari Kalkun & Runorun
Mari Kalkun & Runorun
The singer and the songs are Estonian, the band and the record company are Finnish. This kind of co-operation should be seen more often. After all, we Finns like to call the Estonians our little brothers and cousins. The most common theory is that western Finns came here thousands of years ago, across the Gulf Of Finland by boat from Estonia, while the eastern Karelian Finns came via land from somewhere near eastern Estonia. But today many Finns seem to think of Estonia mainly as a land of cheap booze.
I have visited Estonia only once, in the Soviet era, but I did start buying Estonian pop, rock and ethnic records in the same era, being intrigued and amused by their good-natured harmlessness, and by the Estonian language, which can sound very odd to Finnish ears. Many words are almost but not quite the same, others may sound familiar but mean something completely different and some words are simply bewildering. But apart from some cultural differences caused by Estonia being dominated at different times by Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Russia - while Finland was dominated by the last two for very different lengths of time - it might be difficult for foreigners to tell us apart.
So most of Mari Kalkun's Tii ilo sounds quite familiar to Finnish ears, even if it is not completely Estonian, because she makes a point of including songs of smaller Fenno-Ugric minorities from within Estonia or just outside.
It has taken me pleasant months of occasional plunges into Tii ilo to finally get to the point of writing this review, because I was drawn to the endless curiosities of Estonian language and history - and because I felt an obligation to watch all of Kalkun's 137 videos on YouTube, a daunting, and time consuming task. Those videos include a wide variety of collaborations with ensembles large and small, tracks from her first two albums Üü tulõk / Arrival of the Night (2007) and Vihmakõnõ / Dear Rain (2010) and from appearances as far afield as Armenia and Portugal, as well as Finland, where she has been performing for many years.
This third album might have come from out of nowhere for me, but it guarantees I will pay attention to her work in the future. Tii ilo is so serene and pastoral that I've frequently lost track of what track is playing.
Let's start with a live performance of the opening song, "Tee hümn (Hymn to the Road)," from Estonian TV two years ago.
Extreme left, we have Finnish drummer Tatu Viitala playing unobtrusive shimmers. Mari Kalkun is chanting a sweet hymn to rambling on the road and strumming a small Estonian version of the kantele, and next to her Finnish kantele veteran Maija Kauhanen plucks on a much bigger one. Far right, we encounter the Australian bass player Nathan Riki Thomson adding a strong bottom. It's all very sweet and ethereal.
The second track from the album, "Jakopi unõnägo (Jakop's Dream)," is also vividly illustrated on video. Thomson's heavy bass pins it down and lingering kantele lifts it up. It appears that this song went to No. 7 in some Estonian chart and it's no wonder, really.
"Meri kohiseb so sihes" and "Sadulmoi" are both songs of spiritual healing, their sparse and ethereal settings telling tales of travel and loss, by gentle sea ("the sea murmurs within you") and rugged road ("oh these fields, these green fields") .
"Unetu (Sleepless)," with its pastoral lyrics over a strong rhythmic backing, and the thumping "Sõalaul (War Song)" - which chants "Oh, taken to knead the bread of war, to make the loaves of malice" - both divert from the rural serenity of most of the album in favor of the sharper edge to its often touching pictures of olden times "when grandpa bought a new oil lamp." - Waldemar Wallenius
Find the artist online: www.marikalkun.com
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