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Sofia Joons, Emma Härdelin, Meelika Hansoo
Strand... Rand
Arm Music, Estonia

cd cover Long ago, Swedes settled on the islands and coasts of northwestern Estonia. They farmed, fished, hunted seals, and exerted some amount of cultural influence on nearby Estonian communities. During the 18th century, some of them migrated on to the Ukraine. Because of the isolation, Swedish dialects developed on the islands that were closer to the old Swedish and possibly as understandable to modern Swedes as Estonian is to Finns. Also because of the isolation, the culture survived until the Soviet era, but the Russians were unkind, using one island as a bombing range, for example. Most of the Swedish Estonians left for Sweden or beyond, but some are returning.

"Oh, My Ship"
Strand... Rand is an album of "Folk chorales and songs from the west coast of Estonia," sung solo a cappella, or with sparse accompaniment, by the sweet but reserved voices of three women: Sofia Joons, from Sweden but with ancestors from Estonia, Emma Härdelin (of Sweden's Triakel and Garmarna), and Estonian singer Meelika Hansoo. The songs and hymns are traditional, and target the island of Vormsi near the mainland; some seem to be composites of songs or texts put to music. The lyrics and credits are printed in Swedish, Estonian, and English, but with no map or text in explanation the songs float in a beautiful, sharp-edged aesthetic haze of isolation. Isolation is the major descriptor. Strand...Rand begins with the sound of waves against the shore and a "field recording" of singing, and proceeds to Joons' solo song from Vormsi, "Emsamt (Alone)." "My milk is as thin as spring water and I haven't got any butter."

Most songs are hymns, actually recorded in churches in Sweden and Estonia. Hainsoo sings a 17th century hymn in Estonian, again from Vormsi, "Kas Sureb nii mu kõige armsan elu?" strumming simply on a kannel, or lap harp; she sings a "See jõulupäev," an unaccompanied Christmas song. But most are in Swedish, most are from 17th and or 18th century sources, and they bring to mind religion as a gentle anchor rock in a relentlessly harsh sea. "Wedding in Cana" is especially eerie and Bergmanesque, with Härdelin on vocals and Triakel's Janne Strömstedt on harmonium. Two tracks have slow but folkier accompaniment by Toivo Sõmer on noted and strummed kannel, and Joons and Hainsoo play hiiukannel, a bowed zither, on "Tvåsamt (Together)," a dance song more spirited than the rest.

Stand...Rand is a beautiful album, pristine and austere, gray weathered buildings on a forested shore. "When the wine of joy should have been poured to remove sorrow, there was nothing but water in the pots. He turns water into wine and shows mercy." - Judith Gennett

CD available at cdRoots

Audio ©2002 Arm Music, Estonia, and used with their permission

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