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Mari Kalkun

Artist release (
Review by Greg Harness

Listen "Süda Taksub"
(The Heart Beats)

My introduction to the Estonian musician Mari Kalkun came directly through RootsWorld. Kalkun and her ensemble Runorun were recorded live in concert in April 2016, and the music was subsequently shared on RootsWorld’s website and radio show. Upon first hearing this program, I went on a Mari Kalkun binge starting with Runorun’s 2015 release Tii Ilo, and then diving into Kalkun’s back catalog: Upa-Upa Ubinakõnõ (also released in 2015 with Tuuliki Bartosik and Ramo Teder), Vihmakõnõ (2010), and Üü Tulõk (2007). All of these releases are buoyed by hundreds of videos available across the internet.

Now Mari Kalkun releases Ilmamõtsan (In the Wood of the World). Rather than exploring the sounds of a full band, most of this new recording is just Kalkun herself. The sonic exploration comes through the multiple instruments she uses to accompany her vocals: 12- and 36-string kanteles, accordion, harmonium, chimes and bells, and various percussive effects, often overdubbed but never overdone. There is wonderful musicality and beauty in each of these backdrops, but it is Kalkun’s vocals that propel these songs. The singing is often soft yet always intense, emotive without lapsing into sappiness, somehow bridging a chasm between soothing touch and a visceral rawness. Even for those of us who speak nary a word of Estonian, these songs are compelling and engrossing.

Reading through the English translations, I found even more to draw me into these songs. “Mõtsavele mäng” (The Forest Brother Game) describes meeting five brothers in the forest.

   Men as strong as oxen,
   women as sharp as needles,
   were sitting around the fire,
   there they ate deer meat,
   they drank moss soup,
   they heated bog water,
   they slept in moss beds.

   The forest nurtures them,
   the forest protects them,
   the wings of the forest cover them,
   in the forest like animals,
   like the little birds of the sky.

Listen "Mõtsavele mäng"

These images are even more powerful when stacked against verses like this from “Linnaitk” (City Lament):

   Why did you go to the big city,
   to see the big city,
   among the rich people?
   The villages became cold,
   the townships became poor,
   the parishes became woeful,
   the forests became mournful,
   your mother became all alone.

Listen "Mõtsavele mäng"

There is much more I could write about -- the single track featuring guest accordion playing of Tuulikki Bartosik and the inclusion of a small brass band of trumpets, euphonium, and tuba, the role of the Estonian Academy of Music & Theatre and the Sibelius Academy in the supporting and perpetuating folk music in Estonia and Finland -- but the reader would be much better served at this point by tucking in to the music of Mari Kalkun. A Kalkun listening binge may be even more appropriate and satisfying. - Greg Harness

The editor's choice from the album is the joyous birthday song Mari Kalkun wrote to her daughter, who also joins the party. - CF

Listen "Linda, Linda"

Further adventures:
Mari Kalkun and Runorun Live, in concert
Review of Tii ilo (The Beauty Of The Road)
RootsWorld Radio #257 features a number of the track from this album.
Find the artist online.


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