World music in a small country

  • 2006-05-24
  • By Joel Alas
TALLINN - The Estonian National Male Choir is renowned for their symphonic harmonies, but they have an unexpected hidden musical passion: the boys in tuxedos have a penchant for heavy metal. Last weekend they performed in the comfort of the Concert Hall. Next month they will take to the stage in very different circumstances, accompanied by angst-ridden metal band Metsatoll.

"I hope it will cross the border for a lot of people," said Paul Pihlak, the concert promoter who has brought the groups together. Cross borders? More likely, it will crash them. Diversity is what Pihlak's Maailma Kula (World Village), a three-day world music festival in Tallinn next month is all about. It will take place in the ruins of the Convent of St Bridget at the seaside suburb of Pirita, a picturesque hollow shell of an ancient stone church that overlooks a stretch of river. The festival begins on June 16, and runs from 3 p.m. until midnight over the following two days. The promoters are promising a "picnic" atmosphere on the lawns, with several bars across the site to keep the proceedings lubricated.

It's the first time the festival has been held, but already Pihlak has grand visions for Maailma Kula. "Our original idea was that we would work to be a part of the WOMAD festival circuit," he said. That's quite a target. WOMAD - World Of Music Art And Dance - is an internationally renowned series of festivals that take place across the globe. Inspired by musician Peter Gabriel - the former lead singer of Genesis - the first WOMAD was held in England in 1982. It has now become a recognized brand of its own, and music lovers trek the planet following its schedule of events.

Pihlak understands the burden of his goal: "This is not very easy, or very fast, but in time we hope it will happen."
"The main idea was to have lots of diversity on the program. It tries to harbor not the whole world, but most of it, or as much as is possible in three days." At the top of the bill is "Cursing the Iron," the epic opus performed by the Estonian National Male Choir and Metsatoll. Metsatoll, which has been around for some years now, use traditional Estonian folk instruments and melodies, which converge with the dirge of heavy metal. When combined with the Choir, the festival program advises us to expect the "archaic anger of runo-songs."

Cuban music has been popular ever since the Buena Vista Social Club fad of the late 90's. Estonia's Cubanismo will grace the festival with their insatiable rhythms and Latin dance tunes of the 1940s and 50s. Pianist Ricardo Alvarez leads the band, which was formed in 1998,and has developed a reputation as one of the best salsa bands on the world circuit. They won't be the only band driving crowds to dance. The Jaipur Kawa Brass Band from India will bring all the dazzle of Bollywood, while African rhythms will come courtesy of Kekele from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Pihlak's favorite act is Olchey, a blues band that employs the region's ghostly Tuvan throat singing, in which a song's strains are strung out over several octaves.

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