Mari Kalkun: Ilmamõtsan

Into the Woods

Listening Post 181. One of Europe’s smallest nations, Estonia is also among the most heavily forested. “The woods are a sacred place for many of us,” observes folksinger-songwriter Mari Kalkun. “Many Estonians have a spiritual connection to the trees, and a walk in the forest can be compared to a mini-pilgrimage.” Kalkun’s music is based on ancient regilaul chants, which she refreshes with newly composed works, and at the heart of Ilmamõtsan (In the Wood of the World), her third solo album, is the forest, setting or reference point for most of the album’s 12 tracks. It also reverberates in her spellbinding voice and exquisitely sparse arrangements—allowing songs to breathe as naturally as trees produce oxygen—using mainly kannel (an Estonian zither), accordion and harmonium. The artist honors not only trees but also cultural-linguistic roots, singing in Estonian and the languages of the country’s southeast corner—her native Võro and its sister tongue Seto. Her sylvan theme embraces family stories and the cause of indigenous peoples as well. Keelega-meelega (With Tongue and Heart) uses the sea as a metaphor for life’s journey, highlighting key guideposts—“forest, mother, land, father” (video 1). Deeper into the woods is Mõtsavele mäng (The Forest Brother Game), an impressionistic tale inspired by the resistance to Soviet occupation (video 2). Süda tuksub (The Heart Beats) is a poem of longing (video 3), while Laul kahele (A Song for Two) celebrates the wedding of friends (video 4). Kalkun plays deftly with contrasts: Joy and lament, mystery and clarity, forest as integral yet threatened. “Silence is becoming one of the rarest resources,” she said recently. “Music starts from silence… Silence, forests and trees should be human rights. We need them for peaceful life, we need them to continue the music.” If you don’t have a forest nearby, a sound alternative would be listening to Kalkun’s soothing, abundantly wooded songs. (Nordic Notes)

 

Keelega-meelega/With Tongue and Heart
Music and lyrics: Mari Kalkun
(from the Estonian and Võro lyrics)
Across the seas we travel/through white waves,
through blood-red evenings/through six springs,
through the tears of awaiting the seventh/through the suffering of the eighth,
but love doesn’t wane/but love doesn’t wane.
In my own language, in this tongue of mine/I want to tell you
that I carry you in my heart: Forest. Mother. Land. Father.
My own. My own. Road. Husband. Home. Land. Sun. Day. Child. Joy. Fen. Sky.
With a tongue/with a good and merry heart/you will go further.
In my own language, in this tongue of mine/I want to tell you
that I carry you/in my heart.
On life’s sea, on this sea of life/two logboats from one tree.
In my blood, in this blood of mine/your blood so dear.

 

Mõtsavele mäng/The Forest Brother Game
Music and lyrics: Mari Kalkun
(from the Võro lyrics)
I went through the forest/sii-saale- soo-saale- seira!
Through the forest, squatting/through the bog, through the fen.
Who did I meet on my way?/I met five brothers on my way.
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.
Sii-saale-soo-saale- seira/Sii-saale, soo-saale- seira…
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.
’Come out, brother/I will surely catch you!’
’No, today I cannot come…’

 

Süda tuksub/The Heart Beats
Music and lyrics: Mari Kalkun
(from the Estonian lyrics)
Across the seas/Through the sorrows
Through the cold of autumn/I will come to you
I will carry you with me/My heart beats for you
no matter where I am
How many/lives fit/into me?
How many tasks/how much daily news/how many memories?
How much daily news/how much forgetfulness?
Daily news/forgetfulness.
My heart beats for you/No matter where I am

 

Laul kahele/A Song for Two
Music and lyrics: Mari Kalkun
(from the Estonian lyrics)
At times I find that I am/a voice in the wilderness.
A large, grey cloak/over my shoulders.
The grains of sand on my fingers/the snowflakes on my eyelids,
they are falling, melting/it is hot and cold at the same time.
There can be no two without one, nor one without two.
Let us walk through the forest/hold me,
so I can hear the voice of this forest/and your breathing.
Let us put on red wedding mittens/let us walk through the snowy forest.
Then we will not fear, we will not be afraid/of the world’s roaring.
Our ears will only hear the dance of the snow’s whirling.
He is drifting and drifting and drifting/The Old Man Wind.
There can be no two without one, nor one without two.
Let us walk through the forest/hold me.
You are the song of my life/a shawl for my soul – dark and warm.

 


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