Merema: Kezeren Koiht

Moral of the Story

Listening Post 300. The 14 songs on Kezeren Koiht (Ancient Custom) have everything required of first-rate folk tales: Dreams and journeys, peril and gore, omens and clairvoyants, love sagas that end well and badly. But where the Brothers Grimm had the perfect family name for their collected works, a suitable adjective for Merema’s collection should perhaps reflect the ensemble’s honorable purpose: Survival of the culture and languages their stories represent. Merema is based in Saransk, capital of Russia’s autonomous Republic of Mordovia, 650 km (400 miles) east of Moscow. Though 40 percent of the region’s people are ethnic Mordovians few, mostly in isolated villages, speak Moksha—performance language of Kezeren Koiht—or it’s sister Mordovian tongue, Erzya. Merema, an ethnographic folklore studio/ensemble, does field expeditions in the villages to find old stories; founded by university professor Ekaterina Modina, the group rotates members attracted to the mission but who also pursue more lucrative careers. The key to the group’s appeal is stunning a cappella polyphony. The tone is inviting in Our Beloved Guests (кельгома минь инжиньке, video 1), the opener and rare track that doesn’t take an omimous turn. Misfortune is afoot in Moksha Girl Was Walking (Якась, якась Мокшень стирнясь, video 2), though the tale ends on a hopeful note. Vai, Two Mountains (Кафта панттне, video 3) trumpets a soldier’s return from war, while the handsome but hapless Alesha – A Son of an Old Lady (Бабанянь цёрась Алëшась, video 4) loses his horses. And somewhere in the past there must have been a Mordovian Poe or Shelley to come up with the horrors that face Gorkina Anastasia (Горкань Настась, video 5). The songs on Kezeren Koiht feature common folk, frozen in time and in robust languages—but sent forth in a world with too little space for old cultures and customs. In Merema’s dedication and presentation, their tales are nothing less than noble. (CPL Music)

Merema: Kezeren Koiht
Ekaterina Modina, Anna Shulugina, Olga Vasilieva, Gennady Dulkin, Dmitry Fadeikin, Maria Kirzhaeva: Vocals

Note. Erzya and Moksha—closely related but not mutually intelligible—are the two members of the Mordovian (also called Mordvinian) language family. The languages are classified within the broader Finno-Ugric group, which embraces Finnish, Estonian, Sami and Hungarian. Merema means “legend” in Erzya. 


Our Beloved Guests / кельгома минь инжиньке

Matchmakers, our guests, please have a meal, drink a lot
There is something to feed you and let you have a drink
More bread shall be brought. Let the grain be refilled!
A lot of baked pancakes, much mead ready for you!
Don’t stay hungry, don’t despise us. Eat your fill, stay until dark.
Drink — and don’t get drunk. Live — and don’t grow old!


Moksha Girl Was Walking / Якась, якась Мокшень стирнясь

A Moksha girl was walking across a green meadow among the willows.
The Moksha girl pricked her leg on the root of a willow.
It doesn’t hurt — oh, it hurts a lot.
A little blood flowed — a whole bucket.
People on horses ride toward the Moksha girl.
A Moksha boy is sitting on a cart — a handsome boy.


Vai, Two Mountains / Кафта панттне

Vai, there are two mountains close to each other.
On one mountain there is a beautiful young pine tree. On the pine tree sits a black cemetery raven.
A soldier coming from the war sits under the pine tree. He sits and asks the crow:
—Vai, have you seen my Russia? Vai, have you seen my family?
—Vai, I saw something — a long time ago.
Vai, your mother is crying, sobbing! Vai, your father is crying — like the morning dew.
Vai, the sun will rise, the dew will dry!


Alesha – A Son of an Old Lady / Бабанянь цёрась Алëшась

Cute Alesha is the son of an old lady. He goes to the River Volga to water and feed the horses.
He leads them on a leash, and all of them are white. Neither up nor down, he lets them go…
All of a sudden he doesn’t hear them anymore…
A grey-haired old man named Nokola comes toward him.
—Dedushka, have you seen my horses?
—I’ve seen them – they are far, far away! Across the sea!
—Dedushka, what do they eat, what do they drink?
—Marsh grass is their food! They drink spring water. There’s a young lad following them!


Gorkina Anastasia / Горкань Настась

Anastasia Gorkina, a young soldier’s widow, was left without a mother as a child.
As a young woman she was left without a husband, without a legitimate life…
Anastasia decided to go to the market in the city of Temnikov, to a cold grave.
The people were walking on the high road, Anastasia was walking on a side road, near the willow trees. A woman in black came toward her.
—Hello, Nastena, hello sister! We are sisters after all… We don’t go to each others’ houses, we don’t give each other bread and salt! Let me invite you to my house, to your new home!
She took Anastasia to her gate – the gates were closed by human feet.
Her house was covered with human bodies, her barn closed by human hands.
She took Anastasia to the barn. There were human bodies hanging there. One hook was empty.
—This is where I will hang your body! Let’s go. Before you die, I will give you a drink, I will feed you!
Anastasia ran outside…
—Oh, patron, patron, patron, supreme patron, please raise a storm, raise a hurricane! Take me to my home, back to my village!
A storm rose, a hurricane rose… Anastasia was lifted up to the sky by the storm and lowered to the ground, back in her village.
—Oh, thank you, patron, breadwinner. You saved my soul, my soul is not lost.


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