Eesti Elu
Hot folk-rock from the Seto saun
Kultuur 13 Jan 2012 Otepää SlimEesti Elu
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Zetod, Lätsi sanna, 2010, 42.9 min

OK, the slender one is biased. Yet there is something special about the very south-easternmost parts of Estonia. It is as if the awe-inspiring surroundings bring about the most extraordinary forms of cultural expression, a determination to keep the local dialect alive in fresh new form, While accepting the modern influences of the larger world artists remain true to the language; accounting for perhaps the most beautiful of all Estonian song forms, the leelo. Zetod are a folk-rock band formed in 2003 thanks to the creative support of Ene Lukka-Jegikjan, who encouraged local seto lads to perform and record seto leelos under the auspices of the Värska Culture Center. Kristjan Priks provided leadership, and a phenomenon was born.

Zetod have released three discs to date, 2010’s “Lätsi sanna” (Let’s go [have a] sauna) is their most recent, and also their most popular, as underscored by the myriad of honours it has received. While there is no true equivalent for Canada’s Junos or the international (but US influenced) Grammies, the band was a winner of significant Estonian laurels in 2011. The Estonian Music Awards – let’s call them the Emas, shall we? – honoured Zetod as the year’s best folk artist, and in a country still dominated by Eurosound, startlingly also with the album of the year award for “Lätsi sanna.” The Viru Folk Music Festival, the pre-eminent folk bash of the season also honoured the band with their Golden Disc, noting the group’s role in popularizing folk music in Estonia.

They are also gaining a following abroad. Not only have they performed at all key folk music festivals in Estonia (Viljandi, Võru, Hiiu, Märjamaa, Viru), but also at rock music festivals (Rabarock, Kapa Rock). Their draw in Latvia, Lithuania, Sweden, Finland, France, Belgium, Poland and Russia as invitees to perform at festivals in these countries emphasizes their international appeal. No flash in the pan, these lads.

Ando Kiviberg, director of the Estonian Traditional Music Centre, has noted that the idea to have young Seto boys rendering their native culture blended with popular rock is no longer a novelty; it has led to success never before experienced by arrangers of traditional music in Estonia. Kiviberg points out as the primary reason the exotic flair of Setomaa’s rich cultural heritage, which the blandness of the surrounding mainstream esto-pop only serves to accentuate. He has commented that “this, complemented by a charming stage presence, instrumental finesse and tastefully witty yet powerful electric string arrangements of folk songs and tunes, sparks excitement and recognition even in listeners less familiar with heritage music.” Zetod produce inspiring music, which is crucial for raising folk music awareness in general, as Kiviberg has written.

Of course, it is no easy matter to find their music in Canada, but the e-world poses no challenges – www.lasering.ee is always a good bet, but www.muusikapood.ee is even cheaper! Both have Zetod in stock. It certainly helps that many Estonian Canadians make pilgrimages to the ancestral country yearly, to participate in the summer cultural festivals and to hit the book and record stores. So it came to be that “Lätsi sanna” made it to my player, allowing for the slimster to confirm with his own ears what critics have been raving about.

First off, the design of the CD sleeve is excellent. Zetod, led by vocalist, guitarist, zither (kannel) meister extraordinaire and karmoshka or seto squeezebox artist Vabarna Jalmar are out to have fun. Jalmar and the other members Viskari Jaanus on bass and “tõrro”, Linnussõ Artur on accordion and percussionist Küti Martin are depicted in drawings throughout the booklet in folk costume, always characterized as spirited and enthusiastic young men.

The lyrics are provided in Seto and English, perhaps of assistance to some Estonian speakers, who may not be able to make heads or even tails of this beautiful dialect. “Vot tak” is an energetic selection, complete with a spirited guitar lick, describing the joys of making a flaxen shirt. The cover cut is all about the rituals of going to the sun, finding the proper “vihad” or birch whisks, without which no Estonian saun is complete, allowing setos and all sauna enthusiasts to be able to work for the whole week leading up to the next purification of flesh and soul. “Lätsi sanna” is a beautiful marriage of the modern and the passed-down original seto approach to singing. What folk-rock compilation is complete without a nekrutilaul, or conscription song, originally composed and sung during the tsarist era, still applicable today? We have this with Jako’s song, describing how it feels to be forcibly conscripted into the (Russian) army. Well conveyed.

All in all a wonderful discovery. Zetod rock while remaining true to the leelo form. For more on this disc and the band visit www.zetod.ee; they are also at www.myspace.com/zetod. Zetod are a hot, vibrant, exciting band carrying on their ancestral legacy in a form available and approachable, even for those who hail from the cold, busier and euronoise influenced reaches of Harjumaa or the islands… Recommended.

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