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Interview with Lauri about Metsatöll and the sense of history.

Lauri, first of all can you explain us what the name "Metsatöll" stay for?
Well, In olden times it was believed among estonians that the name of the wolf can not be uttered loudly, and that whenever you name a Wolf, it will instantly appear.
Therefore wolves were called varous different names: võsavillem, hallivatt, metsaisand, metsakutsu, etc. One of the names was Metsatöll, which roughly translates into "Forest creature" (Mets - forest; Töll - being, creature). On the other hand, in some idioms "töllakil" has meant "on all fours", which could also indicate an animal.

Thanks. So, let's go on with the interview... First shot... What does "the sense of history" mean for you?
History is a very broad concept; whatever happened yesterday is also history. The sense of history is therefore a person's own emotions and thoughts connected with the past. It is as if history comes in layers: first the most shallow, surface layer, known and sensed by us all - the recent past, childhood and personal experiences; then a deeper layer known from written sources, and finally the deepest of all layers, remembered only due to oral traditions.
Until now Metsatöll has crafted songs from more distant times than "yesterday" or "the day before", so the sense of history must be different too. For the band I suppose it is mostly connected with traditional music and the sense of the old traditions and customs of the people - to speak in the language of music similar to that of our ancestors. The feeling or vision of bygone days emerging while rummaging around in the archives of traditional music and reading history books.
Then again, in music as a form of art, trying to follow through on traditional (historical) motifs does not comprise the most relevant part, unless it is deliberate. For Metsatöll, the historical content of the songs is not deliberate, it reflects the inner world of the song-writer and the lyricist. Most of the songs are pseudo-folkloric, meaning that the lyrics are `????A ?Lauinfluenced by vernacular texts and many melodies by folk tunes but they are still the band's own creations, except for a few songs from the archive of folklore, for which a "folksy tune"was written. In these cases the estonian folk songs and tunes the composer is imbued with inevitably influence his creations - getting a sense of history through himself.

Considering your personal experience, in which things is music good for speaking about history?
History is definitely a part of the national identity, especially for small peoples such as estonians, about whose beings and doings scant archival materials and other records remain. Music is an excellent medium for speaking to and informing our people and the rest of the world about who we have been and who our ancestors were, since this message gets through even to those who otherwise would never, and perhaps never want to, know about our past.
For our own people it will surely help them preserve their own selves and pride of self-being. To a certain extent music also helps to tell people about things in history that I'm particularly interested in - holy places, ancient battles. To get people interesed in their forbears.

Do you consider your band as a "Historical re-enactment group" to? And why?
Definitely not. New means and options are at our disposal, so our band's idea should rather fit somewhere under the rubric of ethno-futu. We have sometimes played traditional songs using only traditional instruments at our gigs, and sung songs the way they might have sounded in the ages past, but nowadays the function of folk songs and tunes has changed to such a large extent that for a stage band such as Metsatöll, being a historical re-enactment group is definitely impossible and if we tried to be one, we would be deceiving both the public and ourselves.
However, I myself move around and play music in circles where the tradition of playing folk songs and folk tunes is alive and well, and there are definitely groups and bands there who fall into this category. On the other hand I'm certain Metsatöll gets people interested in their own history and traditional culture.
This is apparent even from the clothes of the people who attend our gigs, who also often join in the singing of runo songs (a manner of singing inherent to fenno-ugric peoples, in which the lead singer first sings the first line of a verse and the choir then sings along the last syllable of the first line and then repeats the line first sung by the lead singer), and I'm sure this penetrates their consciousness and perhaps next time they will sing these songs together with their friends - and the tradition has been re-created among the young people. I sincerely hope it may be this way.

What do you think about Historical re-enactment as a way of teaching history?
I'm of the opinion that being aware of and knowing your own country's history and traditions is vital for every person, as well as the preservation one's own unique culture in this era of globalization. It is inevitable that culutres get mixed up due to the incursion of mass communication. It is important to preserve the centuries-old and distinctive folk culture and to acknowledge who we are and to hand this down to posterity.

We know that your band is strongly linked to your people's tradition and history; in few words what you may say about your ancestors?
They were simple people who called themselves "earthfolk".
There were many songsters in Estonia, so they were a people of music. And people who have retained their own "selves" and culture to this day, despite many a conqueror. A strong folk - like a juniper on a seashore, destroyed by no force, perservering in spite of drought or storm.

Let's speak a little bit about your country and Eastern Europe; you're one of the new "European country" , what do you think about this process of integration in a single community?
It is interesting that I've never before been asked the question, how it is to live in Eastern Europe. There is a rather probable theory that when the ancient Greek explorer Pytheas described a land "far far to the north" - "ultima thule" - he was thinking of Saaremaa (the westernmost island of Estonia), where the locals had shown him the place where the sun goes to rest (Kaali meteorite).
There are both positive and negative aspects to being a part of the European Union. Personally I fear for the loss of identity. And not just the identity of estonians - there are many distinctive and unique small peoples in Europe, blending ever more into the mass culture: basques, bretons, flemings, etc. Luckily there are more and more groups forming to contrast this, hanging on to their cultures and trying to prevent the loss of traditions and to preserve and learn to know their own. Small states should also be economically very clever in this new community, so as not to let the small businesses become extinct, which is a constant threat in the economy dominated by multinational corporations.
People should consume the nature-friendly products of their own countries, even if they are perhaps a bit more expensive than the cheap mass products. Local work-force should also be preferred to prevent people from blending together and to prevent immigration of people who have no local roots and are unfamiliar with the traditions, for whom the endemic landscape holds no meaning (although they can not be condemned for it, obviously).

I think I just answered this. J One positive aspect is that various funds from the EU are now open to us. Also, Kihnu (an island in southwestern Estonia, where locals still daily wear the old traditional clothes, and where their own language and customs have also been preserved) and Estonian Singing Festival have been entered into the Unesco Cultural Heritage list, and Seto (southeastern region of Estonia, where the traditional and unique seto language and culture still prevail with their natural ups and downs) has been submitted.
European funds have also paid for my own visits to schools, where I've played traditional instruments and told stories about them to the children. One must be reasonable towards both the negative and the positive, make use of both aspects, and then everything will be all right.

You may say that there's a strong sense of history and tradition in your country?
We are back at the sense of history again. Common estonians probably have their own sense of history, something that should rather be called "senselessness of history" - usually people do not fully acknowledge the events and living conditions of ancient times, which is of course a pity. The "Great Soviet Era" - the time when history books were rewritten to shape the world-view of the "soviet people", and when old estonians were portrayed in the manner most suitable for the needs of the state - may be partially responsible for that. This has formed a sort of a caricature in people's heads: estonians as a proletariat lurking in low, dark, smoky huts, in constant conflict with squires and landlords.
Another picture is of a blue-eyed hero with a golden zither - an image soaked in national romanticism. But I suppose this is how it is in most any other country: there are people who know full well who they are and where they come from, and then there are people - who tend to form the majority - whose understanding of history is rather hazy or has been shaped by stereotypic portrayals of national heroes found in primary school books.
But then again, I personally know many people who have great interest in the history and traditions of Estonia, some of whom are experts in the field. Perhaps my skepticism towards the sense of history of common estonians is influenced by being acquainted with a lot of historians, folklorists and musicians and singers who play traditional music.

At the end, a little space for you.... feel free to speak!
I was just reminded of an old story about a child who never understood why his grandfather planted a small apple-tree in the garden, when his own lips can never taste its fruit.
I would like lay it upon all people to explore their own cultural heritage and to keep what is inherent to them and preserved in their blood during the past millennia, and hold on tight to it, and to hand it down to their children - this is the greatest treasure a people can have, except love!

Author: Daniele Sestini
Zine: Antichi Popoli

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