Final Project: Lätsi küllä kükäkillä/Squatting I went to visit

Love Letter to Culture

The final project "Lätsi küllä kükäkillä" focuses on a group of Estonian Seto folk singers visiting New York City as part of the Estonian Cultural Days in New York 2018, specifically dedicated to the 100 Anniversary of the Republic of Estonia. This video project aims to capture the evolution and multi-faceted Estonian culture by building bridges through generations, nations, and nationalities. It's about celebrating the culture that inspires people's creativity, which lives within people no matter where they travel or temporarily reside.

This project is a love letter to my own personal feeling about my cultural background and the respect I have for the cultural environment I was fortunate enough to be a part of. To me personally, countries and nations are fictional entities that citizens are made to believe in, yet there's very little natural about them. Cultures on the other hand form over long periods of time and the more one dig deeper into our own cultural roots, the more we realize how much cultures have influenced each other. Thanks to my folk music background I've fortunate enough to learn about Estonian culture and parts of it that most Estonians aren't exposed to. The more I learned about Estonian folk music, or traditions the more I started seeing a disconnect between "patriotic citizens" and "people of a certain culture".

After moving to the United States and familiarizing myself with the Estonian-American community I started seeing an even more divide. The culture that Estonian-Americans was proud about was similar to the one that an average Estonian considers the Estonian culture, it was the singing revolution and song festivals, bringing together hundreds of thousands of people to sing nationalistic songs, it was the food, and sometimes some traditional clothes. But, whenever I look at these nationalistic elements I tend to see elements that have been created for nationalistic movements, the song festivals were initially about just coming together to sing folk songs and enjoy a good company but in the 1920s they were transformed into nationalistic events where most songs were no folk songs but rather newly written choral compositions. During the Soviet Union era, the same festival was used for Communist propaganda and many songs that are now considered to be the golden classics from the long tradition of Estonian Song Festivals are actually songs that have a rather complicated background. There are some melodies that were sung by German soldiers during the WW2 or some that people like so much that even though they were written during the Soviet regime people forget that many composers were either murdered, deported to Siberia, or put into hospitals if they declined to obey by the Soviet creative restrictions.

This video is the opposite of all that, it features Seto singers who are part of a Seto minority cultural group. They sing in their own dialect, similar to a Voro dialect, which back in the days was spoken by the southern half of Estonia. Their music is influenced by Russian, Polish, Lithuanian music, and their outfits are definitely more colorful than most northern-Estonians would dare to call their own, but they are as much Estonian as anyone else.

The choreographer and my best friend Diina Tamm has lived in New York City for the past 6 years. She is from a Russian-Estonian family but was born and raised in the capital, Estonia, and then there's me. Originally from the Southern Voru area of Estonia, but moved at the age of 15, on my own, to the second biggest city, Tartu. Then soon after headed to Italy, yet culture is what you're being raised with, it keeps inspiring you along the way and shapes you when you're exposed to it. Culture to me is not arrogant, nationalistic or proud, it's just something you have no matter which country you were born into.


English Translation

While squatting I went to visit,
Under the fence with my legs spread wide;
Approaching the room;
Almost imaging the doorstep.
Open a door for me,
//So that I could hold you.
//Kiss you a little.
Please open the door.
//The someone told me through the keyhole
//"Get out, oh you, worthless!"
//I would rather sleep next to a rock,
//I'd rather sleep next to a tree,
//Than next to a bad boy,
//I headed on my way home
//My back hurt, and mood was low.
//What else to do now than I've been rejected

Seto Dialect

Lätsi küllä kükäkillä,
Alta aia hargikilla;
Naksi liikma tarõ poolõ,
Illu liikma läve poolõ.
//Krõõt, mu kulla kabõhõnõ,
Ava mullõ ussõkõsta,
//Et saas sinno üsätädä,
//Veedõkõnõ mutsätada.
//Krõõt, mu kulla kabõhõnõ,
Ava õs mullõ ussõkõsta.
//Pajat läbi tossumulgu:
//"Kasi kodo, karätsura!
//Innemb mia maka kivi kõrval,
//Innemb mia maka kannu kõrval
//Kui üte halva poisi kõrval,
//Kivi ei kisu, känd ei kaku."
//Naksi liikma kodo poolõ,
///Snä oll haigõ, miil oll hallõ.
//Miä sääl tettä, kui sai pettä.

*** the verses indicated with // are not included in the video ***

Estonian Folk Music

The earliest mentioning of Estonian singing and dancing dates back to Saxo Grammaticus' Gesta Danorum (c. 1179). Saxo speaks of Estonian warriors who sang at night while waiting for an epic battle.
The Estonian folk music tradition is broadly divided into 2 periods. The older folksongs are also referred to as runic songs, songs in the poetic metre regivärss the tradition shared by all Baltic-Finnic peoples. Runic singing was widespread among Estonians until the 18th century, when it started to be replaced by rhythmic folksongs. Professional Estonian musicians emerged in the late 19th century at the time of Estonian national awakening. Nowadays the most known Estonian composers are Arvo Pärt and Veljo Tormis.
- Wikipedia; Music of Estonia

Runo-Song Tradition

Runo-Song is a type of traditional singing where a lead singer leads the way with a verse and everyone else repeats it. The singing usually occurred outside around a fireplace or while doing work in groups of people. Often times the lead singer made of some lyrics in order to make the runo longer, or do make the time pass faster.

Estonian runo-song (Estonian: regilaul) has been extensively recorded and studied, especially those sung by women. They can come in many forms, including work songs, ballads and epic legends. Much of the early scholarly study of runo-song was done in the 1860s by Friedrich Reinhold Kreutzwald, who used them to compose the Estonian national epic, Kalevipoeg. By the 20th century, though, runo-song had largely disappeared from Estonia, with vibrant traditions existing only in Setumaa and Kihnu.
- Wikipedia; Music of Estonia