Evelin Tamm

Evelin Tamm is an Estonian artist, activist and freelance journalist living in Sweden. Her work is a colourful collage of creative actions online and in real life including painting, digital art, filming, poetry, women´s rights actions, collecting and sharing feminist history and stories, environmental thought, alternative education in practice and theory.

The very first Estonian feminists – Lilli Suburg and Marie Reisik

As we celebrate the international women’s day, it is worth to take a look at the stories of two strong and highly influential women who played the leading roles in Estonian women’s rights movement in the 19th and 20th century.

In anticipation of Estonia’s 100th birthday in 2018, there are many other reasons to celebrate. This year is also a year of several celebrations for the country’s feminist movement – Estonian women have had the right to vote for 100 years by now; we were among the first in Europe and proud of that.

It took decades of political struggle to achieve it and this struggle has received far too little attention in the country’s historical research and even in the local Estonian feminist writing. As we celebrate the international women’s day, it is worth to take a look at the stories of two strong and highly influential women who played the leading roles in Estonian women’s rights movement in the 19th and 20th century.

Lilli Suburg and her “Linda”

It was 130 years ago, in October 1887, when Lilli Suburg (1841-1923), a well-known writer, educator and women’s rights activist, founded the very first Estonian women’s magazine, “Linda”.

Her newspaper and the girls’ school, established just some years earlier, were located in the same two-floored house in Viljandi, a small town in southern Estonia. It became a centre for the cultural elites at the time, lots of people found their way to Suburg’s house and, of course, many of her students became later the very first educated professional women in Estonia.

Andres Rennit, a poet working for Suburg during this period, writes in his memoirs, “… she was an energetic, strong minded person with good ability and will to work. She never changed her mind or gave up ideas she once had started to consider to be the correct ones, and she did not let anybody to influence that.”

And probably only thanks to that strong willpower and her great intelligence was she able to push forward the national conservative public discussion and views about the Estonian women’s rights to study, their free choice to stay single and not to marry, to stand up and make their voices heard and much more.

The feedback she received for her articles was not always kind. Other newspapers could mock her and her writings publicly. Women were not allowed to step up to the public arena, otherwise they could lose their special feminine qualities and the right to be protected by men, according to the proponents.

Her writings were, of course, radical at the time and very novel in the Estonian public media. She wrote about the importance of emancipation of women, women’s education and introduced the international developments in global women’s rights movements.

Unfortunately, the local readers were not quite ready for Suburg and her feminist journal in Estonian. In her memoirs, she writes how some women did not even dare to read the paper openly, so they kept it in the barn and read it secretly, hidden from their husbands. Because of the financial troubles of her enterprise, Suburg was forced to sell the magazine in 1894.

Lilly Suburg died in 1923. She experienced the political liberation of Estonian women in 1917, when the women got the right to vote and to be elected. She sent her joyful greetings to the first women’s congress held in the same year and had several honorary positions in women’s organisations established at that time.

Marie Reisik and the “Women’s Work and Life”

Marie Reisik was born in the same year when Lilli Suburg founded her magazine “Linda”, in 1887. Already in Reisik’s childhood she met well-known and highly educated Estonian women at her home in Kilingi-Nõmme, at the time a small village located between Viljandi and Pärnu. She went to the same girls’ school in Pärnu where Lilli Suburg and the legendary Estonian national poet, Lydia Koidula, had studied.

In 1907, Reisik was among the founders of the first Estonian women’s organisation in Tartu. As women were not yet allowed to enter universities in the Russian Empire during that time, in 1908 she went to study in Paris to become a French teacher.

After returning to Estonia, Reisik established the first political journal for women, “Naisterahva Töö ja Elu” (“Women’s Work and Life”). As a result of her work, many educated Estonian women united under this journalistic umbrella and, in 1917, the very first Estonian Women’s Congress took place. It later led to the founding of the Estonian Women’s Union in 1920.

One might say Reisik was a political genius because she was able to create a united front of the women’s movement that lasted nearly throughout the pre-war Estonian independence, until 1940. Despite the fact that women’s views along the wide political spectrum rather often meant conflicts and contradicted with many other opinions, the Estonian Women’s Union accomplished to establish a large network of emancipated active women. They, in turn, had a strong impact on the development of the Estonian culture and society at the time.

Reisik was elected to the Estonian Constituent Assembly in 1919 and to parliament, the Riigikogu, in 1929 and 1932. In her parliamentary party group, led by one of the political heavyweights of the time, Jaan Tõnisson, Reisik was the only elected female member. It is worth mentioning that in the 1929 election, Reisik received more votes than Tõnisson himself.

The Estonian Women’s Union was dissolved after the Soviet Union occupied Estonia in 1940 and by 1941, Reisik was pursued by the Soviet secret police, NKVD. The same year, she died in unclear circumstances at a Tallinn hospital.

Today, Reisik’s feminist political thought is sadly almost totally forgotten. When we celebrate the Estonian feminist movement, we ought to remember these remarkable women who made a big difference over 100 years ago.


Cover: Marie Reisik and Lilli Suburg (image courtesy of feministeerium.ee). Please consider making a donation for the continuous improvement of our publication.

Toomas Tuulse started to learn the piano when he was eight years old. Photo: Kristiina Gilts Stenhardt

Toomas Tuulse 70: “Working with choirs has been an unbroken thread in my life”

Toomas Tuulse is a multifaceted, radiant person – a composer, pianist and a choir conductor; no major concert or celebration within the Stockholm Estonian community takes place without him. Like tens of thousands of others, his parents fled Estonia in the autumn of 1944 and reached Sweden’s shores. How was it to grow up on the western side of the Baltic Sea knowing that somewhere on the other side is “home”, but it is a forbidden land? This is an interview about Tuulse´s extraordinary musical journey that has made him and the music he creates so special.

How did you become a composer?

I was born in Stockholm in 1946. I was brought up in a home filled with artwork, literature and music. We often had very interesting visitors: artists, writers, academics – what united them was that they were all creative spirits. I grew up in a creative atmosphere, where something new was always being created, new connections and things. Art and science, experience and theory, storytelling and literature – these intertwined with each other, and that is how I found my own freedom to invent. A major part of my adult lifestyle has been to be curious, to boldly experiment and to break barriers.

Music was important to both of my parents. One of their dreams was fulfilled when I was eight years old – they were able to purchase a brand new piano. Of course, I started taking piano lessons. To me, that was the most natural thing in the world. I already had a strong connection with all kinds of musical instruments. I thought, “What wonderful music could be played on all those beautiful instruments!” My first piano teacher was Harri Kiisk. Later on, as an adult, I played for many years for Käbi Laretei.

When I was twelve, I wanted to study composition. My piano teacher taught me theory and encouraged me to discover the mysteries of music. I experimented for a long time on my own. I put in a great deal of effort and for a hundred mistakes, I would have one success. I experimented with a lot of different styles: I was an impressionist, a modernist, serialist, avant-gardist… when I reached thirty years of age, something in me was freed; it was as if I passed through an invisible wall – all which had seemed so difficult, earlier on, was now achievable, thanks to all of my experiences. I found my own style, which actually was comprised of many styles.

For a short time, I was able to study under Eduard Tubin. I studied the structure of music, counterpoint and orchestration. Each session always ended with memorable moments by the coffee table where I could ask any question I wanted. Tubin had an inexhaustible supply of information and interesting stories.

Toomas Tuulse playing the piano. Photo: Kristiina Gilts Stenhardt

My work with choirs has been an unbroken thread in my life. I wrote some pieces already in high school and was even able to conduct them. For many years, I sang in various church and chamber choirs. I really enjoyed that and learnt a lot. Then I started participating in our Estonian choirs. First the Stockholm Estonian Women’s Choir, then Vikerkoor and now I am one of three conductors for the Stockholm Estonian Mixed Choir. I enjoy sharing being the conductor of a choir as it gives the choir wider experiences and greater freedom. Writing choir music is one of the most enjoyable things to do in the world. Usually I choose a text which I myself like, then I interpret it and then wrap it in a sound that both women’s and men’s voices will sing.

Last summer, the title song of the Pärnu Song Festival was “Imede aias” (“In the garden of wonders”), which was composed jointly by you and Hando Kask. And the permanent repertoire of the Stockholm Estonian Mixed Choir contains many of your beautiful compositions. Besides choir music, you have also cultivated other kinds of music. From the viewpoint of today’s anniversary, looking back for a moment, what do you consider to be highlights of your musical creativity?

In 1973, I worked with others on a Swedish Radio project. I wrote a piece for the annual European radio union competition, Triumph Varietée, which was held in Monte Carlo. We christened the twenty-minute piece, Joyces for Voices. It was a solely vocal fantasia expressing the joy of living. I wrote samba music, jazz music, lullabies and fugues, and arranged them for voices. My co-workers inspired me, organised and recorded the music. We sent the competition piece to Monte Carlo and after a few months, we found out that we had won. We were European champions! A golden cup inscribed with our names sits in the radio station’s lobby.

In 1976, I composed and orchestrated a minuet for wind instruments for the regional music competition. I achieved third place and the music was recorded. These kinds of small successes inspire and stimulate me, and propel me forward.

Toomas Tuulse conducting. Photo: Kristiina Gilts StenhardtAll of the smaller and larger compositions which have been written for our Estonian events in Sweden are memorable. For ESTO 80, that was held in Stockholm, I wrote a whole cantata for orchestra, choir and soloists, based on Kalju Lepik’s poetry. I was also asked to write a song to be sung by the combined women’s choirs at the ESTO 80 Song Festival based on Marie Under’s poem, “Hommikupalve” (“Morning Prayer”). For the Stockholm 2013 Estival, I was asked to compose a song for the men’s choir, something that was to be humorous and based on a song that was already well known. So I rewrote “Hakkame mehed minema” (“Men, let’s get going”), adding clapping, stomping feet and unexpected rhythms. From the “Sweedest Song”, I received a request with some fascinating content. From that was born “Läks aga metsa” (“Went into the forest”) fugue for choir, which contained text and themes from the popular song “Kui Kungla rahvas” (“When Kungla’s people”). The public is invited to join in singing the last phrase.

I have always liked being asked to compose something – it is a specific undertaking within a certain time frame. But sometimes the creative impulse comes from some meeting, a gust of wind, a beautiful memory… or I get new ideas from colleagues. Hando Kask is one of them. Together, we have written many choral pieces as well as compositions for the cabaret and theatre. For Estival 2013, which I mentioned earlier, we wrote a special performance piece – “Wiiraltiana” – about Eduard Wiiralt’s life and his works of art. Actors virtually stepped out of his artwork making them come alive… And this spring, the women’s choirs at the Pärnu Song Festival are performing a song I wrote based on Ellen Niit’s text called “Viibida vaikida” (“To remain, to be silent”). Ellen Niit is a writer whom I love very much and her writings can be found in many of my songs.

You lived in Sweden surrounded by the cultural people from the first Estonian period of independence, but actually never visited Estonia. What did living in that double reality actually mean to you?

As a child of refugees, I felt different from the others and cast aside. I grew up amidst my parent’s sadness, hopes, fears and dreams. And that had a great impact on my life. So many of my questions whirled around my parent’s homeland: what was Estonia, what did it look like, what would it feel like to hear only Estonian spoken all around me, can Estonia ever be free again? How can I learn to live in the Swedish community with my feelings of exclusion? It took about fifty years before I attained harmony between my two identities. By then, I had contacts with Estonia and that helped. When Estonia’s borders opened up a bit more in the late 1980’s, our theatre group and choir went there and we started to get to know our parent’s homeland.

Playwright Heidi Sarapuu offered that I work with her and the “Varius” theatre. So I started to travel to Tallinn many times a year to write music as well as perform in her shows. During that period, the performances were by Swedish writers: Nils Ferlin, Karin Boye, Gustav Fröding… Mart Jürisoo always accompanied me as he sang my compositions. I developed some young Estonian friends who inspired me to speak more contemporary Estonian. I got to know the city of Tallinn and its cultural life. Becoming a part of the cultural life in Estonia was a huge privilege as a result of which I felt that I was both Estonian and Swedish. What a blessing to be able to express oneself in two languages and to be creative in two cultures!

Stockholm continues to be one of the largest centres of Estonian language and culture outside of Estonia. What has changed over the years and in what will happen next?

Already during high school, I started singing in our Estonian congregation’s choir, where the conductor was Harri Kiisk. I sang a piece of sacred music written by Cyrillius Kreek which had been smuggled, on microfilm, out of Estonia – singing it there was forbidden. For us, it was a manifestation of a free culture. The whole cultural life of Estonians in Stockholm pulsed with the fight for freedom. Music, art and literature were very important expressions of that fight. And I was quickly drawn into that fight for freedom.

Today, everything is different – we celebrate the same holidays though on different sides of the Baltic Sea, we travel freely, we have friends and things to do on both sides. Information and inspiration flows freely. Fine new Estonian singers knock on our choir’s doors in Stockholm. Our choir today is so active, creative and dedicated, with many generations and people with so many different life’s experiences meeting each other and creating music together. We have to keep in mind that we are one of Europe’s continually developing cultural traditions and we, Estonians, have our voice amongst so many others. Our contribution is important in both the immediate and wider sense.

On 28 May, a major musical celebration of your birthday will take place at the Eric Ericson Hall right in the centre of Stockholm. Perhaps you could briefly tell us of your plans for that day?

The performance will cover sixty years of musical creativity, starting with my first childish waltz up to a première performance of a song. The music will cover many styles and come from many projects. I have always been an active musician and, when new music was required, I wrote it – for choirs, cabarets and theatre, for musical friends, the church, as well as for children… I have had a long working relationship with an American friend, a fantastic writer, Jack Barnard. Many of the songs to be sung at the concert were composed using his writings.

I have invited my family and friends to come and make music with me – my wife Lena Kristina, daughter Johanna and grandchild Alice. My son Josef will take care of the sound. The Stockholm Estonian Mixed Choir will be with me – organising and performing – as well as Sweedest Song and Amabile choir from Tallinn with their conductor and soloist Meeli Tammu and many others. An ensemble and orchestra will be in place and I have asked my co-conductors from the mixed choir to each conduct their choral section.


Cover: Toomas Tuulse started to learn the piano when he was eight years old. Photo: Kristiina Gilts Stenhardt

Tuulikki Bartosik’s chatterbox, accordion and eight languages

The multifaceted Estonian accordionist and music teacher, Tuulikki Bartosik, debuted her first album “Storied Sounds” at the recent Tallinn Music Week. The album is a collection of tunes written and recorded over many years and compiled into one album.

Bartosik’s classical and theoretical studies, with a master’s degree in traditional music from the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, have ignited her curiosity to learn what traditional music could be in today’s urban settings and changing world – she melts the traditions of Estonia with Scandinavian old instrumental tradition and was first in Estonia to adapt traditional music to the free-bass accordion.

For Bartosik, her accordion has always been a tool to express her voice trough music. Freedom and nature are very important to her and large open spaces in northern Estonia or the woods and bogs in Võrumaa in the southeast of Estonia inspire her music.

Tuulikki Bartosik VII

Duoalbum Chatterbox (RBRCD25) with English accordionist, singer and dancer Hannah James entered the Telegraph’s best folk and traditional music albums chart in 2015 and earned splendid reviews internationally. Bartosik also works with Estonian singer-songwriter Mari Kalkun and multi-instrumentalist Pastacas and their collaboration will soon be available on an album released in Japan, called “Upa-upa ubinakõnõ”.

Bartosik’s first solo album, called “Storied Sounds”, is released this month under the UK label RootBeat Records, featuring newly-written solo pieces as well as duos and trios with Finnish piano player and composer Timo Alakotila, Estonian mandolin player Villu Talsi and Welsh guitarist Dylan Fowler.

“I believe that if you are doing things that are in balance with your inner self, then suddenly you attract people with positive energies and everything moves in the direction which it should and is necessary. I like to get absorbed in things, to explore where something has found its beginning and how it has developed,” Bartosik says about her mantra.

Estonian World caught up with Bartosik to find out more.

Last year you released two compilations – one in England with Hannah James (Chatterbox) and the second in Estonia with Mari Kalkun and Pastacas (Upa-Upa Ubinakõnõ). With its unique sound, both albums have won the attention of widespread audiences and have gotten many positive reviews. Where to next? What are you working on today?

Up until now, Hannah James and I have toured in England, with only positive feedback from the audience. I’m very happy to have the chance to work together with such a wonderful musician. We have discussed the possibility of making a new album where the roots of Estonian music take more of a spotlight and where we hope to find an intersection between Finno-Ugric and the Celtic culture in our duo.

Upa-Upa was completed about the same time as Chatterbox, but the recording took place in Finland. On this record, I play the accordion as well as the melodica, percussions, and the metallophone abs sing also in my childhood language – Võru language. At this time, we’re looking forward to finding out how the release of our album in Japan will go. The Võru Institute has been a wonderful partner and I hope that our fruitful collaboration will continue in the future because for me it is essential to be able to contribute to the preservation of Võru language and culture.

Tuulikki Bartosik autor Aron Urb 2015

Playing together with me on the album are my good friends in life and music – Villu Talsi from Estonia and Timo Alakotila from Finland. On two songs, guitarist Dylan Fowler from Wales, whom I’ve met through Chatterbox, is also playing. We look forward to the album release concerts in the upcoming year. I’m extremely glad to have the opportunity to work with RootBeat Records – a growing independent record label that released my album and supports me in the work I do.

The plan is to write the sheet music for some of the tunes on the solo album and to create two different arrangements of each tune; for stradella and free-bass accordion. This is especially meant for young accordionists to gain inspiration. The accordion is an instrument with a wide range of interpretation possibilities and it would be great if young people started writing their tunes directly for the accordion to help create more original repertoires.  I am waiting with anticipation for upcoming projects in June at the Mooste Külalisstuudio residency in Estonia, especially the project called Omega 3, which is happening at the old but active linseed oil factory. A Canadian electroacoustic composer Vanessa Massera and I are making music together. Vanessa with his sound bank and electronics and me playing on my accordion; we draw inspiration from our environment and the passing moments.

You work as a musician and as a music teacher in many countries at once; in Estonia, Finland, Sweden as well as in England. Folk music associates with primarily conservative values, with one specific point of view: traditions and their continuation. Is it possible, and if so, how, is it possible to connect the local and global, and modern and folk music? What does this contribute to your music?

The notion of heritage is connected with culture which is synonymously appointed as tradition. Both of those concepts are related to the continuation of different forms of culture from generation to generation. The concept of tradition can be regarded as wider than the concept of heritage, as for example it can be seen in Estonia and Finland that folk applies particularly to spiritual culture. Aspects which form heritage include the world of ideas, opinions, and all the consequent human action. It incorporates certain values ​​that are created by the previous generations, and which combine the modern with the past, connecting the people with their land.

Tuulikki Bartosik III

As Estonians we are looking in the legacy of our culture, something unique to indigenous peoples, something which we can act on today’s changing society, finding its own identity and its preservation. Estonians did not identify themselves as a nation until the 19th century, during which the nationalist movement emerged. In the past, Estonians called themselves the countryside/earth people, and that’s practically how it was, because just under 10% of the population lived in the cities. Since I’ve never lived consistently in the countryside, my ancestors from both my mother’s and father’s side have moved and travelled in many countries for over 100 years learning many languages. I actually feel the personal unfolding of history, seeing that the local and the global can be connected.

“As Estonians we are looking in the legacy of our culture, something unique to indigenous peoples, something which we can act on today’s changing society, finding its own identity and its preservation.”

Analysing my own family history, I’ve come to understand that my ability to speak five languages and three musical languages (Finnish, Swedish and Estonian) makes me a completely average member of my family. We already had four generations ago trilingual people who worked in different countries and experienced different cultures. From both my father’s and mother’s side, I’ve inherited the curiosity for the new and interesting and neither new languages nor new cultures have intimidated me. I’ve gone where my curiosity has taken me and that has developed me both as an individual and a musician. For this I have to mostly thank my Võrumaa roots because it was Võrumaa that has been a place for me that has provided a source of stability, where always the same lakes, forests and marshes await me. I feel that my roots are deep in Estonia’s soil and it gives me strength and opportunities for adventures elsewhere.

My music is my emotional world of expression and reflection, and therefore just as eclectic as it is. Because I play primarily instrumental music, I have more freedom but am also limited compared to vocal musicians. From my music, my listeners hear exactly that which they wish to hear, because the text has not framed the melody in. My background and lifestyle gives my music diversity and spaciousness. Heritage cannot be learned, but music can be. I have my heritage, which is partially tied with permanent spaces, but also very much with the places in the world where my ancestors have travelled in the past or live currently. Every person has their own legacy which no one can take away from them. Every person in this world is a unique example of this. I look forward to the time when I can be a part of Rõuge heritage, to live yourself into it and start noticing how the traditions I brought integrate into the local music and in what way it makes the local traditions and heritage richer. I believe that no culture can be isolated for the sake of retention.

“Heritage cannot be learned, but music can be. I have my heritage, which is partially tied with permanent spaces, but also very much with the places in the world where my ancestors have travelled in the past or live currently.”

Traveling around the world and longing for meeting musicians and playing together makes me feel a part of the world. I notice the music that comes from somewhere from the community; music which is spread orally, replicated, which lives actively today but which has its roots deep in its soil. I am curious and always check out all sort of background information, trying to meet local tradition carriers if it´s possible. The scheme is always similar everywhere, there are people who occupy the same place and there are travellers, but each person is rooted in their own heritage. I would call myself foremost a musician whose interest lies in the long tradition of the folk heritage.

Tuulikki Bartosik IV

If you are clear about your identity, it is easier to get in contact with other people through music or other disciplines. I’ve used music to communicate with people from different cultures to understand the people; and this has worked well so far. For example, in English music I hear factories, the sea, mountains, sheep, five o’clock tea, stone houses and green slopes; these stories tell me of the country and their people, just as Estonian songs tell stories about Estonia and the Estonian people. Traveling around a lot, I begin to understand what the feelings of tradition in both music and in behaviour are. The more I deal with traditional culture and traditional music, the more clearly I understand those characteristics regardless of which country I currently am in.

In Estonia, traditional music is very popular and folk musicians have quite an established place in the culture. How is Estonian musician and Estonian musicians accepted in other countries? What is your experience?

I represented my music foremost as my own, not as Estonian folk music. I tie this together with different stories and facts during my concert. Usually I talk about different countries and compare them to one another. I’ve gotten the impression that people honour and admire my knowledge and background and my thick Estonian roots which I carry and represent with pride. Incidentally it happened once during a concert in England that I suddenly started feeling insecure about my Estonian identity. The audience didn’t know much about Estonia and as a result I felt a lot of pressure to find the best way to explain to them about Estonia; what it is and where it is located. At that point I didn’t feel very well; I felt small – and thought, what do I actually have to show to people in this country that is big compared to Estonia? This feeling however passed very quickly once I began playing music.

During the Tallinn Music Week Festival you introduced your new solo album, “Storied Sounds”, on two stages and in two different groups of band members. For the introduction of your album you have said: ”My music follows me and I follow my music, and it is never obvious how I sound before I have heard myself playing. I never underestimate a sound in the very moment.” How do you prepare for your concerts?

I spent the whole of February working on my album to get it prepared for the TMW. Most of the time I spent in Sweden, the mixers and designers were in Estonia at the same time, the mastering engineer was in Finland and the record label was in England. I kept in touch in four different languages and tried to understand how to manage these things successfully through the internet. The making of this album has arguably been the most complicated. This is my story in music and I want it to sound as truthful and accurate as possible on the album. I enjoy most the music which I make here and now-something which would surprise even myself – and it is very difficult to represent the emotions as vividly on a record album. In this complicated process I have a very good team which knows how to understand and support me.

Tuulikki Bartosik IX

Since I’ve added to the album themes located based on nature and recorded parts of the material in open air, certain aspects of the album are impossible to be performed on stage. We usually let the moment of performance to surprise ourselves.


The interview was translated into English by Leonore Põder. Cover photo by Matthias Bartosik. Photos courtesy of Tuulikki Bartosik

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