Estonian folk artist Mari Kalkun to give a debut concert in London

Mari Kalkun, one of the most highly regarded Estonian singers and musicians in Europe, is to perform at the Songlines Encounters Festival in London on 30 May.

Kalkun, who relies in her work on her southern Estonian roots, singing in the Võro language, was invited to perform at the Songlines Encounters Festival by the Songlines magazine, the organiser of the event.

Impressing the Songlines’ editor

In March, the Songlines’ editor-in-chief, Simon Broughton, visited Kalkun at her home in Estonia’s Võru County, interviewing the artist for a podcast and writing a feature story, entitled “Welcome to Võrumaa”, for the magazine.

“I showed him Võru County, the forests around here, the sacred trees, a farmhouse that was once used by forest brothers (partisans who waged a guerrilla war against Soviet rule during the Soviet invasion and occupation after the WWII – editor), the hills and the views, and of course, the smoke sauna,” Kalkun said in a statement. “Just like the Japanese, to whom I have introduced this area around here, the honesty and straightforwardness of Võru County also impressed an Englishman.”

Mari Kalkun chats to Songlines’ editor-in-chief, Simon Broughton, about her instrument, kannel, and the importance of singing in her native language. 

The Songlines magazine also organises a music festival, bringing high-quality artists from around the world to play in London. Taking place for the ninth year, the 2019 Songlines Encounters Festival features artists from France, Portugal, Italy, Estonia (Mari Kalkun), Ethiopia, Senegal, South Africa, India, Brazil and the UK. The concerts will be performed at the Kings Place arts centre in London’s King’s Cross.

Kalkun, whose songs are inspired by nature, Estonian poetry and folk music, will perform at the venue on 30 May at 8 PM. Her performance is preceded by Q&A session with Simon Broughton. Kalkun will demonstrate her instrument, the kannel, the Estonian version of the Baltic zither, similar to the Finnish kantele, and talks about the way she draws on the traditional music and stories of Võru County in the south of Estonia.

International attention

While most of the Estonian pop and rock artists have struggled to attract even the tiniest of attention abroad, Kalkun has been on the radar of the international music press for some time.

Mari Kalkun. Photo by Ruudu Rahumaru.

In December, the Guardian included Kalkun’s third album “Ilmamõtsan” among the 10 best albums in the world in 2018 – a list otherwise dominated by African, Middle Eastern and Caribbean artists. Back in June 2018, the Guardian wrote in its review of the “Ilmamõtsan” – which Kalkun recorded almost entirely solo at her studio in her Võru County farmhouse – that “the result is a mesmerising record steeped in a sylvan atmosphere” and called the album “a magical creation”.

Separately, another British media outlet, the Arts Desk, also included Kalkuns’ “Ilmamõtsan” among the Albums of the Year 2018.

Songlines is a UK-based magazine launched in 1999 that covers music from traditional and popular to contemporary and fusion, featuring artists from around the globe.

Cover: Mari Kalkun. Photo by Ruudu Rahumaru.