Rüüt – traditional folk with a fresh touch

Rüüt is an Estonian folk band, consisting of Juhan Uppin (diatonic accordion), Maarja Soomre (vocals, melodica), Maili Metssalu (vocals, fiddle) and Toomas Oks (diatonic accordion). Rüüt’s music is a good listening for folk lovers, those interested in technical intricacies and also to wonderers of mellow musical landscapes. They have made characteristic arrangements to quite a few Estonian traditional folk tunes and songs, as well as arranging their own compositions, creating a music which creates an atmosphere with mellow musical landscapes.

Estonian World met two of the group members, Maarja Soomre and Toomas Oks, for a friendly chat about music and traditions in a relaxing atmosphere in Tallinn.

How and when did you meet each other?

We went to the same school (the Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre) three years ago. As a part of our studies we had to form a band. We knew that we had two guys playing diatonic accordion and two singers, and we were wondering, what we can do with these abilities. We started to try out different possibilities to find new sounds from the diatonic accordion, to see what else we can do with these instruments. We found that we could use it as a percussion, to try different grooves and rhythms. We had such different backgrounds but somehow we were on the same page. Furthermore, Maili and me (Maarja) had both delved into singing runo songs. We wanted to experiment a lot. We enjoyed the company and the music so much that we decided it was not just a school band anymore, but our band. And we are happy because that is why we are together as a band.

How do you consider your different backgrounds among your musical activity?

Rüüt is an ensemble of different worlds and, I think, this is the reason why we do the kind of music we do. We have different backgrounds: Maili studied theatre and I studied jazz music, Juhan and Toomas had more experience in playing Estonian traditional music. It was not a purpose in itself to combine different styles, but it happened and I believe it is one of our strengths.

When did the idea to release your first album come up? What is its main theme?

Last summer we had many concerts and we composed or arranged some new tunes. As it was going so well we decided to make a CD, as we felt it was important to save all the tunes and say, “Yes, this is our first step!” Of course it was not so easy to find the time for all of us to come together at the same time. That is why we are happy to have our producer (Merli Antsmaa) with us. We think it is vital to have a person outside the band, to keep us focused and motivated. It gives that kind of verve. We also had great help from our sound engineer, Sten-Olle Moldau, who recorded our CD.

Concerning the album title, “Maasikille” means picking strawberries. There are different kinds of strawberries out there, just like the band members are from various backgrounds. In Estonia, when something is really good or one likes something very much, we say it is like a strawberry, so in a way the title is also a metaphor in that sense.

Rüüt is one of the common birds that live in wetlands, a protected species in Estonia in particular. Concerning this, how do you consider the connection between your music and your motherland?

We have to take care of the nature and the birds, otherwise they will not exist anymore. It is the same thing with traditional music. Our ancestors used to sing and play music in their everyday life, but it is not so common in our society anymore. That is why we feel we should delve into the old tradition and bring it with us to the modern society to preserve our roots. Obviously the tradition will not be preserved the same way and in the same form, but we believe it is important to know and sense our roots also in the modern society. This is the main reason why we decided upon the name Rüüt.

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In March you are going to perform for the second time under the Tallinn Music Week’s program, one of the biggest festivals in the Nordic-Baltic area. How do you feel? What are your expectations?

It is a really good opportunity to join the festival again, as it gives us a chance to meet people, to see different concerts and to get more contacts and give powerful performances. There are usually a lot of people present and not only from Estonia. The festival is a good opportunity to spread our music and to see the reaction to our music. When we make a new arrangement or a composition, we always have some kind of specific contact with it. So, when we perform, we share our music with the audience and we get to see how it affects them, how they feel when they hear the music that has already touched us. It gives a broader meaning to our music and it makes us happy, if our music touches them as well as ourselves. And, of course, we want to give a wonderful performance and show at the Tallinn Music Week.

What are your plans and intentions for the future? Would you like to perform abroad?

Toomas (in a humorous way): Actually we want to conquer the world!

Maarja: We do have some plans for the near future. One of them is to make a music video soon. In the summer we’ll have a lot of concerts here in Estonia and when the summer is over, we would really like to go out of Estonia to travel abroad together as a band, playing music and feeling free to share our music with everybody in the world.

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Cover: Rüüt (Photo by Jana Solom).

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