The Museum of Estonians Abroad, VEMU’s, largest event Estonian Music Week has already taken place for the third time. The mission statement of EMW is to introduce the music culture of Estonia to other countries, offer Estonian musicians opportunities for collaborations with Estonians living abroad as well as non-Estonian musicians in Canada and the USA.
In this way, EMW adds excitement to the cultural lives of Canadian Estonians and strengthens their connections with Estonia. The festival also fulfils educational goals through lectures, film evenings, and many other events.
Due to the circumstances surrounding the pandemic, the EMW 2021 festival took place in a hybrid format. For a long time, it was unclear whether and when it would be possible for international travel or what types of restrictions would be in place for events. The EMW 2021 concerts took place on October 22nd and 23rd. The Canadian musicians performed in Toronto at the Paradise Theatre and the legendary club El Mocambo. The Estonian musicians took the stage at Philly Joe’s jazz club in Tallinn. The live stream for both evenings was available both in the Toronto concert stages as well as online. This means that a limited number of people were able to participate in the festival in person and most participated virtually. The 2021 festival had two thematic focuses: first, to tell a story because through stories we define ourselves as individuals, members of the community and/or as artists. Second, Indigenous Peoples and their cultures.
The first evening was dedicated to women in R&B and their search to find themselves in both life and music. Performers included Rita Ray with her band from Tallinn, Estyr, and Kaili Kinnon from Toronto. Estyr, who has some Finnish blood running in her veins, creates music at the border of indie rock and R&B and brings the Toronto big city suburb vibe to the stage. Canadian Kaili Kinnon’s unique alt pop sound comes from her deep and smoky tone and the emotional interpretations of her own work. The first EMW in 2018 acted as a spring board for Kaili; the contacts she made during the festival took her on a concert tour to Estonia in the summer of 2018 and to Jazzkaar in 2019.
The second evening was dedicated to Indigenous Peoples and their cultures. We were able to experience the power and inspiration for the creation of new musical content that is possible to draw from ancient roots. This topic was the focus of VEMU’s fall season, in addition to EMW, lectures, film evenings and other events that took place were dedicated to FinnoUgric Peoples and North American Indigenous Peoples. The ensemble Väike Hellero from Estonia performed Estonian and Finno-Ugric songs in their purest form. DJ and turntablist Erik Laar from Toronto used Estonian musical traditions as inspiration to create his contemporary sound and beat worlds. Duo Ruut from Estonia showed us how the Estonian zither and Regi songs can have a refreshing effect when approached in a completely new way. Beatrice Deer from Montreal demonstrated true throat singing and how to transform Inuit and Indian heritage and world view into Inuindie.
For the first time, EMW also offered a program for families with children. Vincent Teetsov, who is of Estonian origin, and Canadian Stefan Loebus took the stage at Tartu College to perform their program based on Teetsov and Laani Heinar’s children’s book “Pumpkin and Stretch”. They introduced the book through stories and songs.
EMW 2021 was the first larger cultural event that Toronto Estonians could truly come together for following the restrictions established as a result of the pandemic that started in March 2020. The video connection with Tallinn also had a strong emotional effect, especially since the musicians in Estonia were performing in the early hours of the morning after midnight. We thank both the musicians and technical team in Estonia for their extraordinary kindness to participate in such circumstances.