Central Europe Review The International OSI Policy Fellowships (IPF) program
Vol 2, No 27
10 July 2000
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Tulli Lum's debut albumDefender of a
Small Nation

Hubert Jakobs

Perhaps those interested in history have heard about the Livonian War, the Knights of the Livonian Order and the geopolitical formation called Livonia, which was located on the territory that now makes up Estonia and Latvia during the Middle Ages. When I studied Finno-Ugric philology at the University of Tartu, we also had lectures on the Livonian language and culture. But back then, I regarded Livonian as an extinct language that only linguists and folklorists could find some interest in.

Therefore, I was astonished when, 20 years later, I discovered that Livonian culture was still alive. I had been invited to the release party of the first CD of the Estonian-Livonian joint project, Tulli Lum ("Hot Snow" in Livonian). The emotional power and expressive performance of lead singer Julgi Stalte captivated me completely. I got the album and, as I liked it more with every listen, I wanted to learn more about the group, its singer and the history behind the album. Why would anybody in Estonia want to unite modern ethno-jazz with the cultural heritage of an almost extinct national group that is as good as unknown to the outside world; not to mention sing in a language, which, although beautiful, is understandable to only a few?

The Livonians are an almost extinct Balto-Finnic nation, living in the coastal villages of northern Couronia in Latvia by the Baltic Sea.

In order to find answers to these questions, I arranged an interview with Julgi Stalte, after the group performed at the annual Jazzkaar festival in Tallinn. The musicians in Tulli Lum, all of whom have also been involved in other groups, had already played together for some time, and the uniting factor was probably their mutual interest in ethno-jazz and folk music.

Rare roots

After listening to a recording of Livonian folk songs, the leader of the group, Alari Piispea, expressed a desire to use an authentic folk singer, most likely an old man. But, after they met Stalte,
Julgi Stalte
Julgi Stalte
a bright young Livonian girl from Rīga who had come to study folk music in Estonia, their search ended. Most of the material in Tulli Lum’s repertoire stems from the books of Estonian folklorist Oskar Loorits. And, in a way, it is a fusion of authentic folk music and modern day jazz-rock. Although Stalte has grown up amidst traditional Livonian folk music, she regards this kind of contemporary folk sound as excellent. "It adds modern power to the old folk song," says Stalte. "The main thing is to not lose respect for the authentic folk song. And this Tulli Lum hasn’t done."

There are only about a handful of people who speak Livonian, which is closely related to Estonian and Finnish, as their mother tongue. Stalte is
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one of those few. She remembers well her grandfather, who only spoke Livonian with her. Her parents were very actively involved in reviving Livonian folklore and, together with their children, took part in the work of the Skandinieki folk ensemble. The Stalte family performed on the first Livonian compact disc ever made, which contains the Livonian anthem, which is based on the same melody as the national anthems of Estonia and Finland.

Carrying the torch

Julgi Stalte is a fighter. Not only is she proudly declaring her own nationality and cultural belonging (although she is married to an Estonian, she has no doubt that their son, Karl Oskar, is Livonian), her heart's desire is that everybody who regards themselves as Livonian should also show it in their actions and words. Stalte knows that there are many more "hidden Livonians" than the official statistics maintain, with Livonian blood in their veins, in both Latvia and southern Estonia.

Today there are only about 300 Livonians, most of whom have become Latvianised. Approximately 70 of them understand Livonian partially, maybe ten speak it as their mother tongue.

The fate of Livonians can also act as a warning to the relatively bigger Baltic nations, who are still in danger of losing their cultural identity, as they aspire to become members of the EU. Music, of course, can sometimes speak louder than words, and Tulli Lum's first album is just a beginning. There is so much more material from the rich Livonian heritage that is waiting to be made known. Tulli Lum wants to bring the message of a tiny nation, with its tragedies and hopes, to the world outside.

As Julgi Stalte says: "If you dare to say who you are, if you dare to fight for it, then you have actually won the whole world. But if you steal it from your children, then you have indeed stolen the whole world from them, language-wise, culturally, in every sense.

Hubert Jakobs, 10 July 2000

Moving on:



Baltic Focus:
Mel Huang

Prekevičius & Clark
Lithuania's Looming Elections

Aet Annist
Estonia: Progress without Protest

Mel Huang
Military Brass Shuffling in Estonia

Artūras Račas
Calvin Klein and Communism

Mel Huang
Lithuania: A bananos respublika?

Teri Schultz
Reflections on a Revolution

Meelis Kitsing
Online in E-stonia

Arnis Gross
Latvia Logs On

Razeen Sally
Estonia and the EU

Hubert Jakobs
Livonian folk band Tulli Lum

Mel Huang
Baltic BeBop

Bernd Jahnke
Lithuanian Jazz

Artis Pabriks
Rīga's Revenge

Kurt Mortensen
Estonia's Art Music Scene

Mel Huang
Schizoid Lamb

Howard Jarvis
The Writings of Jurga Ivanauskaitė

President Vaira

Prime Minister
Mart Laar

Lithuanian Military Commander Jonas Kronkaitis

Oliver Craske
Lords Return Roma to Skinheads

Andrew Cave
Poland's Collapsing Right

Catherine Lovatt
Next Target: Montenegro

Sam Vaknin
Balkan Faith

Wolfgang Deckers
Germany in the Balkans

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