70000TONS 2018 HIGHLIGHT : FOLK INSTRUMENTS CLINIC WITH LAURI ÕUNAPUU (METSATÖLL)
The 70000 Tons of Metal cruise certainly is a unique experience, and part of this experience is to bring to fans the possibility to see their favourite musicians as they never have before. OK true, sometimes it’s in the nude singing “Welcome to the Jungle” at karaoke. But some other times, it’s sitting together in one of the many clinics that are offered on the cruise. Clinics are basically an intimate meeting where a few dozen people gather around a musician they admire and absorb all the knowledge being bestowed upon them. It’s a really interesting and unique way to spend time with your favourite artists and learn about what they do.
In 2018, I had the absolute honor to sit in the clinic given by someone I consider one of the best, and certainly the most interesting musician in the world: Lauri Õunapuu of the Estonian band Metsatöll. It was to say the least the major highlight of this year’s cruise, and one of the highlights of my life if I’m completely honest.
In Metsatöll, he plays traditional Estonian instruments and has the booming voice that sounds straight from the underworld. To have someone of his caliber on the cruise made it impossible to skip over his unique work; they just had to give him a clinic. He made quite an entrance by playing his torupill (Estonian bagpipes-like instrument) around the room and ended his solo standing on a chair in front of the audience, who was already enthralled. This set the tone for the event; it was going to be all about folk instruments of course, and so Lauri presented most of the ones he plays in the band. Explaining their construction and how they are played, he also delved into the extremely interesting etymology and history behind each of them —going back over a thousand years for some, such as the hiiu kannel — and told us some hilarious anecdotes and urban legends related to these instruments.
Lauri Õunapuu playing the hiiu kannel — 70000 Tons of Metal 2018
Back at home, Lauri is a member of the AMS (Arhailise Meestelaulu Selts), the Estonian men’s ancestral singing society, so he also gave us a crash course on Estonian folk song-crafting (which can be improvised and last for hours!?) and the patterns and making of the traditional regilaul, or runo-song. Lauri led us into the folk song “Valeri Valera” — a song that definitely deserved a rowing pit, although there wasn’t one — and we all felt a little more Estonian after we had chanted Valeri, Valera, Valerallala! a few dozen times.
He spent a lot of time discussing the kannel (Estonian psaltery) as it has a lot of interesting history behind it. He sang another traditional song while playing the instrument; it was very soulful and beautiful and it echoed through the Labyrinth bar where the clinic was held like it would have through the walls of an old Baltic prison, I’m sure. Our lovely Kai captured it, so please watch this video and listen (it’s OK to cry):
Lauri Õunapuu singing an Estonian folk song — 70000 Tons of Metal 2018
Lauri also told the legend of a renowned healer who healed people by playing the kannel, and when the plague came to Estonia he barricaded himself and his family in their sauna and played night and day while a long dark shadowy face peered at them through the smoke hole. Eventually the face disappeared; the man had successfully driven the plague away, and his family lineage, one of the only surviving one in the region, has passed down this story since. It sounded better and infinitely more intense as told by Lauri in his thundering voice, of course.
Lauri is a wealth of information on Estonian folklore and history (he is a board member of the Estonian Folklore Council, and a few years ago he put together and published a book of traditional Estonian folk songs), and it is a real pleasure to hear him speak about something he is obviously passionate about. He is incredibly interesting, and this clinic was everything I hoped it would be.
At the end of the clinic Lauri answered our questions, and invited everyone to come take a closer look and even touch his instruments — which I did not dare do because with my luck I would have broken something and I just could not live with myself if I did. But I am extremely grateful and happy that I was able to sit with, sing with, laugh with, and most importantly learn from the much-esteemed Lauri Õunapuu.
Thank you, good sir.