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Estonian artist turns ancient instruments into heavy metal music

By Indra Ekmanis

Don’t cry “wolf” unless you want him to hear you and eat your sheep, Lauri Õunapuu warned students in a deep and imposing voice during his visit to UW Tuesday. Õunapuu, an Estonian musician, plays traditional folk instruments in a heavy metal band, Metsatöll – the ancient Estonian word for what you should call a wolf if you don’t want him to hear you, Õunapuu explained.

This is just one of the ancient traditions of Estonia Õunapuu shared as a guest lecturer in Dr. Guntis Šmidchens’ introduction to folklore class. Õunapuu looked every bit the folk musician turned heavy metal artist, dressed in a vest and shirt reminiscent of a traditional costume and with a long ponytail and beard. Metsatöll makes use of traditional instruments, upgraded to fit with the band’s style. It would be difficult to play an acoustic stringed instrument made of wood and sheep guts against heavy metal instruments, Õunapuu said, showing off his self-made electric hiiu kannel, a lyre-like instrument.

Õunapuu brought with him a trunk full of traditional Estonian instruments, each with its own origin tale. The hiiu kannel, for example, has a difficult history. The stringed instrument played with a horsehair bow was a favorite of Estonian Swedes on the island of Vormsi (Swedish: Ormsö) off the mainland. But, when the region was becoming Christianized, the local religious authority on the island declared the hiiu kannel a tool of the devil, and set about burning the “heathen” instruments in a bonfire. Only a few well-hidden hiiu kannels survived the purge and only a few men of the island retained the talent for playing them, Õunapuu said.

Speaking on the oral roots of Estonian music, Õunapuu described the tradition as […]

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