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Eesti goes blues

{mosimage}I met the young but experienced components of the Estonian blues band Bullfrog Brown for the first time a couple of summers ago.  We embarked together in a real road trip that summarizes the essence of Blues: a shabby car, a group of young musicians that hardly got money from the gig to pay the gasoline or buy new strings for the guitars, a dangerous and devious road that links Tartu with Tallinn and the final ecstasy of sharing stage with a truly American blues legend from the Mississipi delta: David “Honeyboy” Edwards. Impressed by their skills and guts, Bullfrog Brown is for me the best example to assert that it does not matter your origins or how big is the musical scene in your native country when there is the will to play the real music that comes from the heart. 




ertainly, it is difficult to talk about a native Estonian Blues scene. As Andres Roots, guitarist and founder of Bullfrog Brown, tells me “The blues scene in Estonian is such that the nearest 7 days a week blues club is the Bites Blues Club in Riga, Latvia and we have no blues magazine or even a webzine in Estonia either But there is a Baltic blues scene as far as the musicians are concerned”. Still, although they are not totally focused on blues, you can enjoy the pleasure of listening good blues music from time to time in venues like “Clazz” in the heart of Old Town in Tallinn or “Illegaard” in Tartu. Being the list of top Estonian blues bands far from impressive, there are a few that remain strong: Compromise Blue, Ultima Thule or Kolumbus Kris are still a major attraction with a good bunch of followers. 



Against the lack of resources, nothing better like imagination, stubbornness and a lot of effort to promote themselves and open their music to new audiences: “Our Estonian audience is not the audience that normally considers itself a blues audience – we have people of all ages, all hairstyles, and all tastes of music, we have played in churches and even headlined the punk-oriented Soodoma Rock festival in Elva, so I'd say we enjoy a rather unique. We prefer honesty to perfection, emotion to glamour, inspiration to entertainment, and as a result, we still see the people at our shows that were coming to see us nine years ago.” explains the leader of Bullfrog Brown.







Another person who knows well the Baltic blues scene is journalist Edgars Galzons, who also plays the bass in the Latvian blues band D11 Blues Band. His answer for those who think that blues scene is not in healthy shape or young people do not want to listen to blues anymore is this: “It’s always easy to say that nobody is listening to the Blues nowadays and there are not enough clubs for the Blues music in the Baltic States. Partly I can agree with this statement. But from the other hand what we (the Blues musicians) have done to popularize the Blues music? And how ready we are to accept the laws of the era of marketing and competition, including in the music? We have to find out the way,  maybe sometimes using the same means as the pop music uses, to break the stereotypes and keep the Blues alive as equal style of music in nowadays and not only the antique reptile from ages ago”. 


All in all, the blues scene in Estonia is far from dead. A good example is “Augustibluus”, an annual blues festival started and run by Rommy Sultangirejev in Haapsalu since 1993. As Raul Ukareda, member of Compromise Blue and considered by many as the best blues guitarist in the country plainly affirms “Augustibluus is the thing that keeps Estonian blues alive. Even though it is a very low budget festival, it always has some good foreign performers and of course is a great opportunity for local bands; on top of that it is held in a spectacular ancient castle ruins”. Although the blues scene suffered a lot at the end of the 90s with the change of many clubs into discotheques, it seems that things are a bit positive in the last 3-4 years “For about ten years, let's say from 1995 to 2005, the profession of musician was considered as a waste of time and no particularly talented young blues musicians or bands came from that period. Somehow it is getting better though. There are for example two very promising young blues guitar players from Tartu: Laur Joamets and Vilho Meier” explains Ukareda. 


Finland has been for decades the logic destination of many of the Estonian bands that want to expand their horizons. I would say we are by now better integrated into the Finnish blues scene than into the Estonian one” jokes Andres Roots, an usual visitor of the Nordic neighboring country where Bullfrog Brown has an extensive list of friends The geographical distance is short and it is pretty accessible, the blues circuit is bigger, there are more blues fans and the wages are usually pretty much higher.  


Aivar Oja, another veteran Estonian musician from the band Kolumbus Kris, remembers how was to tour there during the 90s, but has a more critical vision of the Estonian audience feeling identified with the blues: “In the 90s we toured a lot in Scandinavia, mostly in Finland and Sweden and a couple of times in Denmark. The biggest inspiration to play blues we got in Austin, Texas, the hometown of S.R.Vaughan and Fabulous Thundebirds, where we had a chance to live and play in 1991.I think blues is very popular in Finland, less in Sweden and Denmark. People in Estonia don`t know much about the blues-music, probably because of the Soviet times. That`s why we don`t play much blues nowadays”. 




For most of these bands, playing is their passion, but not always the main activity that puts bread on the table: “Yeah, we have other jobs, some might even consider them “real jobs”, but looking at our 2009 concert schedule, I’ve been wondering how long we’ll be able to hang on to them…” reflects Andres from “Bullfrog Brown”, and certainly the band will be wandering around Europe extensively during the next few months: They will be releasing a new album together with English musician Steve Lury on February 13th, then they will tour in Finland, Estonia and Latvia, and on March they will visit France to play at the Festival Le Blues Autour du Zinc, apart from having scheduled concerts in Scotland with Dave Arcari and also being paying their first visit to Poland to play at the Suwalki Blues Festival.


No pain no gain. Even when more than once, blues musicians end up playing just on exchange of some free food and beers at the venues after extenuating trips, there is a feeling that goes far beyond the money or the recognition. Andres could not have resumed it better:  “I cannot imagine myself not playing music, even if I live to be 102 years old. Performing in public may be another matter, but making music is not just a joy, it’s an addiction, and I’m too far gone…” 

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