Tallinn Music Week: 10 Estonian acts to get excited about in 2020
- Arusa Qureshi
- 5 March 2020
As TMW heads into its 12th year, we round-up some local highlights from the music programme
Each spring, Tallinn comes alive with the arrival of music professionals, artists, entrepreneurs and policymakers, who take over the Estonian city's many creative spaces with the promise of fresh ideas and a genre-blending mix of art. As a hugely acclaimed new music and city culture festival, Tallinn Music Week has built up a mighty reputation for being one of Europe's finest celebrations of talent and creativity, and a key space for wider discussions around culture, technology and society.
Aside from the two-day conference, which this year includes EMI and Motown veteran Keith Harris and Andreea Magdalina, founder of shesaid.so, TMW's annual music programme presents an international fusion of musicians. With over 150 acts from 29 countries and featuring everything from neo-trad to electro-pop, the selected artists are given the opportunity to play to an audience of around 20,000 and 1,000 industry professionals from around the globe. As the festival kicks off its 12th year, we take a look at some of the homegrown acts that are representing Estonia at TMW 2020.
Arguably one of the most soulful voices on the 2020 TMW line-up, Rita Ray has taken her talent beyond Estonia, carving a solid space for herself in the jazz and blues world. Her 2019 debut album Old Love Will Rust is a beautifully produced, warm record, packed with colourful horns and plenty of emotion throughout. From the slow, piano ballad 'Lover Man' to the gloriously uptempo 'Disco Stu', it's an album of contrasts and catchy melodies that place Ray's syrupy vocals front and centre.
In the same frame as artists like Sigrid and Anne-Marie, Ariadne is one of Estonia's rising pop artists, having gained support following her participation in the 2017 Eesti Laul contest (Estonia's annual music competition to determine who will represent the county at Eurovision). As of last year, Ariadne is now signed to the Made In Baltics (Sony Music Entertainment) label, with her first official single 'All In' getting plenty of radio play across the region upon its release. Most recently, she announced her new single 'Queen of My Own', a confident girl power anthem with an electronic backdrop and bubblegum-pop aesthetic, debuting it at the 2020 Estonian Music Awards.
Charismatic singer, pianist and composer Kadri Voorand has already become hot property in her home country, having won the President's Young Cultural Figure Award in 2019 and numerous accolades at the Estonian Music Awards. Around the world, she is known for her emotive and expressive vocals, which mesh perfectly with her blend of jazz, folk and pop and her lively lyricism. At TMW, she'll be performing with frequent collaborator Mihkel Mälgand, who is seen as one of the most active bass players in Estonia. Together, the pair play to their strengths as improvisers and technically astute musicians, playing everything from ballads to more jovial numbers.
Considered somewhat of a legend in the Estonian music scene, Raul Saaremets has been making, promoting and playing music for some time, both as a hugely respected artist and as the programme co-director for Estonia's national radio station Raadio 2. In his output as Ajukaja though, the DJ and producer has been responsible for some truly exceptional records over the past few years including his Bergerac Records debut Mhmhmh, which features the upbeat disco bop 'Ekleeer' and contrasting title track, with its smooth and velvety grooves. Ajukaja's Sunda School 7", with two mellow organ workouts, was recently released on his own Porridge Bullet label.
With her flawless mix of hip hop, R&B and pop, YASMYN brings something very exciting and simultaneously hypnotic to the contemporary Estonian music scene. Having impressed audiences at last year's TMW, the singer returns with more experience, confidence and a debut album in tow, released last spring to positive reviews. SlowFall is an album that exudes maturity and style, placing emphasis on her slick beats, easy-going vibes and blissed-out vocals.
As eclectic as he is unconventional, Mart Avi carries with him an air of enigma, his futuristic and majestically melodic-sounding output earning him praise from critics on an international level. His latest release, 2018's OtherWorld, is a canvas of intricate rhythms and electronics that work with Avi's crooning vocals to create something that very much matches the album's title; otherworldly and seductive. At this year's TMW, Avi intends to debut the follow-up to his 2018 album with some new audio-visual delights for audiences to enjoy.
A contemporary R&B / pop singer with a distinctive soulfulness, Anett made her start in Estonia's indie music scene as a member of the band Wilhelm, going on to release solo material in 2016. Her debut single 'Strong' is a stripped back and emotional number, offering something wholly different from her work with Wilhelm. In the time since, Anett has released an EP titled All Over Again in collaboration with a number of internationally renowned producers, with tracks like the piano-led 'Here I am' and stirring duet 'Hit and Run' providing a taste of her artistic progression. Currently working with New York producer Ms. Madli on new material, 2020 looks to be an exciting year for Anett.
The punk scene in Estonia continues to bloom, with acts inspired by old and new iterations of the genre alike. Formed in 2018, Pinkwave are one such act, who play a mash-up of late 80s and early 90s inspired hardcore punk, like a contemporary fusion between Black Flag and Born Against. Across the nine tracks on their debut album Damage Done, released in December 2019, the band portray a high adrenaline, no-holds-barred atmosphere of aggression, backed by scuzzy guitars and suitably chaotic vocals.
Another fast-rising star in Estonia, Tallinn-based singer-songwriter Anna Kaneelina makes gloriously dreamy pop that matches the power and ferocity of artists like Anna Calvi and Sharon Van Etten. Her self-titled debut album was released in 2019, leading to her winning big at the Estonian Music Awards 2020, with nods for Female Artist of the Year, Album of the Year, Alternative/Indie Album of the Year and Debut Album of the Year. As a performer, Kaneelina commands the stage with her dramatic melodies and ethereal vocals, drawing audiences in with the majestic soundscapes of her music.
Estonian singer-songwriter and composer Mari Kalkun released her debut solo album in 2007, going on to tour Europe and work on four more albums, the latest of which was picked by The Guardian as one of the top 10 best world albums of 2018. Ilmamõtsan is indeed worthy of the accolade; its 12 songs are rooted in Estonian and Võru traditions, with most of the tracks written by Kalkun and inspired by local poets. It's a spellbinding release that fuses folk conventions with more experimental instrumentation, creating a record with a truly unique sense of time and place.
Tallinn Music Week, Wed 26–Sun 30 Aug. Find out more at tmw.ee.