Merema are on a mission: the musicians want to save the dying languages of their homeland Mordvinia! The question is allowed: Where is Mordovia? Not so far away from Western Europe, between Moscow and the Volga. The football fans among us perhaps are familiar with the capital Saransk, one of the venues for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
The currently six-piece folk ensemble Merema was already founded in Saransk in 2010 and has set itself increasingly ambitious goals in the following years. The members around “boss” Ekaterina Modina now call Merema an “ethnographic folklore studio”. The members carry out field studies in the Moravian villages and want to preserve the traditions of their home region.
According to Wikipedia, the Mordvinians are a Finno-Ugric people who, more than other ethnic groups in Russia, have been and still are subject to great assimilation pressure from the Russian majority. In the 2010 census, only about 40 percent of the inhabitants declared themselves to be Mordvinians. Russians represent the majority of the population and live especially in the big cities like Saransk. And to make things even more complicated: the Mordvin population consists of two ethnographic groups, each with its own written language. These two groups are called Ersja and Moksch.
In this situation, Merema (which, by the way, means legend) travel all over their homeland in search not only of old folk tunes, but also of folk art and old costumes. Of course they also perform in these old costumes!
On an interview to Daryana Antipova for World Music Central.org Ekaterina said:
“Many people in our homeland no longer speak the old languages. The only remnants are still to be found in the villages,” says Ekaterina Modina. Young people are embarrassed by their origin in the region of Mordovia nowadays. And that is why they call themselves Russians.
Merema do not want to accept the disappearance of folk traditions. They perform their songs in kindergartens and schools. “But it is becoming increasingly difficult to interest young people in this kind of music,” complains Modina. One reason for this may be the traditional polyphonic musical style of the Moravian folk songs, which does not always sound very harmonious. The polyphonic singing takes some getting used to for young people who listen mainly to hip hop or rock. In order to give others access to their roots, Merema often combines her music with theatre plays. “I myself could, of course, listen to the singing of the Mordvinic grandmothers for hours,” says Modina with a laugh. In the meantime, Merema has also started working with a local television station, which accompanies her and a team on her expeditions to the villages of Mordovia in search of clues.
Merema uses standard Russian kitchen utensils as musical instruments. The traditional drums are no longer produced in the country itself. “You can buy African drums from us, but not our own,” says Modina.
At Merema itself there is a constant coming and going of the members. The ensemble receives no state support whatsoever. Most of the members are students who often work in other parts of the country after graduation. Ekaterina Modina finances herself through her work at the university, and needs several part-time jobs to support her family. But Merema has one success story to report: in 2017, she won the prestigious Russian World Music Award.
“Kezeren Koiht” (Old Custom) brings together numerous traditional folk tunes from Mordovia, which have been newly arranged by Merama. What is this about? Above all, it is about celebrating life! In the first track, “Our Beloved Guests”, Merema surprise us with a good-humoured folk song about the importance of hospitality. So raise your cups!
In “Gorkina Anastasia”, however, things get pretty creepy: A young widow, thanks to divine help, just manages to free herself from the clutches of an evil “sister”, who is actually a mass murderer and decorates her house with body parts of her victims.
In “Alesha, Son Of An Old Lady” a handsome young man has to come to terms with the fact that he probably has no other choice but to go on an adventure trip. Because the grey horses entrusted to him have simply become independent and moved away to faraway lands.
In “Yakova Daryushka”, on the other hand, there is a rebellious girl, who is obviously too enterprising and stays away from home for far too long. Obviously, this can’t have a happy ending!
In “Kezeren Koiht” Merema invite you to discover the exciting tradition of Moravian folk music. It is definitely worth it!
Year of Release: 2020