Estonian ‘Regilaul’

Background: The informant is a 48-year-old woman who was born in Estonia and immigrated to the United States, and currently lives in California. She still participates in Estonian traditions by attending the “Estonian House” which is an Estonian community located in Los Angeles.

Context: The folklore was collected during a scheduled zoom meeting in which I interviewed two native Estonians who currently live in Los Angeles and who are close friends.

Main Piece:

Informant: “Estonia has a very strong tradition of ‘regilaul’, which is a song where there is a main singer that sings something meaningful and then at the very last word of that same… you know its like a continual song. The first singer gives an idea of what she sings and then the other singers catch up the last word and carry on the song. It is called ‘regilaul’ and it’s a very Estonian tradition, you can see lots of them on YouTube.”

Collector: “So is it improvised on the spot?”

Informant: “Yeah, many times yes. The most important thing is not the melody, the melody is always the same or repeating. Like it’s a very simple melody and usually like four or five notes or tones all together. But the most important thing in them is the words, not the melody or the rhythm. I don’t know if I’m saying it correctly, but its almost like a haiku. It came from the old times when at winter nights these women were sitting around and doing handcrafts and, you know, just to spend time when working.”

Interpretation: I have been to the Estonian House in Los Angeles countless times as I was growing up and have experienced Estonian folk culture for all of my life; however, I was never aware of this “regilaul” tradition. So, I went to YouTube and watched some videos about the topic and found that it is very similar to how described above. It is sang in groups of people where there is a few lines sang together, then one person will sing the next line and the whole group will pick up on the last word of the individual singer’s line and it goes around in a circle. It does not use many, if any, instruments and is almost like a poetic chant where there is monotonous singing, repetition, and parallelism heavily involved. I also found that “regilaul” is strictly passed down orally through tradition and is not written down like a poem or haiku, as referenced by the informant. However, it serves a very similar function to poetry by painting an image through words and also serves as a representation of unity where multiple people sing together to create more of a powerful, unifying chant then the melodic songs we here in the mainstream today.

For some examples of “regilaul” watch: