The theme of XXIV Viljandi Folk Music Festival is WOMEN'S VOICE

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The theme of this year's Viljandi Folk Music Festival is devoted to one of the most beautiful and expressive natural sound in the world – the woman's voice. We concentrate on how women express themselves through singing and instrument playing both in Estonia and abroad, today and in the past. How does the work of contemporary Estonian female singers influence us? What kind of messages are communicated through female voices? How do the voices of faraway guests speak to us - for example, the women who carry out water rituals on Vanuatu island or the Mauritian female singing which the locals believe to have medicinal properties? The famous Georgian men's singing has been capturing the hearts of festivalgoers for decades, now it's time for the Georgian women to show what they are made of.

But why women, one might ask. Does that not hint at inequality and discrimination? Older Estonian folk songs have always been strongly influenced by the gender binary. You can usually identify whether the songs were sung by women or men based on the themes and motifs. These themes are still relevant today because these songs were sung straight from the hearts of our ancestors and we are able to listen to them today thanks to archival records and notes. This year, we are concentrating on what out female ancestors used to sing.

In this country, women were not always allowed on stage. At the first Estonian song festival in 1869, only male choirs were allowed on stage and women had to stay home during the busy haymaking season. Nowadays, the stages are shared equally between both sexes and this is how it is supposed to be. Back when women's word was not worth much, they expressed themselves through their voice because the word of the singer was a law unto oneself – women were free to say whatever they wanted in song. Thus, women claimed their voice in the society through their singing. The powerful female voices of runo songstresses Anneli Vabarna, Liisa Kümmel and several others have deservedly made their way from the hidden confines of history onto grand stages, gleaming back to the audiences from the disco balls or hovering through time as part of new arrangements.

One of the meanings of women's voice is the right to vote. It is worth mentioning that in Estonia, women got the right to vote exactly 99 years ago in 1917. Despite that, women's right to vote is still limited or non-existent in several countries. The right to vote and women's singing voice are both empowered by the courage and need to express oneself and use and develop one's skills.

XXIV Viljandi Folk Music Festival takes place on 28-31 July, 2016

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