Book Reviews

Toorama. Moksha-Mordvin Songs
. Recording Jaan Tamm. Producer Indrek Särg. Tartu 2000.

Leaving this world the Mordvinian King Tiushtia called together his people, Mordvinians, the southernmost Finno-Ugrian people of around one million in a territory that now is the Central Russia. (Finno-Ugrians are the most ancient inhabitants of the Northern Europe. Nowadays, Hungarians, Finns and Estonians are the only Finno-Ugrians to have their own independent states. The other Finno-Ugrians are subordinated to strangers and live within the modern Russia, Latvia, and Scandinavia). At the sorrow moment, Tiushtia said: 'I shan't be here any more but I leave my trumpet, torama, to you. It will help you to gather the people to prevent an approaching final disaster.' As for now, the 'Torama' members try 'to wind the trumpet' and prevent the traditional ancient Mordvinian musical culture from disappearing.

The heritage music group 'Torama' was founded at the Mordvinian College of Culture, the town of Saransk, Republic of Mordvinia, Russia, in 1990. The basic repertoire of the group relies on the old-style Mordvinian traditional songs and nowadays the scope of the group includes the basics of the ancient musical culture of all the four Mordvinian subethnic groups - the Erzia (the largest subethnicity, however, scattered over a vast territory from Nizhnij Novgorod in the north-west to Orenburg, including the Republic of Mordvinia, in the south-east), the Moksha (the other large subethnicity living mainly in the Republic of Mordvinia), the Shoksha (a small group of 'Mokshanized' Erzia in the Republic of Mordvinia), and the Karatay (another small group of Mordvinians in Tatarstan that has fully shifted to a Turkic dialect but preserved the essence of a Mordvinian music culture).

Much preliminary work was done before the group started acting. The authentical folklore was gathered and filmed, including wedding ceremonies, funeral rites, sacrifice, the Mordvinian judo-like national wrestling, manufacturing traditional music instruments. However, in addition to its own fieldwork, the group makes use of material gathered by the past and present great researchers of the Mordvinian traditional culture, e.g. Paasonen, Väisänen, Lach, Shakhmatov, Curppius, Surayev-Korolyov, Danilov. Thus, 'Torama' is a kind of a musical missionary that, by performances, tries to acquaint its audience with the ancient Mordvinian musical culture no more in active use in its homophonic and heterophonic varieties.

The group has eight constant members, all male, within the age range of 16 to 48. Nowadays, only the Karatay have songs sung by men only and, among all the modern Mordvinians, the singing is usually the role of women while men's way of making music is instrumental. However, the male singing is considered to be the most ancient layer in the Mordvinian singing culture by some scientists. The 'Torama' members both play instrumental tunes and sing songs which sound 'the other way' as sung in the male timbre texture.

In addition to music, ceremonies and rites, e.g. funeral laments and songs of a match-maker, are performed with an emphasis of an active participation of the audience in the shows and an aim of a possible reintroduction of the ancient musical culture to the modern Mordvinian society.

'Torama' is rather well-known in Mordvinia, in the whole Russia as well as abroad. For the first time, 'Torama' left Russia for a foreign trip to Finland in 1991 with concerts in Helsinki, Lahti, Pori and other places. As well, during the trip its first cassette was recorded and TV-show presented in Tampere. In 1992, 'Torama' participated in a folklore festival in the Finnish Rääkkylä, the headquarter of the Finnish female singer group 'Värttinät' of world fame. Since then, 'Torama' has been in Finland for some 15 times.

In 1994, 'Torama' was invited to the Youth Arts Festival in Binston, England, thereafter it participated in a festival in Stockholm, Sweden, and entered Estonia for the first time. As well, in 1994, 'Torama' was awarded two significant titles within Russia: the Gold Medal and the Grand Prix at the Second All-Russia Music Content 'The Voices of Russia' in Smolensk and the very prestigeous Honour Award of the Republic of Mordvinia.

In 1996, the first CD of the group, concentrating on Erzia songs, was recorded in a Finno-Austrian cooperation.

'Torama' has become especially popular in Estonia where it performs many times per year. In October 1999, here a Tartu-Tallinn-based global fan club of Torama was founded.

As for the recent projects, 'Torama' has started to search for the possibilities to bind the ancient culture to the modern means of musical expression, e.g. performance of ancient songs and melodies relying on computer-made phonograms. As well, a united performance with a jazz big band is on the agenda. By these means, to be hoped, young people alienated from their cultural roots may be brought back to their origins.

The future plans of 'Torama' include new CDs, new cassettes for the youth, music videos as well as continuing fieldwork and new performances, to be hoped, all over the world.

In the Internet 'Torama'; on Mordvinians in general &

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Links dated june 2001