Setos celebrate 16th Leelo Day with traditional singing and joy

The 16th Seto Leelo Day took place this Saturday in Värska. The triennial event brings together Seto people of all ages from far and wide to sing together and celebrate Seto culture. It also provides an opportunity to assess the status of leelo, the ancient polyphonic singing style unique to the Seto community, which in 2009 was inscribed into UNESCO's list of the intangible cultural heritage of humanity. The theme of this year's Leelo Day was 'Joy'.

The event began with a procession of singers in traditional costume through the town of Värska. Among them was Paul Mäeste, one of three Pauls who came up with the idea of celebrating Seto Leelo Day in 1977.

"It brings a tear to my eye to see such a lively event here in Setomaa," said Mäeste.

In total, 19 different leelo groups performed at this year's event, two of which were completely new. This means that leelo is alive and well, with the last few years of COVID-19 not having an adverse impact on the popularity of the traditional Seto singing style.

Svetlana Roht, flute player in the Madara flute choir told ERR, "Nothing has changed with the leelo. We sing all the time, and get together with our choir every week, or at least once a month, if not more,"

For 15-year-old Pillerin Palok and her 13-year-old brother Gerd, this was their first Seto Leelo Day.

"It's beautiful and it's like our own, for Setos. As I'm a Seto, it's like a traditional thing," said Pilleriin, who sings in the Hõpehelme leelo choir.

"It's normal and it's something to do, to go singing together in the evenings," said Gerd.

"What else can you do on Leelo Day but be merry and party?" said Jane Vabarna, chief of the Seto community (ülemsootska). " It's such a joyful day and a celebration of our people getting together," she added.


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Editor: Michael Cole

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