Seto Leelo, Seto polyphonic singing tradition
Inscribed in 2009 (4.COM) on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity
- Seto Leelo, Seto polyphonic singing tradition
For the Seto community living in south-eastern Estonia and the Pechory district of the Russian Federation, the tradition of leelo, an ancient polyphonic singing tradition, is a cornerstone of contemporary identity. Performed to traditional melodies and in traditional costume, leelo features a lead singer who delivers a verse line followed by a choir that joins in for the final syllables and then repeats the whole line. Although lyrics are sometimes learned from former great performers, skill in composition is the mark of an excellent lead singer. Most choirs are composed wholly of women, and the most notable lead singer is crowned on Seto Kingdom Day as the King’s ‘Mother of Song’. Singing formerly accompanied nearly all daily activities in the Seto’s rural communities; today, although it is increasingly restricted to stage performance, the tradition remains prominently alive in community events as a central, vibrant and highly valued element of Seto culture. Popular among tourists and a source of pride for the Seto, leelo choirs are the hubs of their community and the embodiment of local identity.
Decision 4.COM 13.38
The Committee (…) decides that [this element] satisfies the criteria for inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, as follows:
- R.1: Le Leelo seto, tradition chorale polyphonique, est un symbole de longue date de l’identité et de la continuité de la communauté seto qui s’est engagée à maintenir sa transmission de génération en génération ;
- R.2: The inscription of the element on the Representative List would inspire other communities of Estonia to rediscover, value and promote their heritage and, while upholding its local symbolic meaning, contribute to the visibility of intangible cultural heritage and to dialogue and cultural diversity worldwide;
- R.3: The community and local and national authorities have drawn up an integral safeguarding plan including classes for children and promotional activities in order to allow the leelo tradition again to become one of the main axes of the community’s daily life;
- R.4: The element was nominated with the full participation of the Seto Congress, the Union of Rural Municipalities of Setomaa, and leelo choirs, and the free, prior and informed consent of practitioners and community representatives has been expressed through letters;
- R.5: The element is included in the national inventory of intangible cultural heritage of the Republic of Estonia that is administered by the Estonian Folk Culture Development and Training Centre.
© 2008 by Eesti Rahvusringhääling - Estonian Public Broadcasting
These videos (and many more) can also be consulted through the UNESCO Archives Multimedia website