Various performers show diversity of “kokle” styles on new CD

The kokle, the Baltic instrument alternatively known as the Baltic zither or psaltery, is not only an instrument integral to Latvian folk culture, but also a symbol of Latvian culture itself, mentioned in many songs, poems, and stories. Perhaps due to its relatively simplistic design, the instrument, though it had a history centuries long, was close to disappearing in the 19th century. It experienced a rebirth during Latvia’s first awakening, and has remained a part of the national consciousness ever since, even during the half century of Soviet occupation. Today this ‘simple’ instrument has become not only more popular, it comes now in many sizes and shapes, even electric, and a broad group of Latvian musicians continue to keep the kokle in the public eye.

As a tribute to this most Latvian of instruments, the record label Lauska released the collection entitled Trejdeviņi koklētāji in 2016, celebrating the many facets and forms of this instrument in the performances of many of Latvia’s best known kokle players. The songs on the album are in many styles – ethno-jazz, ethno-baroque, minimalistic, and, of course, traditional, confirming the place of this ancient instrument in the 21st century.

The name of the collection – Trejdeviņi koklētāji – means 27 (or three times nine) kokle players, and it is not the actual count of the musicians that appear on this record (though it is close!) The title actually comes from a folk wedding song, where, when the husband is searching for his bride, he comes across 27 kokle players who are able to tell him which direction to go. In other words, kokle players have an innate ability to show us all the correction direction to go in life.

Perhaps the foremost kokle performer in Latvia today is ethnomusicologist Valdis Muktupāvels, who not only produced this album, but also appears on multiple tracks, including the first song on the album – the instrumental “Kurzemes zvani”. Inspired by time spent on the Swedish island of Gotland, listening to church bells, this tranquil and spiritual work captures the peace and calm of listening to church bells ringing in the countryside.

Another young artist pushing the boundaries of kokle performance is Laima Jansone, who often produces lively and fiery works for the instrument. One of those is “Pavasara grīslis”, a picturesque and energetic work inspired by the spring sedge. Jansone is known for her dynamic performances, and this song is no exception – in its depiction of this plant it contains all the joy and rebirth of springtime.

The album also balances the modern interpretations with more traditional kokle based performances, such as the song “Apkārtnīca” performed by the female folk group Laiksne. The group actually added the musical kokle accompaniment to the song, which is normally sung without instruments. This lively, exuberant performance captures the spirited nature of this song, about a journey through the town of Nīca.

Of course, the kokle is important in many Baltic and Nordic cultures, and this is reflected on the album as well, with performers such as Leanne Barbo from Estonia and Jenni Venäläinen from Finland. Barbo, who also plays with drum and bagpipe group Auļi (where she plays the bagpipes), performs the energetic “Veclaiku polka”, and Venäläinen performs with ethnomusicologist Ansis Jansons (who also appeared playing the kokle on the talent show Latvijas Zelta talanti) on the somber “Veļu dziesma”

As with many releases from the Lauska label (which specializes in Latvian folklore), the packaging for this album is exceptional. It is in the form of a hardback book, and has extensive notes on all of the songs and performers, as well as an extensive history of the kokle itself, in English and in Latvian. This is supplemented by many fascinating photographs, with some dating to the 1930s and 40s. Altogether it makes for a fitting tribute to this instrument.

Collecting a broad range of performances from many of Latvia’s top kokle players, Trejdeviņi koklētāji is a celebration of the musical instrument which perhaps most accurately defines the national psyche. At once simple and traditional, but, at closer glance, varied and multi-faceted, the instrument, in the hands of one of many of Latvia’s talented players, comes to life with its distinctive sound and texture. The legend of the three-times-nine kokle players, though ancient, is still quite relevant in these modern days, as shown by the extraordinary performances on Trejdeviņi koklētāji.

For further information, please visit the Lauska website.


Various artists

Trejdeviņi koklētāji
Lauska, LAUSKA CD063, 2016

Track listing:

  1. Kurzemes zvani – Valdis Muktupāvels
  2. Pa taciņu uz pirtiņu – Vētras saites
  3. Veclaiku polka – Leanne Barbo
  4. Bērzgales kadrija – Māris Muktupāvels
  5. Ēnu deja – Cantata
  6. Apkārtnīca – Laiksne
  7. Šai saulē, šai zemē – Valdis Muktupāvels, Rūta Muktupāvela, Agnese Kanniņa-Liepiņa, Kristiāna Ozoliņa, Kārlis Klotiņš
  8. Veļu dziesma – Ansis Jansons, Jenni Venäläinen
  9. Mēmais balodis svešumā – Sanita Sprūža
  10. Melnā jūra – Valdis Muktupāvels, Ainars Šablovskis
  11. Pavasara grīslis – Laima Jansone
  12. Kur tu teci, miega pele – Kristīne Ādmine, Artis Gulbis
  13. Sansulas ūdens – Valdis Muktupāvels, Rūta Muktupāvela


Egils Kaljo is an American-born Latvian from the New York area who lives in Rīga, Latvia. When not working in the information technology field, he sings in the Latvian Academy of Culture mixed choir Sõla, does occasional translation work, and has been known to sing and play guitar at the Folkklubs Ala Pagrabs in Old Rīga. Kaljo began listening to Latvian music as soon as he was able to put a record on a record player, and still has old Bellacord 78 rpm records lying around somewhere.

Raxtu raxti new CD features Midsummer Līgo songs

Raxtu raxti, a group that melds Latvian folk styles and performances with popular songs, has quickly become one of the most popular groups in Latvia. Their 2015 album Es atradu tautasdziesmu, where they mostly performed the songs of composer Imants Kalniņš, but with folk influenced arrangements, was one of the highlights of the Latvian music world that year. After many successful performances in Latvia, the group quickly returned to the studio to record their follow-up.

This time, the group decided to record an album of songs based around the Latvian midsummer festival Jāņi, which resulted in the album simply and appropriately titled Līgo. Featuring songs inspired by this celebration, the album is again a combination of traditional sounds and lyrics with contemporary performances and arrangements.

Raxtu raxti is made up of both well-known folk musicians as well as members of the Latvian pop group Autobuss debesīs. On Līgo, the musicians are Kristīne Kārkle on vocals and violin, Marts Kristiāns Kalniņš (vocals, keyboards), Edgars Kārklis (vocals, bagpipes), Kārlis Auzāns (cello, guitar), Armands Treilihs (drums) and are joined by Artis Orubs (percussion) and Ilze Grunte (guitar). And, as on their debut album, this collection of musicians from different musical genres turns in a winning performance.

As the Midsummer festival is, at its foundation, a pagan festival, the songs presented on the album tend more towards the mystical aspects of the celebration. This becomes evident starting with the first song, “Lec saulīte”, which is introduced by Kārkle’s echoing vocals. The song, with folk lyrics and music by Marts Kristiāns Kalniņš, is about the tradition of waiting for the sun to rise on the morning of June 24th, and captures the magic of that moment.

The celebratory aspect of Midsummer is presented in “Es dziedāju, gavilēju”, with its enthusiastic pronouncement of “Pļavas mežus skandēdami, Jāņu dienu gaidīdam’” (The fields and forests resounded as we waited for Midsummer) are supplemented by Kārkle’s violin to make for a particularly joyous performance.

The fantastic legends of Midsummer night are the basis for the energetic “Bur man burvji, skauž man skauģi” (folk song lyrics with music by Kārlis Auzāns), a song of conjuring and protecting one’s homestead against the witches, warlocks and other jealous types that ride during the night. The song, a duet of Kalniņš and Kārkle, weaves a memorable musical vision of this battle with evil spirits.

The song “Parādies(i), tu, Saulīte” with its driving drums, might remind some of the bagpipe and drum ensemble Auļi, which is not particularly surprising, as Edgars Kārklis also plays bagpipes in Auļi. The songs of Auļi are also often based on Latvian traditions and folk beliefs, and this also shines through this song about summoning the sun to appear.

Releasing an album of just Jāņi songs could be considered limiting, if not a bit of a risk, as many Midsummer folk songs are not that familiar to most listeners (considering the multitude of songs, only a handful are comparatively well known). Also, some might think that the material for the songs is limited (how many songs can you sing about the sun, fire, beer and, sometimes, cheese?) Still, Raxtu Raxti show that there is quite the depth of thematic material to present to listeners, and that there is a wealth of imagery and styles that can be shown.

Showing that their debut album was no fluke, Līgo, Raxtu Raxti’s second album, reinforces the notion that the group is one of the most notable ensembles in Latvia today. Līgo presents an engaging and memorable musical tapestry of Midsummer, the shortest night in the calendar. Combining both elements of Latvian folklore and legends, along with adept and engaging musicianship, the album is a creative and enjoyable tour of this Latvian celebration.

For further information, please visit the Raxtu Raxti Facebook page.


Raxtu raxti

Premium Art, PA3, 2016

Track listing:

  1. Lec, Saulīte!
  2. Kad Saulīte meita bija
  3. Rūgtin’ grūga alutiņ(i)s
  4. Saules meita jostu auda
  5. Līdz pašam(i) Ziemeļam
  6. Klusi, klusi
  7. Es dziedāju, gavilēju
  8. Visu gadu Jānīts jāja
  9. Bur man burvji, skauž man skaugi
  10. Dedziet gaišu Jāņu guni
  11. Parādies(i), tu, Saulīte
  12. Saule nāca līgodama


Egils Kaljo is an American-born Latvian from the New York area who lives in Rīga, Latvia. When not working in the information technology field, he sings in the Latvian Academy of Culture mixed choir Sõla, does occasional translation work, and has been known to sing and play guitar at the Folkklubs Ala Pagrabs in Old Rīga. Kaljo began listening to Latvian music as soon as he was able to put a record on a record player, and still has old Bellacord 78 rpm records lying around somewhere.

4.oktobrī Rīgā izskanēs Pasaules latviešu kora mūzikas koncerts

Šī gada 4.oktobrī plkst. 18:00 Jāzepa Vītola Latvijas Mūzikas akadēmijā (JVLMA) izskanēs Pasaules latviešu kora mūzikas koncerts, kas tiek rīkots sadarbībā starp Pasaules Brīvo latviešu apvienību (PBLA) un JVLMA, atzīmējot PBLA darbības 60. gadskārtu un pasaulē dzīvojošo tautiešu ieguldījumu Latvijas attīstībā un kultūras dzīvē.

PBLA Kultūras fonda priekšsēdis Juris Ķeniņš pauž gandarījumu par uzsākto sadarbību ar Jāzepa Vītola Latvijas Mūzikas akadēmiju un tās rektoru Arti Sīmani, kas iesākusies 2014. gadā, abām institūcijām kopīgi rīkojot kamermūzikas un simfoniskās mūzikas koncertus PBLA Kultūras fonda “Latvija ārpus Latvijas” konferences ietvaros.

Kā atzīmē J. Ķeniņš, trimdas latviešu komponistu darbi nav sveši Latvijā. Tie ir atskaņoti gan Vispārējos Dziesmu svētkos, gan iekļauti Latviešu kordziesmu antoloģijā. 4. oktobrī gaidāmajā Pasaules latviešu kora mūzikas koncerta repertuārā iekļauti komponistu darbi no piecām valstīm, kas pārstāv trīs latviešu komponistu paaudzes ārpus Latvijas. To skaitā minami Imanta Ramiņa, Anitas Kuprisas, Jāņa Kalniņa, Tālivalža Ķeniņa, Bruno Skultes, Daces Aperānes, Guntara Geduļa un citu komponistu darbi. “Esmu sevišķi gandarīts par jaunāko jeb trešo komponistu paaudzi ārpus Latvijas, kuru starpā izceļama Ella Mačēna no Austrālijas, kuras vecvecāki pameta Latviju Otrā pasaules kara laikā, dodoties bēgļu gaitās,” skaidro J. Ķeniņš. Papildus citiem Latvijā jau pazīstamiem diasporas latviešu komponistu darbiem, koncertā tiks atskaņota E.Mačēnas komponētā dziesma “Ar Dieviņu” ar viņas vecāsmātes Ainas Andersones dziesmu vārdiem.

4. oktobra koncertrepertuāru diriģēs Māris Sirmais, Mārtiņš Klišāns, Romāns Vanags, Jānis Baltiņš, Andris Veismanis, Sigvards Kļava, Jānis Zirnis, Juris Kļaviņš, Kaspars Ādamsons, Aira Birziņa, Edgars Račevskis un Edgars Vītols.

“Mūzikā esam būvējuši sadarbības tiltus starp Latviju un citām valstīm, kur vien atrodas latviešu kopienas, darbojas latviešu kori un komponisti, un top latviešu daiļrade. Šie tilti ir skaidri redzami un pār viņiem var droši iet gan Dziesmu svētkos Latvijā un ārpus Latvijas, gan 4. oktobrī Latvijas Mūzikas akadēmijā gaidāmajā koncertā,” norāda PBLA KF priekšsēdis. Biļetes būs iegādājamas koncerta norises vietā JVLMA 4. oktobrī stundu pirms koncerta.

Atzīmējot PBLA 60. darbības gadskārtu, š.g. 5. oktobrī Rīgā, Mazās Ģildes Lielajā zālē norisināsies konference, kuras uzmanības lokā būs PBLA ieguldījums Latvijas neatkarības atjaunošanā un tās drošības un izaugsmes veicināšanā.

Plašāka informācija: PBLA 60 mājas lapā vai pa e-pastu:


Ilze Garoza is a diaspora researcher. She has a Master's degree in Education Leadership and Administration from the University of Minnesota. She has received scholarships from the American Latvian Association and the Association for the Advancement of Baltic Studies.She is currently Secretary General of the World Federation of Free Latvians (PBLA).