The Latvian folk song, through its deceptive simplicity, can easily be presented in many forms – the bi-yearly Sviests samplers includes songs that are inspired by Latvian folk songs, but in an ever-growing variety of genres. There seem to be an endless amount of possibilities for interpreting these ancient melodies, revealing new facets or aspects.
One group that provides a new take on folk song performance is Zari, based out of Liepāja, who perform a kind of ‘post folk’ or ‘electronic folk’ – that is, folk songs presented in a form that, though based on traditional instruments, is supplemented with synthesizers, effects, and electronic instruments, creating a hybrid style with both classic and modern elements.
The group’s efforts are documented on their debut album, 2017’s Sazaroti, released by the Lauska label. The band members are Zigmārs Miemis on effects and synthesizers, Uldis Meļķis on guitars, Vinsents Krebs playing the accordion, vocalists Ieva Dreimane and Liene Križevica, and drummer Sandis Volkovs.
The sweeping ‘Šuvo’, an atmospheric seven minute work based on both folk songs about bird callers (as well as driving away the darkness) and Midsummer, opens the album. This song, which is characteristic of the Kurzeme region where the group is from, captures much of what makes Zari unique, in that there are traditional instruments and singing alongside layered synthesizers to create a rich and engrossing work. The intricate sounds and arrangements even give this song (and others on the album) elements of progressive rock, and may bring to mind the works of Pink Floyd or Peter Gabriel.
According to the group, the name of the band – Zari (or ‘branch’) was chosen because though all the members are part of the same ‘tree’ each musician provides their own, unique ‘branch’ in the music. This can be observed in the intertwining of the two vocalists in songs like the peaceful and meditative ‘Rāmi rāmi’, with Dreimane and Križevica harmonizing and echoing each other, adding to the hypnotic feel of the song.
Accordion and guitar are combined in the haunting ‘Klusiet jauni klusiet veci’, to which are then added a pounding drumbeat, as well as soaring vocals, enhancing the spiritual and otherworldly nature of the song. Effects and synthesizers create memorable musical imagery in ‘Ziemelītis’, a song about sailing and the battle between the sailor and the north wind.
Though much of the album is atmospheric and dreamy, there is still plenty of energy and intensity, such as in the driving drums in ‘Gulu gulu’, as well as the powerful war song ‘Kara gabals (Karajājiņš)’, with its defiantly and resolutely sung ‘Labāk manu galvu ņēm’, nekā manu tēvu zem’ ’’ (Better to take my head than my fatherland).
The group also uses a variety of instruments from a variety of sources, including a banjo which was found on a trash heap as well as a miniature piano that were used in the song ‘Arājiņš (Bastalāvis)’, thereby expanding the already broad sound palette that was used to create the album.
Deftly and intricately weaving together both ancient and modern elements, Sazaroti is an often ethereal, often dreamy listen. Blending together electronic music and sounds, as well as traditional instruments, Zari reveal further facets and aspects of Latvian folk songs. One can hear the effort that went into creating and arranging these songs, based on the extensive layering of the music and effects. As with many other Lauska releases (the label specializes in Latvian folk music albums), this is another exceptional and singular release. The members of Zari have indeed brought together all of their separate branches to form an engrossing, musically layered collection of songs that join together ancient and modern elements.
For further information, please visit the Zari Facebook page.
Lauska, LAUSKACD073, 2017
2. Ej projāmi ledutiņi
3. Teku teku
4. Arājiņš (Bastalāvis)
5. Kas grib laba kumeliņa
6. Rāmi rami
7. Klusiet jauni, klusiet veci
8. Kara gabals (Karjājiņš)
9. Gulu gulu