The men’s vocal group Vilki have long been known not just for their vocal talent, but also for their repertoire, which mainly consists of songs with themes of war and battle. Throughout their long history (the origins of the group can be traced to 1980), the group are not content to simply perform the songs, but also study and research traditions with the goal of presenting the material in the most authentic way possible.
Though most of all of their recordings up until now have presented songs in a traditional manner, for their most recent album – 2015’s Cīņai sveiks! – the group took a different approach – this time the songs are performed with modern arrangements with the purpose of presenting an album of songs about war in a contemporary manner. Vilki, made up of members Edgars Lipors, Andris Balcers, Gundars Kalniņš, Jānis-Atis Krūmiņš, Raimonds Kundziņš, Ēriks Ēriksons, and Uģis Treide, are joined by varied Latvian musicians and performers.
Cīņai sveiks! (partially funded by crowdfunded means) presents both Latvian folk songs as well as newly written songs in varied styles and with diverse elements – the subtitle of the album is “Latviešu karavīru dziesmas jaunās skaņās” (Latvian soldiers’ songs in new sounds). Vilki perform vocals on all of the songs, but even though they are often in the role of backing vocalists, their presence and spirit are felt in all the performances.
The military elements in the music become clear with the first notes of the first song “Ko domāji tu, kundziņi” (arranged by Aigars Grāvers, of veteran Latvian synthpop group Jumprava, and performed by Vilki and Jānis Kušķis). Grāvers’ version of this Latvian folk song, full of bravado and boasting, retains the spirit of the ancient words and melodies, but balances it with modern instruments and sounds in this thunderous performance.
Artūrs Uškāns, leader of the folk ensemble Laimas muzykanti, provides one of the modern songs on the album – “Hammers” – dedicated to the Hummer military vehicle. The song, one of the many heavier entries on the album, is dedicated to the heroics of Latvian military personnel who drive their Hummers through dangerous minefields. The song also features the Jāzeps Mediņš’ music school boys’ choir, conducted by Romāns Vanags.
Songs of war, often with violent and aggressive imagery, would seem to naturally lend themselves to the heavy metal musical style – and to prove this point conclusively, one of the guests on the album is Skyforger, perhaps Latvia’s best known heavy metal export. Skyforger, who also are deeply influenced by Latvian history and legends, perform the song “Ar nāvi esam uz tu” (We are familiar with death), a thunderous ode about laughing in the face of death. The album’s liner notes even includes a story about a Latvian brigade that showed great such bravery and courage in battle in Afghanistan, so much so that their American counterparts dubbed them “Heavy metal”.
Post-folk group Iļģi are featured on the track “Brīvības kareivji” (a song with lyrics by Kārlis Rusovs, a Latvian national partisan, written in 1947). The tragic song, with themes about the fight being almost lost – “Gan retas mums kļuvušas rindas, un cerību spožums jau dziest” (our lines become thinner, and the brightness of hope is fading), remains defiant until the end – “Tak nenorims ieroču šķindas, vienalga, vai mirt būs, vai ciest” (still, our weapons will resound, it doesn’t matter if we die or suffer). The song closes with a sorrowful bagpipe lamenting the fallen heroes.
The album notes include many biographical notes (only in Latvian) on notable soldiers throughout Latvian history – starting with King Namejs’ battles with crusaders and the Livonian wars centuries ago up until modern times.
Cīņai sveiks! with its mix of Latvian folk songs and new songs, spearheaded by Vilki and all presented with topical arrangements, is a potent collection of battle songs. Joined by a variety of Latvian artists, both traditional and modern, Vilki present a fresh and lively portrait of Latvian soldiers and the bravery displayed by them throughout the centuries, always against larger and more powerful foes. Considering Latvia’s location in the world, and comparatively small stature (when compared with larger and more populous nations nearby), it is no surprise that themes of fighting and war often appear in Latvian songs. Cīņai sveiks! provides an exceptional collection of songs in a 21st century interpretation.
For further information, please visit the Vilki website.
- Ko domāji tu kundziņi
- Divīzijas dziesma
- Nu ar Dievu
- Zviegtin’ zviedza kara zirgi
- Brīvības kareivji
- Ar nāvi mēs esam uz tu
- Bunkurs 13
- Uz priekšu
- Uz akmeņa malku cirtu
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