Elizabeta Lāce’s album Mōaigā a celebration of the Liv culture

Harpist, songwriter, and vocalist Elizabeta Lāce released her first solo album in 2016. Entitled Mōaigā (or Zemesmala in Latvian, or Landside), the album is a collection of experimental instrumental works, performed entirely on the harp. Lāce, who has performed with groups such as Sus Dungo and Dzelzs vilks, has always been a major creative force in Latvian music, and this album has her branching out in yet another direction.

The album title – Mōaigā – is from the Liv language, and Lāce intended the album to be a celebration of the Liv culture, especially considering that there are very few Liv left. Lāce herself has been studying Liv culture and history, and these studies provided the inspiration for this album.

The atmospheric nature of the album becomes clear with the opening sounds of the song ‘Smiltis’, with the sound of the rustling wind then giving way to a slow procession of notes, evoking a late night or early morning stroll on a beach devoid of any other people. The song ends as quietly as it begins, and seems to almost drift away into the sea.

The song ‘Vētra’ (or Storm) is actually not as tempestuous as the title might indicate, though the deliberate progression of notes on the harp, gradually building to a crescendo, indicates a perhaps more emotional storm, which then slowly tapers off and recedes.

The serene and sacred atmosphere of a walk through a cemetery is presented in ‘Kapsēta’, perhaps the quietest work on this album of hushed songs. Elements of the Latvian folksong ‘Ej, saulīte, drīz pie dieva’ can be heard, and Lāce intertwines the melody with her own vision of a somber search for a particular headstone.

The most ominous work is ‘Ugunskoks’, which is dedicated to the Jews that died at the Salaspils concentration camp during World War II. Its low rumblings, indicating a sense of dread and fear, gradually build in emotional tension, making for unnerving and disturbing listening.

Though the album is purely instrumental (managing to get not just music, but all kinds of sounds from a harp), the booklet with the CD does include some poetry and stories (in Liv, Latvian and English), perhaps as a guide for better understanding of the musical works. Oddly, the booklet makes no mention of those that worked on the album (such as sound engineer Gundars Rullis or Alis P – with whom Lāce played on his album Ciparu pasaule). The album booklet also contains photographs taken by Lāce in locations where Livs live.

The improvisational and ambient style gives the album an overall dreamy feel, though one does wish at times that there had been a few more active, energetic sections to balance the calm and serene ones, though it is clearly intentional that the album moves at such a slow pace, perhaps as a balance against the frenetic modern world.

Elizabeta Lāce, at once creative and slightly eccentric (she once staged a performance while sitting in a rowboat full of water and slowly submerging herself) has made an album that showcases her creativity, but may be difficult to understand for some listeners. Some may hear a captivating sonic journey through nature, while others may just hear someone absentmindedly plucking at a harp for almost an hour. As it is indeed experimental harp music, absent of clear melodies, it does require a bit of imagination to enjoy and appreciate. The songs do tend to blend into one another, which is perhaps the idea, as it is meant to evoke a stroll by the sea, through the woods, and other depictions of natural phenomena. Elizabeta Lāce, on her album Mōaigā, utilizes her extensive musical and creative talents to present many unexpected and unusual aspects of the harp in her unique vision of nature.

Elizabeta Lace - Zemesmala 001

 

Elizabeta Lāce

Mōaigā
2016

Track listing:

      1. Smiltis
      2. Vētra
      3. Dieva suņu ēnas
      4. Vējš
      5. Nakts
      6. Cilvēki
      7. Langa
      8. Diena
      9. Ugunskoks
      10. Kapsēta
      11. Saulriets
      12. Laiks

 

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.

Compelling collection of songs on Helēna’s new album

Singer songwriter Helēna Kozlova – or just simply Helēna – has released a new album, a full seventeen years after her last solo album (1999’s Stāsti). Recorded over the course of more than a dozen years, the album Tāluma tuvumā, her third solo album, was released in 2016.

Helēna, who sings, plays piano, guitar and flute, as well as being a lyricist, began performing with the indie gothic group Skumji Akmeņi in the mid-1990s, and later in the group Levīti in the early 2000s. Helēna also provided the track ‘Viens vienīgs vārds’ to the 2016 collection of songs Pretējības with lyrics by Latvian poet Aspazija.

Helēna’s piano performance begins the album, with the wistful instrumental ‘Valsis’. The melancholy and haunting waltz rather suddenly morphs into the second track ‘Trauksme’ – the instrumental continues, but in a much faster tempo, with an added dramatic tension.

Vocals and guitar then appear in the subsequent track ‘Ilgu vējš’. Helēna’s rich alto voice imbues this song of sadness and longing with a forlorn dreaminess, and the combination of just the guitar and wind effects adds to the sense of solitude presented in the song.

Helēna uses an almost childlike voice for the English language ‘Shine’, which corresponds with the perhaps intentionally childlike lyrics like ‘you make a desert in my mind’. Combined with a King Crimson-like guitar echo effect, the song is at once tender and delicate.

Though she writes most of the lyrics, for the track ‘Šūpuļdziesma’, Helēna uses the lyrics of Latvian poet Kārlis Skalbe. Skalbe’s mystical lyrics are given an equally mysterious musical accompaniment, and this lullaby, featuring guitarist Einārs Kvilis, makes for a particularly eerie listening experience.

Though much of the music on the album is tinged with melancholy and sadness, the song ‘Serafafa verandā’ is one of the cheerier and more energetic songs, but with its pastoral feel still blends in well with the other tracks on the album.

Helēna’s vocals may remind some listeners of Marta Kreituse of the band Zāle – perhaps then it is no surprise that Helēna recently shared a bill with Zāle, as both share a similar low key yet picturesque musical style.

The album closes with ‘Impro’ which, as its title suggests, is an improvisation. However, the track sounds more like various sound effects spliced together – it is mildly interesting, but, at nearly six minutes, begins to drag a bit. One wishes the artist had formed an actual song out of these clips, rather than try to create her own ‘Revolution 9’.

At times fragile and brittle, other times powerful and dramatic, Tāluma tuvumā is a long awaited return by Helēna Kozlova. Her hypnotic vocals and lyrics leave an impression on the listener, through this series of songs of quiet intensity. Though it took more than a decade to record and release, the album is a unique and notable achievement, and with her restrained and refined style, Helēna has created a compelling collection of songs.

Helena - taluma tuvuma 001

 

    Helēna

    Tālumā tuvumā
    NabaMusic/Melo Records, 2016

    Track listing:

    1. Valsis
    2. Trauksme
    3. Ilgu vējš
    4. Ieaijā
    5. Tās būs tās ilgas
    6. Austo kalnu miglā
    7. Shine
    8. Šūpuļdziesma
    9. Serafafa veranda
    10. Man patīk
    11. Impro

     

    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.

Wealth of Folklore Material from 1950s on New Saucējas CD

From July 8 to August 6, 1958, a team from the Latvian SSR Academy of Sciences traveled to the Ludza and Kārsava districts in the Latgale region in eastern Latvia to gather folklore materials and record the songs and singing styles of these areas. Led by Alma Ancelāne (who worked in the Folklore Department at the Language and Literature Institute), and joined by other employees and students, the team, which also included future composer Pauls Dambis, gathered information so as to preserve these songs, most of which were passed around in an oral tradition, and the team compiled an extensive record from their expedition.

Recognizing the wealth that was gathered in this one expedition, the traditional folk singing group Saucējas, based at the Latvian Academy of Culture, decided to record an album of just the songs collected during that month in 1958. Entitled Trīci, munu ustabeni!, the CD contains performances of 29 songs from the Ludza and Kārsava districts (which is actually just a small percentage of the total folklore material gathered). Saucējas, directed by Iveta Tāle, also includes singers Marianna Auliciema, Kristīne Jansone, Indra Mētra, Janta Meža, Signe Pujāte, Kristīne Rotbaha, and Vineta Romāne. Most of the songs on the album are sung unaccompanied, but some have musical accompaniment.

One of the many aspects that makes the gathered musical material significant is the presence of multi-voiced singing (rather than just everyone singing the same melody in unison). For example, the multi-layered harmonies of “Kiukoj, uoru dzagiuzeite”, originally performed by the Kārsava ethnographic ensemble, a song about a girl that begins to cry when she hears the cuckoo singing, as she misses her brothers.

Saucējas have endeavored to make sure the performances are as authentic as possible – to make it sound like these are indeed songs as they were heard in the Latvian countryside – in other words, perhaps not entirely perfect and polished, but full of vitality and life. In songs like “Iz pīguli, iz pīguli”, “Malni muni kumieleni”, and “Tolka lela, tolka moza”, the group intentionally go for a loud sound, like women singing in a field while working.

The songs on the album cover many themes, reminding listeners that Latvians have folk songs for just about any occasion. Besides themes of work and relationships, there are songs about war and seasonal festivities. The collection is bookended by two lullabies – “Sešas peles mīgu vylka” and “Atnes, peleit, mīdzeni”, giving the song collection an almost circular sense – that the day begins and ends with sleep, and perhaps to suggest the importance of singing to children, so that the songs and traditions continue to be passed down throughout the generations.

Recording folk songs, particularly those sung by large groups with multiple voices and harmonies, is always a challenging task, and one additional aspect that makes this a successful release is that the group enlisted veteran folk music producer Gatis Gaujenieks (who has produced records for groups like Iļģi and Laiksne), and there is a crisp clarity in the immersive vocal performances.

As with many other releases from the Lauska record label, the packaging is again exceptional. The CD comes with a book of almost one hundred pages, detailing the songs and the research expedition. It provides many fascinating details about the time – one might wonder how it was possible in the late 1950s, deep within the time of the Soviet occupation of Latvia, that a team could research Latvian folklore (particularly considering the Soviet policy of the Russification of Latvia). As it was during the ‘Khrushchev Thaw’, certain restrictions were relaxed, but lest anyone forget that they were in the Soviet Union, as part of the expedition, researchers also had to ask participants if they were, for example, members of the Communist Party. Information is provided in both English and Latvian, and there are also many pictures from that era.

One of the more unique Latvian cultural events of the 1950s has led to one of the most unique Latvian folk music albums.  Providing a fascinating picture of how Latvian culture was still alive, to a certain degree, while part of the Soviet Union, but, at the same time, presenting a broad view of Latvian folk singing and a variety of themes, Trīci, munu ustabeni! is a faithful and authentic re-creation of a visit to small villages in eastern Latvia. Saucējas present the full spectrum of singing on the album – from intimate individual performances to loud ensemble performances, and the group has created not just an important historical document, but also a joyous and resplendent folk music album.

For further information, please visit the Saucējas Facebook page.

Also, all of the original audio material from the 1958 folklore expedition can be found here.

saucejas-trici-munu-ustabeni-001

Trīci, munu ustabeni!

Trejdeviņi koklētāji
Saucējas, Lauska, CD053, 2016

Track listing:

  1. Sešas peles mīgu vylka
  2. Iz pīguli, iz pīguli
  3. Malni muni kumieleni
  4. Kiukoj, uoru dzagiuzeite
  5. Kiukoj dzagiuze i dzīd laksteigola
  6. Tolka lela, tolka moza
  7. Lineni, muni lineni
  8. Es beju māmeņai vīna pati meiteņa
  9. Zīdi, zīdi, rudzu vuorpa
  10. Oi, gaļdeni, oi, gaļdeni
  11. Dāmpoļka
  12. Pluovuoja laiveņa pa dziļom jiurom
  13. Zeile dzīd(i), zeile dzīd(i)
  14. Aijā, munu vīglu pruotu
  15. Prūjom juoīt, prūjom juoīt
  16. Muoseņ(i) mīluo, kū tu te dori?
  17. Sastdiņ labi cīmā īti
  18. Pa kam var pazeit avīšu kryumu?
  19. Kū tys muns kakleņš
  20. Trīci, munu ustabeni
  21. Nadūd, Dīvs, veitulam(i)
  22. Tev zeileite zini nese
  23. Eima, eima mes, muosenis
  24. Padzīdim(i) mes, muosenis
  25. Doncojit(i), gūļojit(i)
  26. Zīmys svātki sabraukuši
  27. Kreicpoļka
  28. Kas duorzā(i), kas duorzā(i)
  29. Atnes, peleit, mīdzeni

 

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.