Rancane’s meditative exploration of folk songs on new album

Double-bassist Stanislav Yudin and ethnic singer Asnate Rancāne, though from different musical backgrounds (Yudin being a jazz musician, while Rancāne has a folk music background) teamed up to record the album Op. 2, a collection of folk song arrangements. The album, improvisational and subdued, is a meditative exploration of not just Latvian folk songs, but songs of other cultures as well.

Though the album is mainly just double bass and vocals, both musicians bring other instruments to the mix, as Yudin adds the kokle, keyboards and percussion and Rancāne also performs the kokle and reed pipe. These instruments, as well as those of some guest musicians, get synthesised into the diverse musical collage that appears on Op. 2.

The title track, an improvisation on the Latvian folk song ‘Tumsiņā(i), vakarā(i)’ begins with a quiet, plaintive introduction on the double bass, while Rancāne’s powerful, confident traditional singing is first heard at what seems like a distance, then slowly approaches. The song conjures up a mystic and magical vision, and the combination of the slow mournful sounds of Yudin’s double bass and Rancāne’s vocals leads the listener on a journey through a dark night.

The duo take inspiration from various folk songs, such as from the Bulgarian song ‘Яна турчин лъгала’, a song from the era of the Ottoman occupation of Bulgaria, about a Bulgarian girl who lies to a Turk about changing her religion from Orthodox Christianity to Islam. Rancāne faithfully reproduces the Balkan melody and character of the song, while Yudin’s slow and deliberate playing generates an authentic atmosphere.

‘Cik dziļa jūra’ is an introspective song of solitude, and is enhanced further by the sounds of the traditional Latvian kokle, possibly meant to evoke the sensation of being alone at the seashore, listening to the sounds of nature, and Yudin and Rancāne conjure up a similarly dreamy landscape. In a similar vein is their interpretation of the Russian song ‘Русалки’, a song from Trinity Week, where one of the elements is that the mermaids come out of the sea at this time and need to be given gifts (in this case, bread, salt, and onions). Yudin and Rancāne develop a magical music vision of this mystical event.

Saxophonist Artis Gāga and percussionist Artis Orubs join in on ‘Ganu dziesma’, a musical exploration inspired by the sounds of herders calling to their flock. Gāga and Orubs, as well as trombonist Laura Rozenberga, appear on the final track ‘Inspiration’, which serves as a dramatic and fateful conclusion to the album. With the thundering strings and brass, the performance, inspired by a Ukrainian song, offers a sharp contrast to the more meditative and quiet songs that came previously.

As there are songs from a number of different nations, it would have been helpful to include the lyrics and translations for non-native speakers, or at least an explanation of the song text (or even an indication of which culture a song came from), which would help develop an appreciation of the performances and interpretations even further. However, not knowing the details of a song adds to the mystery, which is perhaps the musicians’ desired effect.

Op. 2 is an engrossing and enchanting journey through not just Latvian folk songs, but also Bulgarian, Ukrainian, Russian and Lithuanian as well. Using mainly just double bass and vocals, Stanislav Yudin and Asnate Rancāne offer an entrancing and authentic voyage, with lush musical textures revealed by these improvisations. Rancāne, perhaps best known for her work with the modern folk group Tautumeitas, offers a quite reserved performance, as compared to the often boisterous energy displayed by that ensemble, but that just confirms her versatility, as well as how Latvian (and other) folk songs can work in many different settings and musical environments. The tandem have created a polished and vivid album, though mostly reserved and subdued, the album still engrosses the listener with its depth and creativity.

Op. 2

Stanislav Yudin, Asnate Rancāne

Brīvās mūzikas centrs, 2017

Track listing:

    1. 2
    2. Cik dziļa jūra
    3. Яна турчин лъгала
    4. Ganu dziesma
    5. Ne bet kokia
    6. Saulīte
    7. Русалки
    8. Inspiration

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.

Sniedze Prauliņa’s debut album a dreamy space rock opus

Perhaps one of the most unusual, if not downright strange, albums recently released in Latvia is singer/songwriter Sniedze Prauliņa’s debut record Inkrustācija, released in 2017. Inkrustācija, an expansive space rock opus, features Prauliņa on vocals, flute, and synthesizers, among other instruments and effects. According to an interview with Prauliņa, the term ‘inkrustācija’ (or incrustation) is used to describe a decorative technique, where one material is infused with other materials.

As an introduction to this work, the first track is ‘Orbitālā prelūdija’, which features a heavenly vocalize from the choir Mūza, conducted by Guntis Cimiņš. This sets the stage for the journey to come, and gives a glimpse of the many talents and creative vision of Prauliņa.

On an album of strange songs, one of the more odd ones is the fuzzy sounding ‘Melncilts’, a lengthy duet between disembodied voices. As the lyrics are not included with the album, this song requires the listener to use a bit of imagination to understand the words, which is perhaps the artist’s intention, as these songs require the listener’s full attention to appreciate the nuances and subtleties in the music.

Edgars Šubrovskis, of the ensembles Manta and Hospitāļu iela, provides bass guitar on the track ‘If You’, a sparse and dreamy song that also features Prauliņa’s overlaid harmony vocals. To make the link to Manta even clearer, the album also has her version of the group’s song ‘Nāve jūras malā’, with just vocals and effects. Though the song offers a showcase for Prauliņa’s lovely vocals (which, at times, are less clear on the album’s other tracks), the song is a bit incongruous with the rest of the album’s cosmic songs.

The album has quite a few beautiful moments, particularly the song ‘Izoletta’ (with lyrics by Šubrovskis). Beginning with a gentle introduction, with the synthesizer sounding like small bells, as if in a lullaby, the song then develops into an undulating and hypnotic melody, which is balanced with Prauliņa’s breathy vocals.

Though much of the album is dreamy and in a slower tempo, there are a few more active works, such as the pulsating ‘Landing’ and the energetic album closer ‘All the Stars’, which also features Prauliņa’s flute.

In keeping with the science fiction theme, the CD booklet includes a short story by Prauliņa about a journey through space. One might still have appreciated the lyrics beings included, since often with the employed vocal effects, the texts are often difficult to understand, if not impenetrable.

Sniedze Prauliņa’s Inkrustācija, is a dreamy and sweeping album, and certainly does take the listener to distant and dark galaxies. Still, the album’s very leisurely and, occasionally, lonely atmosphere may make it a challenging listen for some, while others may find that perhaps there is an overreliance on effects and atmospheric sounds. Now that Prauliņa has explored the deep reaches of space, one is interested to also hear what her view of life on Earth might be, should she turn her attention away from the heavens. The album, at times relaxing, at times mysterious and distant, makes for an engaging outer space journey.

For further information, please visit Sniedze Prauliņa’s website.

Inkrustācja

Sniedze Prauliņa

Biedrība HI, HI14, 2017

Track listing:

    1. Orbitālā prelūdija
    2. Saturna josta
    3. Melncilts
    4. Izoletta
    5. W.B.
    6. Nemēģini
    7. If You
    8. If You coda
    9. Nāve jūras malā
    10. M.L.B.
    11. Landing
    12. All the Stars

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.

Heavy rock interpretations of ancient folksongs on album by Symbolic

Latvian heavy folk ensemble Symbolic, though playing and performing for more than a decade, only released their first album Mūžam saule debesīs at the end of 2017. The band is made up of guitarists Jānis Rage-Raģis and Lauris Aišpurs, vocalist Uldis Kākulis, bassist Ģirts Blūms, and drummer Ēriks Lizbovskis. Symbolic’s brand of heavy rock might remind listeners more of 1970s era hard rock bands, with perhaps some influence from bands like Black Sabbath and Deep Purple.

Folklorist Dina Liepa supplements the group’s sound with traditional instruments, such as the kokle in the introduction to the song ‘Pērkons, saule’, which also serves to establish the powerful vocals of Kākulis. The traditional instruments add an additional layer to the heavy guitars, making for an intriguing blend of traditional and modern sounds and performances.

As befits the music style, many of the songs have themes of war and battle. The song ‘Mēnestiņš, karavīris’ compares the moon to a soldier who is always moving, while the mournful ‘Es, karā aiziedams’ is about a young man preparing to leave for war. The rousing ‘Jodam galvu’ is about creating a sword made of sparks to cut off a devil’s head so that the goddess Laima can freely enter a home, with a climactic squealing guitar and vocal interplay providing the imagery of the battle with the devil.

Liepa’s deft kokle playing, meant to give the appearance of a glittering sun, provides the introduction for the anthemic ode to the sun, ‘Spīguļo saulīte’. The song is full of evocative imagery and colors, such as the sun throwing the black into the sea and keeping the white for herself, as well as the daughters of the sea beating the wash with silver bats, and is given a thundering foundation by drummer Lizbovskis.

The expansive ‘Māsiņa’, a song of engagement and wedding, presents in musical form a pre-wedding ritual, where brothers must saddle their horses and chase after their sister who has gone to be married. The song builds to a galloping crescendo, then concludes on a softer, more melodic note as the ritual dance begins.

Though most of the songs are energetic and active, there are still some mellower moments to balance out the record. The winter solstice song ‘Ziemassvētku dziesma’, featuring vocals by the late Niks Matvejevs, is one of the group’s earliest songs (recorded in the early 2000s), and it brings the album to a somber close. However, the full-throated vocals seem a bit much for this calmer song, as they do not quite match the tone of the lyrics and music.

Of course, the comparisons with perhaps the best know Latvian folk metal ensemble – Skyforger – are inevitable. However, Symbolic do distinguish themselves, as they are perhaps not as aggressive as Skyforger, and Uldis Kākulis’ deep, occasionally even bellowing, vocals allow for a bit more melodic interpretation and flexibility than Skyforger’s slightly harsher vocal stylings. Still, Skyforger fans should still find much to enjoy on Mūžam saule debesīs.

As the band say on their website, “Symbolic wants to reach people who feel that their roots, their land and ancestors and history is really important and all others who are interested in Latvian culture and tradition.” Via their heavy guitars and energetic performances, Mūžam saule debesīs reveals new interpretations of ancient Latvian texts and folklore. Though one might not think that ancient folk songs would work with distorted, heavy guitars and driving drums, Symbolic’s songs show that these elements fit together quite naturally, as well as how the ancient can still be quite modern.

For further information, please visit the Symbolic website.

Mūžam saule debesīs

Symbolic

Lauska CD074, 2017

Track listing:

    1. Kuries, mana uguntiņa
    2. Pērkons, saule
    3. Mēnestiņis, karavīris
    4. Jodam galvu
    5. Es, karā aiziedams
    6. Spīguļo, saulīte
    7. Mūžam saule
    8. Māsiņa
    9. Karavīra dvēselīte
    10. Daugaviņa
    11. Mēnestiņis, karavīris (acoustic)
    12. Ziemassvētku dziesma

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.