Liepāja-based Zari create hybrid “post folk” on album Sazaroti

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.

Sazaroti

Zari

Lauska, LAUSKACD073, 2017

Track listing:

1. Šuvo
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
10. Ziemelītis
11. Labvakaris
12. Lietiņš

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.

Latvian Radio Choir’s “Daba un dvēsele” – works from golden era of choir music

The Latvian Radio Choir has long been acknowledged as not just one of the most talented choirs in Latvia, but also one of the most versatile. Through their diverse repertoire, they have established themselves as a truly singular choir, one that can expertly perform even the most complex and challenging of works. Though their focus is mainly on the modern, and often experimental repertoire, the Latvian Radio Choir, conducted by Kaspars Putniņš, do still occasionally delve into the classic repertoire.

In 2013, the choir released the CD Diena aust, a collection of performances of choir works from the ‘golden era’ of choir music (the first half of the 20th century), and have now followed that up with 2017’s Daba un dvēsele, a similar collection of Latvian choir classics, released by the Latvian national record label Skani as part of their Latvian Centennial series.

Perhaps the most popular choir music composer of that era was Emīls Dārziņš, whose choir compositions remain beloved and frequently performed, as well as being a central part of the Song Festival repertoire, more than a century later. Though his life was tragically cut short, in a brief period of time Dārziņš composed a number of wondrous works. On this set, the Latvian Radio Choir provides memorable renditions of the mystical ‘Senatne’, the tender and sentimental ‘Mēness starus stīgo’ and the anthemic ‘Lauztās priedes’.

Composer Emilis Melngailis took much inspiration from Latvian folklore, and this can be heard in the four part ‘Latvian Requiem’, with texts by Vilis Plūdonis and Rainis. This somber, weighty work traces the final journey, through glades of ferns, to one’s final resting place. The cycle concludes with the fateful, ‘Pastarā diena’, a tragic and even violent musical setting of the End of Days. The Latvian Radio Choir create an absorbing and, at times, unsettling interpretation of this final journey.

The supernatural is on display in Jānis Zālītis’ ‘Biķeris miroņu salā’, a mystical tale of a goblet on the Island of the Dead that gathers anguished souls. The lyrical and delicate ‘Mežā nakts ir ienākusi’, with the expressive poetry of Jānis Jaunsudrabiņš, is Jēkabs Graubiņš contribution, and here the Radio Choir show their exceptional ability to bring forth all the tiniest nuances of a song to make for a vivid portrayal of night in a forest.

The bulk of the songs on Daba un dvēsele are by composer Jāzeps Vītols, whose monumental contribution not just to Latvian choir music, but Latvian music in general, cannot be understated. For his time, he was a prolific innovator in choir music, be in dainty miniatures like ‘Mēnestiņš meloja’ or the expansive Bible scene of ‘Dāvids Zaula priekšā’. Vītols also was inspired by Latvian folklore and legends, and many of his songs put music to fables, like ‘Rūķīši un Mežavecis’. His sweeping lyricism, captured richly by the singing of the choir, can be heard on songs like ‘Diena beidzas’ and ‘Saules svētki’.

The CD booklet includes extensive notes on the composers and the compositions in both Latvian and English, as well as English translations of all the lyrics.

In the CD booklet, conductor Putniņš compares the recording of these songs to writing a love letter – which is an appropriate metaphor, considering that many of these songs are now an inseparable part of the Latvian cultural canon, and have inspired many a musician throughout the years. Conductor Kaspars Putniņš and the Latvian Radio Choir have clearly imbued all of these performances with love and respect, and, as a result, Daba un dvēsele is an exceptional and inspiring collection.

For further information, please visit the Latvian Radio Choir website and the Skani website.

Daba un dvēsele

Latvian Radio Choir

Skani, SKANI054, 2017

Track listing:

  1. Emīls Dārziņš – Senatne
  2. Emīls Dārziņš – Mēness starus stīgo
  3. Emīls Dārziņš – Lauztās priedes
  4. Emilis Melngailis – Daba un dvēsele
  5. Emilis Melngailis – Latviešu rekviēms – Pamazām brauciet
  6. Emilis Melngailis – Latviešu rekviēms – Pamazām, palēnām
  7. Emilis Melngailis – Latviešu rekviēms – Saule riet
  8. Emilis Melngailis – Latviešu rekviēms – Pastarā diena
  9. Jānis Zālītis – Biķeris miroņu salā
  10. Jēkabs Graubiņš – Mežā nakts ir ienākusi
  11. Jāzeps Vītols – Diena beidzas
  12. Jāzeps Vītols – Mēnestiņš meloja
  13. Jāzeps Vītols – Dūkņu sils
  14. Jāzeps Vītols – Rūķīši un Mežavecis
  15. Jāzeps Vītols – Karalis un bērzlapīte
  16. Jāzeps Vītols – Dāvids Zaula priekšā
  17. Jāzeps Vītols – Saules svētki

 

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.

Labvēlīgais tips release new album, filled with their usual good humour

Latvian satirical and irreverent group Labvēlīgais tips, seven years after their last album Kurvis (or ‘Basket’), returned in 2017 with the follow up, appropriately titled Kaste (or ‘Box’).

Kaste, their eleventh studio album, collects fourteen songs in the group’s inimitable style, again finding inspiration in topics that at first may seem mundane and ordinary, but, upon a closer look, they still find the comic elements in these everyday occurrences and situations.

The ensemble continues to use a veritable orchestra of instruments – singer Andris Freidenfelds is joined by keyboardist Normunds Jakušonoks, guitarist Ģirts Lūsis, Kaspars Tīmanis on trombone, Oskars Ozoliņš on trumpet, guitarist Artūrs Kutepovs, bass guitarist Pēteris Liepiņš, keyboardist Haralds Stenclavs and drummer Ainis Zavackis.

Labvēlīgais tips still display as much energy as when they started out, almost a quarter century ago, even with their seemingly commonplace topics, such as receiving lots of boxes in the mail in the song ‘Kaste’, or the contradictory need to be both brutal and romantic when wooing a woman in the song ‘Brutāls un romantisks’, or love driving one to madness in ‘Du bist spazieren’.

Still, when listening to these songs, there is a vague sense of having heard them before. For example, Labvēlīgais tips sang about the legendary thriftiness of Latvians in the song “Skopuļa serenāde” on their album Naukšēnu disko, and on Kaste there is a song in a similar vein – ’Pa lēto’. The band also have had songs that were ‘sea shanty’ type songs like ‘Bocmaņa dziesma’ or songs about the sea in general, like ‘Tā man iet’, and on Kaste there is a song in a similar style – ‘Dzimtais krasts’.

Otherwise the lyrics of the songs on Kaste are even more opaque and full of non-sequiturs than usual, making any kind of lyrical analysis impossible. Perhaps that is the point, as the group has always insisted there is no deeper meaning in their songs (though some might say that there is no meaning at all). This is made even clearer on songs like ‘Frāzes’, which is partly just common small talk phrases gathered together to make for a (rather uninteresting) song.

That is not to say there aren’t quite a few bright spots on the album – for example the bouncy ‘Ciemos pie malkas’, the catchy ‘Ciema aristokrāts’, or the low-key and dreamy ‘Bilbao’ are among the stand out tracks on the album.

One might have thought with seven years between studio albums allowing for a bit of creative battery recharging, the group would have come back with a set of stronger songs. Particularly when considering that Kurvis was a late career highlight for them, and perhaps even their best album. However, the songs on Kaste, though containing the right ingredients and their trademark irreverent attitude, are simply not as strong as on other albums. Their most memorable songs have always been the ones about what might otherwise seem uninteresting – like a ride on a slow tram, a bus driving into someone’s garden, or a boisterous crowd at the Song Festival. However, the songs on Kaste rarely make much sense, and aren’t as catchy as their songs in the past. The group’s songs have been a bit of hit and miss throughout the years, particularly in their earlier career, when they were putting out a new album every year.

While Kaste may not reach the memorable heights of previous efforts (which is a bit of a surprise, considering how strong their previous album Kurvis was), the album still has many flashes of what makes Labvēlīgais tips one of the most endearing and enduringly popular of Latvian ensembles. The irreverence, often nonsensical lyrics, and general good humor in their songs have been their trademark, and Kaste does not diverge from that formula at all, though perhaps the songs embrace that formula too closely. Though there are a few occasional glimpses of brilliance, as a whole, Kaste is not one of their stronger efforts.

For further information, please visit the Labvēlīgais tips Facebook page.

Kaste

Labvēlīgais tips

LTIPS 003, 2017

Track listing:

  1. Doriana Greja vecā seja
  2. Kaste
  3. Brutāls un romantisks
  4. Ciemos pie malkas
  5. Frāzes
  6. Ciema aristokrāts
  7. Du bist spazieren
  8. Nianses
  9. Vīrs ar pleznu
  10. Bilbao
  11. Pa lēto
  12. Lai piepildās
  13. Aiza
  14. Dzimtais krasts

 

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.