Best known songs performed by Žoržs Siksna released on new CD

Latvian pop singer Žoržs Siksna has, for decades now, been one of the most recognizable vocalists in Latvian popular music. Many of the songs he has sung have been hits and remain well known and are beloved songs even decades later. Though most of his more popular tunes were recorded in the early 1980s, he has remained active, performing and recording, and also enjoyed a resurgence of interest in his music after his appearances on the Latvian talent show Koru kari. To acknowledge his contribution to Latvian popular music, in 2017, record label MicRec released Leģendas, a collection of his best known numbers.

This collection is particularly welcome, since Siksna has had comparatively fewer releases on CD than other singers of that era. One best-of collection, Vasaras vīns, was released in 1995, but also included some newer songs and missed quite a few of his more well-known songs. The Leģendas release (the latest in a series that celebrates Latvian popular singers) is a long awaited, extensive collection that serves as a convincing reminder of Siksna’s singing ability and talents. The album also includes quite a few songs that were previously unreleased on CD.

Among Siksna’s most popular songs is ‘Muļķe sirds’ (composed by Raimonds Pauls), an anxious lament for a foolish heart – though it should be noted that the version on this CD is not the same version as was on the Mikrofons 81 record, which is a slightly slower, more relaxed version of the song. The song was also featured in one of the most popular films in Latvian history – Limuzīns Jāņu nakts krāsā, released in 1981 and directed by Jānis Streičs. The film also includes the dreamy ‘Vālodzīte’, a song Siksna also later included in his repertoire, and Siksna’s version of this song also features the singer playing the clarinet.

Siksna, with his soaring voice and stage presence, has occasionally been described as a ‘Latvian Tom Jones’, and one can occasionally sense that in the mildly flirtatious ‘Genoveva’ and the slightly more amorous song ‘Jel, dod man bučiņ’’. In contrast to the slower and relaxed songs sung by many of his contemporaries, Siksna recorded quite a few up-tempo and energetic songs like ‘Sirdij nevajag skaitu’ and ‘Pasaulīte’.

Siksna also worked with many different composers. As with many artists of that era, most of the songs he recorded were composed by Raimonds Pauls, but this collection includes a number of tunes written by other composers, such as ‘Mātei’ (composed by Ivars Vīgners), ‘Negaidi mani velti’ (Andris Riekstiņš), and ‘Vasaras vakarā’ (Aleksandrs Kublinskis), among others.

Though certainly many of the songs can be considered lighthearted pop music, Siksna’s talents are still evident on some of the more serious numbers, like the sweepingly beautiful ‘Ugunsputns’ or the melancholy and wistful ‘Smeldzošais septembris’. Siksna’s singing prowess elevates these songs – taking what otherwise might be ‘ordinary’ pop songs and turning them into something far more memorable and artistic.

The CD booklet includes a brief biography of the composer by musicologist Daiga Mazvērsīte (in Latvian), as well as a few photographs.

This collection of songs by Žoržs Siksna is yet another worthy entry in the impressive Leģendas series, reaffirming the talents and exceptional vocal ability of the singer. With more than forty years’ experience in performing, he has achieved iconic status in Latvian popular music. This collection is a testament to Siksna’s talents and memorable performances.

For further information, please visit the MicRec Žoržs Siksna page.

Leģendas

Žoržs Siksna

MicRec, 2017

Track listing:

1. Genoveva
2. Muļķe sirds
3. Leonora
4. Vālodzīte
5. Negaidi mani velti
6. Mīļā (Mans kuģis tālu jūrā)
7. Ugunsputns
8. Pasaulīte
9. Jel, dod man bučiņ’
10. Sargeņģelis
11. Baltas ābeles zied
12. Ap Jāņiem Mārtiņos
13. Nepalaid garām
14. Sirdij nevajag skaitu
15. Mātei
16. Mana pirmā dziesma
17. Vasaras vakarā
18. Smeldzošais septembris
19. Herstvuda dziesma (with Mirdza Zīvere)
20. Visskaistākie vārdi (with Ineta Rudzīte and the Jelgava Tirkīzs Choir)

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.

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.