September 13, 2007
Liku bēdu zem akmeņa, the newest compact disc in UPE Recording Co.‘s Latvian Folk Music Collection, is a variation on an earlier CD containing the “most beautiful” songs. As the title suggests, the songs on this disc are meant to be music by which to bury your sorrows, music to put you in a good mood.
It is, in fact, very happy music. Most of the songs are also quite well-known among Latvians, so listeners need not become accustomed to rarely heard melodies. The CD begins with “Div’ dzelteni kumeliņi” and the very catchy tune “Es uzkāpu kalniņā.” “Strauja, strauja upe tecēj’” and a Cajun-inspired “Aiz kalniņa dūmi kūp” follow on their heels. The version of “Puiši, puiši, kas tie puiši” reminds me of an American hoe-down. Although in a minor key, “Ķēvīt, mana svilpastīte” is upbeat and hearty, as usual. It is followed by “Tur es dzēru, tur man tika” and “Es nenācu šai vietā,” both very popular drinking songs. “Lobs bej puika myusu Jezups” in the Latgalian dialect is a less common song that borders on a Slavic sound. It tells of Jezups—a good young man, only a little bit short—who proposes to the neighbor girl Madaļonka. Then comes “Bēdu, manu lielu bēdu,” “Visi ciema suņi rēja” and “Tumša, tumša tā eglīte.” The disc ends with the good old standard “Div’ pļaviņas es nopļāvu.”
Some of the songs are played a bit too fast for singing along. Kristīne Kārkle is skilled enough to sing “Strauja, strauja upe tecēj’” with almost no time for a breath between verses, but mere mortal singers may not be able to keep up. Līga Priede’s slightly smoky voice is just as strong as Kārkle’s but prefers the higher ranges. Kārkle and Priede sing on only four songs; brothers Valdis and Māris Muktupāvels’ voices dominate the rest of the CD. Ainars Mielavs and Kristaps Rūķītis also sing, while Māris Muktupāvels and Aleksander (Kep) Dmitrijev provide accompaniment on accordion and an assortment of guitar-type instruments, including banjo and mandolin.
The liner notes provide lyrics for each song, as well as literal translations into English. As would be expected, none of them has a sad ending. Liku bēdu zem akmeņa contains only folk songs, no new compositions. The musicians stay true to the traditional lyrics and melodies, but this is not hard-core folklore. Except for the tender hay-mowing song at the very end, the overall sound of this CD is not unlike that of UPE’s Alus dziesmas minus some of the beer. It’s good, foot-tapping, jolly music. But, even though the musicianship is impeccable and each song in and of itself is very well-arranged, it seems that the disc as a whole lacks a bit of inspiration. I also find that the constant happy tempos and volume of the recording are too much to take in at one sitting. I almost feel like Liku bēdu zem akmeņa is trying too hard to put me in a good mood.
My advice is to listen to two or three songs when you need a fix of happy music. Then set the disc aside until you need another fix, listen to a couple more songs, set the disc aside again, and so on. It is kind of like brief regular dates with your therapist: periodically airing out the sorrows from your mind and burying them under a rock, rather than letting them pile up in your mind for years. That was probably UPE’s intention for this CD all along.
Amanda Jātniece is a Latvian-American currently living in Latvia. She has been a member of the Latvian folk music ensembles Lini un Teiksma, both based in Minneapolis, Minn., and now sings with the Savieši folk ensemble in Riga. She has a strong interest in music and folklore, a degree in linguistics, and does freelance translation and writing along with raising her school-age children.