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.

October 2018 Latvian Elections: Voting Information

The next Latvian national election will be on October 6th, 2018. Polling stations will be set up in Latvia and also in Latvian centres throughout the world.

Latvia is a democratic country, each citizen has the right to vote in the elections. In contrast to countries with separate parliamentary and presidential elections, Latvia has only one national election, which determines the course of government for the next four years. The Latvian national election decides which candidates and parties will form the next government (Saeima). The elected Saeima chooses the President.

The Latvian voting system is unique and the list of candidates and parties long. It is very important to vote, as the overseas Latvian votes form a substantial part of the electorate. In Latvia, where voting is not compulsory, each vote makes can make a big difference!

There are 100 seats in the Saeima and 5 electoral regions, each region has a number of seats proportional to the population of that region. The regions are Latgale, Kurzeme, Vidzeme, Zemgale and Riga. Changes in population distribution result in a redistribution of the seats for each electoral region. For the upcoming election, the numbers are: Latgale (14), Kurzeme (12), Vidzeme (25), Zemgale (14), Riga (35). Since the previous elections, the first three regions have each lost one seat while Riga has gained 3. This change can be explained by the fact that the votes of Latvians living overseas are included in the Riga electorate and there has been a wave of economic emigration over the past four years. It has been calculated that overseas Latvians have the potential to decide 8 of the 100 seats. This can make a critical contribution to the formation and tone of the next government of Latvia.

The voting system is based on party preferences. There is a separate ballot paper for each party. Each voter is given a voting envelope and multiple ballot papers, one for each of the participating parties. The voter chooses one of the ballot papers, which is then put in the envelope and into the ballot box. The remaining ballot papers are discarded. Before placing the chosen ballot paper into the envelope & ballot box, the voter can mark it to indicate preferences amongst the listed candidates, this will influence whether a specific candidate on the party preference sheet actually winds up with a seat in the Saeima. A plus sign next to the candidate’s name indicates a positive shift for that candidate, a line through the candidate’s name moves that candidate down the list. The ones at the top of the list get into the Saeima.

Political Parties

There are many small political parties in Latvia. To be included in the election, a party must have at least 500 members and have been formed 1 year before the date of the election. To get into the Saeima, a political party has to poll at least 5% of the vote. To increase the chances of a small party’s candidates gaining seats in the Saeima, they often combine with another small party (or parties). When this happens, and a combined party is formed, it is useful to know the policies and actions of its constituent parties, before making a decision. The line-up of candidates for the election will be finalised in late July.

Here follows a brief outline of the major parties.

It is most likely that the major players in the next Latvian election will be three parties which already have a track record. These are: the social democrat “Saskaņa”, “Zaļo un Zemnieku Savienība” [ZZS] (Greens and Farmers Union) and “Nacionālā Apvienība” (National Union).

“Saskaņa” has held the largest number of seats in the Saeima since 2010, but has not been part of the government. The main support base of “Saskaņa” is the Russian-speaking population of Latvia, but it also gains votes from ethnic Latvians. “Saskaņa” is ideologically different to all the other parties in that it is against Latvian being the official language of Latvia, it has a pro-Soviet stance on the Soviet occupation of Latvia and has pro-Russian geo-political leanings. Due to these basic ideological differences, it is highly unlikely that “Saskaņa” would be able to form an alliance with any of the other parties, so it is most likely they will again be in the opposition in the 13th Saeima.

Zaļo un Zemnieku Savienība (ZZS) is currently the leading party in the Latvian government. It has its roots in regional areas outside Riga and many of its candidates are local government politicians. This party does not have a specific ideological base, but relies on the post-Soviet longing for a “good, honest manager” and also has the capacity to attract popular candidates. As the leading political party in the current government, it has been responsible for initiating the recent taxation and health care reforms. Although some of its members flirt with anti-Western and anti-American rhetoric, it is unlikely that it would form a coalition with “Saskaņa”.

The support base for Nacionālā Apvienība is those for whom the Latvian-Russian relationship is of utmost importance. NA boasts a string of popular politicians and its supporters seem unconcerned at the increasing number of allegations of corruption levelled at their representatives.

“Vienotība” gained second place in the previous election, but has now dropped to 3-4% in the ratings, so could possibly be completely out of the next government. This ratings drop can be explained by the party’s inability to overcome its internal differences. It has lost a swathe of politicians, but has retained a number of experienced and popular candidates who bring with them a solid support base. The policies of “Vienotība” are European, centric and technocratic. There is no guarantee that they will have enough support to gain seats in the next Saeima.

“Jaunā Konservatīvā partija” has much in common with “Vienotība”. Its current focus is anti-corruption, which it is pursuing effectively. JKP is not a new party, but has been re-vitalised by fresh and energetic candidates, including human rights workers. Despite their energy and excellent communications skills, they lack political experience.

“Attīstībai/Par” is a new party, hoping to attract “Vienotības” liberal electorate. It is led by competent politicians, with experience in government. It is supported predominantly by young, educated, European-oriented voters. The weaknesses of this party is that some of its politicians are tainted by previous public dealings and that Western left-leaning policies are not widely popular in Latvia.

KPV.LV is basically a one-man party, led by Artuss Kaimiņš. He has based his political career on pointing out the failings of the existing elite and system, but is yet to provide alternative policies to deal with these failings.

Latvijas Reģionu apvienība (Latvian Regional Union) is an independent ZZS look-alike, which has also attracted some interesting candidates.

Latvijas Krievu savienība (Latvian Russian Union) is an openly pro-Moscow party, which attracts the radical pro-Russian sector of the electorate. This party sees “Saskaņa” as being too Western and conformist.

From information compiled by Ivars Ījabs, an independent political analyst commissioned by PBLA.