The kokle, a Latvian stringed instrument, has long been a symbol of Latvian culture and history. Though perhaps a comparatively simple instrument, its distinct sound is irrevocably associated with Latvian folklore, and the instrument is even a part of Latvian mythology. Just one example of the supernatural nature of the kokle can be found in Jānis Rainis’ play Spēlēju, dancoju – musician Tots brings his kokle along when he travels to the land of the dead to rescue Lelde, who had been attacked by evil spirits.
Though some might consider the instrument archaic, or perhaps quaint, interest in kokle performance remains high throughout Latvia, and many young musicians are drawn to the instrument both for its sound, as well as its Latvian symbolism. One such musician is Namejs Kalniņš, a young kokle player who, at the age of 15, released his first album – Laika gaitā – in 2018.
Kalniņš began playing the instrument at the age of ten, when his father, in the process of making a kokle, perhaps casually asked his son if he wanted to play the instrument. Kalniņš quickly answered yes, and, since then, has immersed himself in the sound and performance of this instrument.
Almost the entire record is just Kalniņš performing his own instrumental compositions on the kokle. As it is just the sound of the kokle, the works have a timeless quality about them, that they still sound ancient, even though they are new. It is also telling that many of the compositions have bucolic or pastoral titles, such as the lively ‘Pavasara lietutiņš’, or the undulating ‘Pļava’, indicating the link between the kokle and Latvian nature.
The more mystical elements of the kokle appear in songs like ‘Maldugunis’, whose rhythmic pulsations give the impression of a song of conjuring, or ‘Veļu laikā’, where Kalniņš is joined by Viesturs Āboltiņš on the stabule, or reed pipe, and the two create atmospheric musical imagery of the time of the spirits.
One of the few compositions with modern elements is the title track ‘Laika gaitā’, where Aigars Kalniņš provides a distorted electric guitar accompaniment. The harsh sound of the guitar is slightly out of place with the rest of the sound of the record, but it does serve to show that the sound of the kokle can still effectively blend together with more modern instruments.
At just over half an hour of music, Namejs Kalniņš’ album Laika gaitā leaves listeners wanting more. Kalniņš adeptly brings forth the many facets and aspects of kokle performance, both the mystical and elemental tones of the instrument, creating a rich palette with this Latvian instrument. As Kalniņš himself notes, this is just the beginning of his musical journey, but it is an auspicious debut, and one looks forward to hearing more of his compositions.
For further information, please visit Namejs Kalniņš Facebook page.
Lauska, CD086, 2018
- Pavasara lietutiņš
- Kad saulīte norietēja
- Amata – video
- Piparu polka
- Rasas miega dziesmiņa
- Bišu dancis
- Vakara dancis
- Veļu laiks
- Laika gaitā
- Pērkons nāk