Ģērmanis’ classic “Latviešu tautas piedzīvojumi” now rereleased

One of the most authoritative and respected histories of the Latvian people – Latviešu tautas piedzīvojumi – by distinguished Latvian historian Uldis Ģērmanis – has been rereleased.

The book covers the history of the Latvian people from the very beginnings – the Ice Age in the Latvian territory to the end of World War II and Latvian exile. Though Latvian history is often a somber and disquieting topic, what with the centuries of oppression by foreign powers, Ģērmanis reveals the remarkable story of the Latvian people.

Originally written in the 1950s, the book has seen a number of rereleases in the nearly seventy years since original publication, as the book remains one of the most engaging and eminently readable Latvian histories. Ģērmanis, who passed away in 1997, presents Latvian history as a series of brief, yet engrossing, stories, all the while conveying the remarkable survival, against all odds, of the Latvian people throughout the millennia, as well as their triumph of building their own nation after centuries of domination and suffering. The book also contains illustrations by Gvīdo Brūveris.

The English language version – The Latvian Saga (English translation by Kārlis Streips, edited by Ojārs Kalniņš) – has also been rereleased.

The book’s rerelease was made possible with the support of the Latvian 50 Year Occupation Museum Fund Support Group (OMFA) in the United States.

Uldis Ģērmanis

Latviešu tautas piedzīvojumi

Laika grāmata, 2024

For further information, please visit the Laika grāmata website and the OMFA Facebook page

Egils Kaljo is an American-born Latvian from the New York area . 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 American rock band Akacis’ remastered “Svešā malā” released

Latvian American rock band Akacis, who were active from the late 1970s to the early 1990s, combined many different styles (rock, pop, new wave, funk, ska, reggae, as well as Latvian elements) to create a distinctive sound that was entirely their own, and recorded many memorable songs. Though their active career ended decades ago, their contribution to Latvian music is still very fondly remembered by many, and Akacis, due to their musical and songwriting talent, not to mention their professional sound and production, could arguably be considered among the best Latvian rock bands of all time.

For many years, their music had limited availability. However, in the past few years, the band has been remastering all their albums and releasing them digitally. Though all of their albums are worth listening to, one album that is worth particular attention is actually their last album (under the Akacis name, they would release one further album in English under the name ‘Quags’) – Svešā malā. Originally released in 1991, but remastered in 2024, this double album contains a broad variety of songs recorded in the previous few years. This was also the time of the Latvian reawakening that portended Latvian independence in 1991, and many of the songs have themes of a longing for freedom and independence.

At the time, Akacis was a core trio of Gatis Gaujinieks (bass, vocals), Arnolds Kārklis (guitars, vocals) and Vidvuds Mednis (guitars, vocals), though many of the recordings are augmented and enhanced by Aivars Šmits (drums) and Dainis Romāns (saxophone).

One of Akacis’ many positives is their songwriting strength, as they have had many memorable original songs throughout their career. Svešā malā includes songs like the catchy and poppy ‘Varbūt rīt’, a song of longing for someone to return that became a major hit for the group Dāmu pops in Latvia, though the original Akacis version has more of a rockier edge and natural sound (not to mention a memorable saxophone solo by Romāns), as compared to the version recorded by Dāmu pops. Many of the songs on the album are also just vocals and guitar, and Akacis also thrives in this format, with songs like ‘Dzīve’, a moving and philosophical song with words by Elga Leja. As per the album’s liner notes, this turn towards acoustic ballads was the result of Vidvuds Mednis joining the group full time. The original songs on Svešā malā also show some experimentation, even progressive elements, such as on ‘Varavīksne’, which also displays the drum skills of Šmits (who, sadly, passed away in 2011).

Akacis was invited to Latvia to perform on multiple occasions, beginning in 1989, and, while there, they met and collaborated with many Latvian musicians. Perhaps their most fruitful collaboration was with the members of the group Zodiaks (particularly composer Jānis Lūsēns and vocalist Maija Lūsēna). One of the highlights of Svešā malā is ‘Līdz palodai’ (originally released on the Mikrofons 89 record in Latvia), one of the more beautiful songs Akacis has recorded. The tender song, with lyrics by Velta Sniķere, features both lovely vocals and mandolin work.

Beyond collaboration with Latvian artists, Akacis also recorded their own versions of several songs by Latvian artists. Svešā malā includes their version of ‘Zaļā dziesma’, one of the best-known songs by the rock band Pērkons (led by the late keyboardist and composer Juris Kulakovs). Stripped down to just vocals and guitar, the song, a celebration of Latvian nature, loses none of the power of the version by Pērkons (sung powerfully by Ieva Akurātere), and perhaps even gains new facets in this arrangement. Akacis also arranged an English version of songs by Jumprava, Zodiaks, and Opus Pro together in the pastiche ‘Under Two Flags/Freedom for Baltija’, which also powerfully intersperses recordings of President George H. W. Bush and Baltic leaders condemning the atrocities being committed by Soviet forces in the Baltic States in January 1991.

Another powerful moment on the album is their arrangement of the tragic, yet beautiful Latvian folksong ‘Kad pārnāksi, bāleliņ’ – a song about the long wait for a boy to return home from war. An ominous, pounding bass guitar provides a stark introduction and foundation for the arrangement, which is then punctuated by guitars and saxophone to provide a modern interpretation of this timeless song, which, even today, remains relevant as a heartbreaking reminder of the toll of war.

Perhaps the only weak moment on the album is the closing track, titled ‘Paldies’, where, as its title indicates, the band gives thanks to its listeners and others, but the song is sped up, so the spoken words are near incomprehensible (which probably is the point of the joke). This may have worked better as an instrumental (and at the actual speed).

Svešā malā, though perhaps ostensibly a disparate collection of songs rather than a proper album, is still a cohesive and engrossing collection, with its themes of Latvian independence and Latvian spirit woven throughout, and is an enduring testament to the talents of the members of Akacis. Combining original songs, cover songs, live recordings, and collaborations, the album shows a band at the peak of its creative and musical powers, and is still an absorbing listen, more than three decades after it was originally released.

For further information, please visit the Akacis Bandcamp site.

Svešā malā


Plate Records, 1991

1.  Svešā malā

2.  Viss ir mainījies

3. Pūt vējiņi

4. Dzīve

5. Varavīksne

6. Esība

7. Zaļā dziesma

8. Independence

9. Laiks

10. Kad pārnāksi, bālēliņ

11. Under Two Flags/Freedom for Baltija

12. Arī šajā zemē dzīvot var

13. Varbūt rīt

14. Līdz palodai

15. Nesaki vārdu rūgtu

16. Vīrs ar suni

17. Jasmīnu tēja

18. Nenāk miegs

19. Saulei jālec rīt

20. Paldies

Egils Kaljo is an American-born Latvian from the New York area . 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.

The Rye Bread Marriage – a book about an enduring bond thanks to rye bread

Among the many challenges in making marriages work is understanding and appreciating the differences between those in the marriage, particularly cultural and ethnic differences. What might seem normal to one culture may seem incomprehensible to another. Much like any other culture, Latvians have their own quirks and peculiarities, and for the many Latvians that experienced war and being displaced persons, there is also a good deal of trauma.

However, unexpected connections can be found to strengthen a marriage. One particular marriage’s bond has endured thanks to, of all things, rye bread. That is the story of Michaele Weissman’s memoir The Rye Bread Marriage, published by Algonquin Books in 2023. Subtitled “How I Found Happiness with a Partner I’ll Never Understand”, it is the story of her marriage to Latvian American John (Jānis) Melngailis, and how this particular kind of bread helped develop a particularly strong bond between them.

Melngailis is the founder of Black Rooster Food (Black Rooster being the literal translation of Melngailis) and has found success in selling the Latvian style rye bread (or rupjmaize) in the United States, but the path to this achievement was an arduous and difficult one.

Besides being a story of a rye bread entrepreneur, it is also the story of a marriage, an often unflinching, raw portrait, with both euphoric highs and discouraging lows. Weissman married Melngailis in 1982, a time when the expectation was still that Latvians in the United States would marry other Latvians, so the marriage of Melgailis to Weissman (who is Jewish) was not looked upon favorably by some in the community.

There are numerous struggles in the marriage, and Weissman writes openly about John’s mental health struggles, and her own difficulties. However, John, like many Latvians, is enamored with, even perhaps obsessed with, rye bread. Turns out two of Weissman’s grandfathers were Litvak Jews from Eastern Europe who also ate a lot of rye bread. This unlikely link brings the two closer together.

The book, in its brief 266 pages, is many things – a memoir, a biography of Melngailis, a history of rye bread, as well as an analysis of the trauma many Latvian refugees experienced after the war, where rye bread was a potent reminder of home, a home that many were convinced they would never see again. Weissman has a direct, sometimes even abrupt style (the book has 126 chapters, many of which are only a few sentences in length). Weissman weaves all these many threads together in an engrossing and absorbing read. The book is full of poignant moments (John’s return to the town of his birth – Lielvārde – to meet with his friend, the baker and oven maker Aivars Grīnbergs),  but still does have the occasional humorous story (the disappointment of going to the Open Air Ethnographic Museum to celebrate a traditional Jāņi, only to encounter a reggae band singing the decidely untraditional refrain ‘Jāņi, Jāņi, āfrikāņi’).

As the story of a marriage to a rye bread-obsessed Latvian, Michaele Weissman’s The Rye Bread Marriage is at times moving, other times humorous, and, is often an unflinching and, occasionally, uncomfortable read, due to its very intimate nature. Besides the trauma of the Latvian refugees, Weissman also touches on the pain and horror of the Holocaust in Latvia. The Rye Bread Marriage is a fascinating story of how two people of very different cultural and ethnic backgrounds overcame adversity to create an enduring and successful marriage.

For further information, please visit  Michaele Weissman’s website.

Egils Kaljo is an American-born Latvian from the New York area . 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.