Choir Anima’s album of Livonian songs compelling, engaging

The Livonian language is one of the world’s most endangered languages, and it is spoken by less than fifty people worldwide. Though the Livonian culture has a thousand years of history, over time their numbers have dwindled, however, though their numbers are few, the remaining speakers, as well as many Livonian culture enthusiasts, have kept the language alive through music and songs.

Livonians, a Finno-Ugric people, lived mainly along the shores of the Baltic Sea in Latvia, in the Kurzeme region as well as the Vidzeme area. This served as the inspiration for Laura Leontjeva, conductor of the mixed choir Anima (who are based out of Saulkrasti, a town on the shores of the Gulf of Riga and an area where the Livonians lived), to record an album of choir works in the Livonian language. The album, entitled Jūrd. Saknes. Roots., was released in 2018.

Kokle virtuoso and composer Laima Jansone provides a driving arrangement of the Kurzeme Livonian folk song ‘Tšītšorlinkizt’ (or Chichor-birds), which also features a powerful vocal performance by Julgī Stalte, a singer of Livonian descent and a member of the traditional folk ensemble Skandinieki. The song, which compares the bounty of the local waters (elsewhere the flounder are weak), as well as the hard working girls of the village (elsewhere the girls are lazy), has a hypnotic quality to it, as the soaring vocal performances are balanced by the mantra-like chanting of the word ‘Tšītšorlinkizt’

The centerpiece of the collection is composer Uģis Prauliņš’ suite of Livonian folksongs entitled ‘Līvu sasaukšanās’ (or Livonians calling to each other), a multi-faceted collection that includes Livonian texts gathered from many different areas. The rousing ‘Kašķē, kangē’, a song about preparing for a wedding, begins this journey, which then leads to the more mystical ‘Urū! Rīrī’, a song about milking a cow. Prauliņš himself provides the synthesizer accompaniment, which is used with great effect in the celebratory ‘Līgo!’, a song of midsummer and the preternatural elements of that celebration.

The tender and tranquil ‘Lūotum’ (or ‘Hope’), a song with words by Julgī Stalte and music by Edgars Beļickis, closes out the collection, and provides for a serene conclusion, with its words about flowing with the Aģe river.

The CD booklet includes the texts for all the songs (in Livonian, Latvian, and English), as well as extensive notes on Livonian history, culture and language, presented by linguists Uldis Balodis and Valts Ernštreits in both Latvian and English. The booklet also includes notes on the even rarer dialects, such as the Ludza Estonians, or Lutsi, as well as the Leivi, southern Estonians that lived in the territory of Latvia.

Jūrd. Saknes. Roots. reveals that the Livonian language still has vitality and can inspire musicians and performers. Though the songs are in a language that very few will understand, the performances and arrangements are compelling and engaging, and the choir Anima and conductors Laura Leontjeva and Matīss Tučs provide vivid interpretations of these works. The album is not just a valuable document of a nearly extinct language, but also a musical journey that reveals the richness of Livonian heritage.

For further information, please visit the choir Anima website, as well as the Livonian heritage website.

Jūrd. Saknes. Roots.

Koris Anima

Lauska, CD085, 2018

Track listing:

  1. Tšītšorlinkizt – Laima Jansone

Līvu sasaukšanās – Uģis Prauliņš

  • Kaškē, kaņģē
  • Urū! Rirī!
  • Velikine armakene
  • Lelū!
  • Līgo!
  • Käkānikā
  • Aģoug – Uģis Prauliņš
  • Lūotum – Edgars Beļickis

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.

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