I was quite excited by the prospect of hearing the first album by Maskačkas spēlmaņi, Zirnīšiem skaisti ziedi. Having heard some of their tunes previously on the Internet, I was ready to really enjoy this one in full length.
Maskačkas spēlmaņi, led by Ansis Ataols Bērziņš, hails from from the Maskavas district of Rīga, south of the Old City and east of the Central Market along the Daugava River.
The album begins with some very good songs that got me tapping my feet and humming along. “Meitas mani melli sauca,” the first song, had that really good beat and style that makes you want to bounce along. So did “Nadūd, Dīvs, nadūd, Dīvs.”
Other tracks that I really enjoyed were “Moza beju, gonūs goju,” “Trīs putan dižan dzied,” and “Teci rikšiem, kumeliņi.” Being a Latvian folk dancer, my feet are always looking for a good tune. Maskačkas spēlmaņi do deliver in that category, giving the listener many songs that could easily be made into folk dances or just enjoyed at a party.
I also really enjoyed listening to one track, “Pats precieju, pats atvežu,” that consisted of only kokle and voices. It was close to musical styling of Andris Kapusts of the folk group Grodi. The kokle playing is clean and precise, as are the voices.
One song that got my attention was “Tālu gāju sievas ņemt.” The refrain is in Russian and my wife, who is from Latvia, says it is part of a Russian soldier’s song. Historically, this song has value in that it clearly reflects the musical and linguistic influences of that era. But details on that in the liner notes might be helpful.
The musical and technical ability of Maskačkas spēlmaņi is very good and the recording is also of good quality. The majority of the tracks is very folksy and upbeat and makes me want to dance and sing along to the tunes. The instrument mix makes for a very diverse sound and creates a good balance of high notes and low notes. The accordions (bayan and ieviņa) have a good driving sound and the drum really keeps the beat going. Being an accordion player myself, I really enjoyed the songs that utilized the Latvian-made ieviņa button accordion. The honking bass really adds to the folksy sound the band is attempting to achieve. The cītara rounds out the sound and the violin is able to create a good counter-position to the accordion. The trejdeksnis and other percussion also help to bring the sounds all together.
The liner notes are quite nice in that they provide the words to the songs, just in case you like to sing along—like I do. And given that Maskačkas spēlmaņi sing many tunes in the Latgalian dialect, non-speakers of that will find the words to be of great help. For non-Latvians, some brief liner notes in English would also have been good.
I would have liked to have more information about the group itself in the liner notes, but Maskačkas spēlmaņi provide a Web site with information so that listeners may “get the scoop.” I would encourage people to visit the site and see their pictures. I always like to see who is playing the music I’m listening to.
Members of the band, besides Bērziņš, are Jānis Barons, Zane Kriumane, Sandra Kuzmina, Ieva Medene and Paulis Paulins.
Overall, this first album by Maskačkas spēlmaņi is very nice. Listeners will like the catchy tunes, and dancers will enjoy the driving beat.
Zirnīšiem skaisti ziedi
Maskačkas spēlmaņi, 2001
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