Let me say right off I’m a bit biased in this review, for a couple reasons. First, ever since I performed at a Hindu New Year event two years ago, I’ve been pumping people up around me with the idea that Indian music and culture is the next big undercurrent in the mainstream music scene. Second, Aigars Grāvers is heading this musical project, and having been a big fan of Jumprava, I was curious to see what else this man could accomplish.
Welcome to Rama Dance and Sāga. It’s a beautiful musical relationship of dance, Latvian folk tunes and Vedic Sanskrit. In publicity about the band and the album, it is said that the “main idea of this project is an ancient Indo-European culture projection in contemporary modern sight.” I think it’s more than that, folks! Rama Dance’s meshing of Vedic Sanskrit with Latvian folk songs and modern dance music is so complementary I have to use the word “symbiotic” to accurately describe the musical interaction in this album. They belong together. It works!
In addition to Grāvers, among those performing on the album are the poet and singer Nataradža, Mārtiņš Burkevics, Kristīne Karele, Olga Rajecka, Olafs Vilks, Arnolds Kārklis, Baiba Kranāte (one of Latvian Independent Television’s “Trīs Baibas”), Armans, Viesturs Irbe, fellow Jumprava member Aigars Grauba, Guntars Endzelis, Valdis Indrišonoks and Rolands Ūdris (lead singer for The Hobos).
Grāvers and Nataradža head the project. Although not all tracks could stand on their own as individual radio hit songs, they work together very nicely as an overall soundscape and experience. The organization of the tracks appears intentional and well executed. This is an album where you really have to listen to all the tracks to get a better impression of what they’re trying to project.
The album begins with “Intro,” a great musical collage of multiple vocal overlays and a dark-toned backing track. I liked having to carefully listen to the conversation in-between the Sanskrit and backing vocals to hear the entire discussion of the musical project. I pictured myself in a deep, heavily fogged forest witnessing this conversation from a distance between these folks as they sat around a campfire.
“Daugaviņa” moves from the introduction into Nataradža soloing an old folk song in the same haunting overtones. Tension builds beneath his dark voice. I’ll leave the rest a mystery for you to discover.
In “Rama Dance”—backed by quick drums typical of the drums ‘n’ bass genre—Nataradža and Grāvers recite Sanskrit over tastefully done rich string synth sounds.
“Melnā dziesma” is a wonderful blend of traditional Latvian musical folk instruments, modern lyrics and dance music. The transition from traditional to modern arrangement is seamlessly executed.
Then comes “Tāda zeme.” Whoa! I fell back into the 1980s! Laid back funk ‘n’ groove that reminded me of the days of Band Aid to help stop world hunger. That’s not an insult; those days are very close to my heart. I actually could see this track being a good backing track for a movie. Rajecka’s voice is sweet and smooth. She was a great choice to lead the vocals on this track. I love the thick harmonies at the end of the song.
“Viens” is a New Age or electronica-type piece (I hate using the word “electronica,” but people know it). Nice piano work. Simple and captivating with the sampling overlays performed by Ūdris. And there’s an interesting choices of samples: The passing transport truck caught me off guard.
From “Viens” we transition directly into “Mio Deo,” a rock/pop spiritual piece. The song didn’t move me, but it fit well.
“Narasinga” is a techno dance tune with text taken from the Vaisnavu prayer books. I didn’t grab onto this piece entirely: I couldn’t tell whether it was the techno back beat or the accordion rhythm over the top that bothered me. Probably the techno back beat.
“Tulasī” is what “Narasinga” could have been. Great arrangement, although I longed for the Trent Reznor-ish distorted lead vocals and heavy guitar lines. Granted, that could have conflicted in the imagery reflected by the lyrics, but I still felt it could have gone in that direction. The keyboard effects with sitar lines were well placed.
My favourite song of the whole album is “Jēziņ.” It’s an addictive tune! If this hasn’t played as a No. 1 hit on Latvian radio, I’d be surprised. Latgallian really meshes well with Indian vocal rhythm patterns. What a groove! Love it.
“Bailes” is a screamer! I bet performing this piece must be a euphoric experience for whomever screams that text in the middle of the song. There are so many “bad” screaming pieces that just hurt to listen to. This is not one of them. I’ve never heard one in Latvian before, but talk about a crowd pleaser piece! Mosh pit!
The final song, “Rāmava,” is a beautiful rock tune with beautiful guitar work. The harmonies are full and ethereal. It’s nice, laid back ending to the entire album.
In an age when Latvia is working hard at falling into step with the international English language movement both in business and personal practice (never mind the Internet), this album is very refreshing in that it displays the beauty of multiple non-English languages and their place in our music and our lives.
Conclusion? It’s a must buy.
(Editor’s note: This review originally appeared on the SVEIKS.com site.)
Platforma Records, 2000