One of the most serendipitous events in exile Latvian history is the coming together of the musical trio Trīs no Pārdaugavas. Initially planned as a one-off performance, the group performed together for more than twenty years, entertaining both Latvians in exile and later performing in Latvia as well. The uniquely talented members – Fēlikss Ērmanis and his resonant vocals, Vilnis Baumanis and his impeccable songwriting and arrangement abilities, and multi-instrumentalist Mārtiņš Ērmanis – came together to form a singular musical group. Not content to just sing Latvian standards, their original songs ranged from the humorous to the deeply serious, often reflecting exiled Latvian life – being Latvian in the United States. Baumanis’ thoughtful, nuanced lyrics, along with their intricate three-part harmonies (all three were talented singers) resulted in Trīs no Pārdaugavas becoming one of the most beloved exile ensembles, whose songs still are fondly remembered today.
Though it has been decades since the group last performed, and, sadly, only one member – Baumanis – is still alive, interest in their music and their accomplishment remains. Baumanis, along with distinguished Latvian author Nora Ikstena, collaborated to write down the definitive story of Trīs no Pārdaugavas. Published in 2020 by the Micrec recording company, the book, simply entitled Trīs no Pārdaugavas, provides a history of the group and their accomplishments both in the United States and in Latvia.
Always a popular draw at Latvian events, the group’s sly humor helped Latvians forget the difficulties of life in their adopted home. As part of their concerts, they often poked fun at recent events at a particular Latvian center, often including verses about events having taken place that same day.
The book is also a biography of Vilnis Baumanis. Baumanis’ life story also offers some fascinating anecdotes, including a chapter about his work at Voice of America. Baumanis worked there for many years, and one can follow along the growth, and then decline, of the radio service. The book also details his childhood years in Latvia, then memories from Displaced Persons camps in Germany and then on to exile in the United States. The book’s introduction, by Ilze Jurkāne, also provides a glimpse of the bohemian atmosphere of the Baumanis’ house in New Jersey, where multiple Latvian families lived and Latvians regularly congregated.
The group collectively decided to disband in the early 1990s, with the explanation given that, along with the restoration of Latvian independence, the group had achieved all that they had set out to do, and there was less of a need for them now that Latvia was again free. Certainly, their concert at the Mežaparks Stage, which gathered tens of thousands of listeners, was the culmination of their efforts to keep alive the Latvian spirit in their songs.
At just over one hundred pages, it is a slim book. Some readers may be left wanting more, since the group was such a vital thread in Latvian life for decades. One does wish there was more about the songs themselves – there are just a few pages detailing the inspiration for some of the songs, but not much else. The group’s albums often had notes and commentaries on the songs, which were often fascinating and entertaining, and one wishes there was more of that in the book. As the songs were written in the 1970s and 80s, some references may be lost on readers, particularly those outside the United States. If one had little knowledge of the group or of exile Latvian life in general, this book only provides a brief glimpse, and one may finish the book not fully understanding how truly essential Trīs no Pārdaugavas was to the American Latvian community.
The book comes along with a CD of the group’s original songs recorded by the group Ducele. Ducele, who call themselves a Latvian ‘ecological’ ensemble, perform the songs with aplomb, giving them a fresh sound and perspective. Humorous and lighthearted songs like ‘Monika’ and ‘Strīķēšana’ are as lively and good natured as the originals, but, perhaps surprisingly, it is the more serious songs like ‘Tauta tālumā’ and ‘Dziesma tālāk iet’ that are most effective and moving. Ducele also offer their own interpretive approaches to some of the songs, such as the slight Celtic atmosphere given to ‘Dzintarjūra’.
Music and songs were an integral part of Latvian exile life, an audible link to the Latvia many had fled after World War II. Trīs no Pārdaugavas strengthened and amplified that link, leaving a particularly impressive collection of recordings that remain beloved and relevant decades later. Though their songs spoke to an exile Latvian audience, the songs still speak to all Latvians worldwide, even today. The new recordings by Ducele also confirm Baumanis’ songwriting talents, as the songs are as fresh and topical today as they were forty or more years ago. Nora Ikstena’s and Vilnis Baumanis’ book Trīs no Pārdaugavas is a valuable, enlightening document of the role of the group in exiled Latvian life and is a reminder of not just how talented, but vital and essential the group was.
Trīs no Pārdaugavas
Nora Ikstena and Vilnis Baumanis
CD track listing:
- Latvieši kopš seniem laikiem
- Dziesma tālāk iet
- Oliņ, boliņ
- Tauta tālumā
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