Latvian folk songs about Soviet life on the ‘kolhozs’

Throughout the centuries, Latvians have had to endure many hardships and suffering. As perhaps a kind of a ‘coping mechanism’, Latvians turned to singing to help get them through difficult times. It is no surprise then, that so many Latvian folk songs are about war, orphans, sadness, not to mention hard work.

The era of Soviet occupation is one of many bleak chapters in Latvian history, and one of the difficulties endured by the Latvian people during that era was the collectivization of agriculture. The work on the kolhozs was difficult, the pay meagre, but, as throughout history, the Latvians endured and even found musical inspiration of sorts from this, and songs about working on a kolhozs appeared.

As the Soviet era (and collective farms) are long gone, to ensure that a record remained of these songs, the ethnographic ensemble Vabaļis, from the city of Daugavpils, recorded a number of these songs that were sung in the Latgale region of Latvia. The album, entitled Labi dzeivõt kolchozā! was released in 2018.

Vabaļis, founded in 2006, is led by Iveta Sprinda, and one of the goals in their performances and recordings is to present traditional local music and lesser known, if not forgotten songs, from the Latgale region. Labi dzeivot kolchozā! is their third album, having previously released  Pa celeņu… in 2013, which was an album of traditional songs from the Vabole region in Latgale, as well as Lobais reits in 2014, a collection of Catholic songs sung in Latgallian homes.

Many of the songs are rich in irony, such as the title song, where the group sings ‘Labi dzīvot kolhozā, te neviens mūs netraucē’ (Life is good on the collective farm, nobody bothers us here!) Some of the songs use well-known Latvian folk music melodies, but with new texts, such as ‘Ryndā dzymu’, which uses the melody of the folk song ‘Dziedot dzimu’, but instead of being ‘born singing’ as in the folk song, Vabaļis sings about being ‘born in line, growing up in line’.

The spirited ‘Sasatiksim dabasūs’ references both Khrushchev and the first female cosmonaut, Valentina Tereshkova. Further archaic references are in the song ‘Žyguļi’, a song about the ubiquitous Soviet era car, as the ladies sing about blaming the car being ‘at fault for everything’. Generational differences are presented in a humorous way in ‘Jaunim dzert un uzdzīdōt’.

The performances are also authentic – after a day of labor at the collective farm, the women gather to sing songs together, and this recording captures that energetic atmosphere. However, since the songs are mainly sung in unison, with occasional accordion accompaniment, this may not be to the taste of all listeners. Additionally, the record works best as a kind of historical document, a glimpse of an era that, today, can be difficult to imagine.

The CD booklet provides for an interesting overview of the project itself, as well as a bit about the history of collective farms in Latvia, with notes from folklorist Artūrs Uškāns and historian Dr. Toms Ķencis in both Latvian and English. Unfortunately, though, the booklet does not contain the lyrics to the songs – the lyrics (as well as song explanations and interpretations) would have been helpful, as not all listeners may understand the Latgallian dialect.

As far as music niches go, kolhozs songs sung in the Latgallian dialect is probably one of the smallest and most obscure. However, all the better that Vabaļis have brought these songs to light (and the folk label Lauska gave them an opportunity to record and release them), as many listeners might not even be aware that songs like these even existed. That they do exist, and that Vabaļis gathered them on Labi dzeivõt kolchozā! provides for a fascinating glimpse as to what life was like on a Latvian collective farm, and how Latvians found humor and inspiration to sing even under these circumstances. Vabaļis continue to reveal the broad variety of songs sung in Latgale throughout history.

For further information, please visit the Lauska Vabaļis page.

Labi dzeivõt kolchozā!

Vabaļis

Lauska, LAUSKA CD082, 2018

Track listing

  1. Labi dzeivōt kolchozā
  2. Ak, dzeive
  3. Dzer, bōb, nabādoj
  4. Ryndā dzymu
  5. Kolchozā beja
  6. Sasatiksim dabasūs (kosmonauti)
  • Ganeņ, pyut stabuli
  • Laime i cereibu zīdi
  • Cukrabītai gryuta dzeive
  • Labi dzeivōt Vabalie (Ai, Zuzanna)

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.

Latest Prāta vētra album is proof of group’s vitality and skill

Prāta vētra, internationally known as Brainstorm, have, for the past few decades, been undisputedly the most successful of Latvian popular artists. Regularly selling out stadiums and arenas in Latvia, their albums and shows continue to find a wide audience within Latvia.

In 2018, the group released their latest album – Par to zēnu, kas sit skārda bungas – and, much like the many albums before it, it was a hit, and was followed up by well-attended concerts, including a concert attended by more than 60,000 at the Rīga Mežaparks Open-air Stage. The group has achieved international success as well, particularly in Russia (the group regularly release three versions of each of their albums – in Latvian, English and Russian).

The group formed in 1989, and released their first single in 1992. The group members include Renārs Kaupers on vocals, Jānis Jubalts on guitars, Kaspars Roga on drums, and keyboardist Māris Mihelsons. As on their previous albums, the bass guitar is performed by Ingars Viļums.

The album begins with the appropriately percussion heavy, even frantic title track. Partially inspired by the Günter Grass novel ‘The Tin Drum’ (and not the first Prāta vētra song to find inspiration there – the English language song ‘Tin Drums’ off their Četri krasti album was also similarly inspired), the song, with its energetic beginning and almost manic energy, sets the stage for the songs to follow, indicating that the group have no intention of slowing down after their career, which spans many decades.

Being, by far the most successful Latvian recording artists of the past few decades, Prāta vētra are able to bring in top international talent to oversee their recordings, and on this album, the producer is Povel Olsson from Sweden. The polish on this record is notable, though at times perhaps a bit overly slick, for example on the song ‘Ogles’, where the extensive and expansive synthesizer sounds and arrangements might remind some listeners of the equally synth-heavy songs of the earlier album Kaķēns, kas atteicās no jūrasskolas. Even so, the song, with its catchy melody, is one of the highlights of the album.

Over their many albums, Prāta vētra have experimented with many different musical styles and sounds, often times with success, but the funk elements on the song ‘Šokolādes saldējums’ sound a bit out of place with the rest of the songs on the album. Lyrics like ‘šokolādes saldējums – kā glazūra sirds lūzt’ (chocolate ice cream – my heart breaks like frosting) may make some listeners cringe as well.

The record concludes with what might be the group’s most unabashedly patriotic song, ‘Pirmais latvietis uz mēness’, a song that references the swell of emotion on seeing the Latvian flag after being away for a while, as well the singing of ‘Saule. Pērkons. Daugava.’, which is always one of the culmination points of any Latvian Song Celebration concert. The song foretells a time when a grandfather and grandson watch together as the first Latvian lands on the moon. The song, at once patriotic and inspiring, is an aptly fitting ending for this collection of songs.

Now in their third decade of recording and performing, Prāta vētra show as much vitality and songwriting skill on Par to zēnu, kas sit skārda bungas as they did on their earlier efforts. Still regularly filling stadiums in Latvia, the group’s words and music still affect listeners both young and old. Prāta vētra prove again that they are without peer or parallel in Latvian popular music. Certainly, some listeners will long for the quirkier, more off-beat songs of their early career, as Prāta vētra have journeyed a long way from their rougher, less polished beginnings, but Par to zēnu holds its own against their earlier albums, and is a worthy entry in their already rich discography.

For further information, please visit the Prāta vētra website.

Par to zēnu, kas sit skārda bungas

Prāta vētra

BRCD239, 2018

Track listing

1. Par to zēnu, kas sit skārda bungas

2. Ogles

3. Pašu dārgāko

4. Tevis dēļ

5. Kas būs – būs

6. Šokolādes saldējums

7. Paralēles

8. Как Я искал тебя

9. Draugam

10. Bezgalīgs stāsts

11. Pirmais latvietis uz mēness

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.

Popular ‘Tautumeitas’ ensemble release ethno-pop folklore album

One of the most notable events in recent years in Latvian folk music has been the debut of the ensemble Tautumeitas. As their name implies, the group gathers together six ‘folk girls’ who perform songs inspired by Latvian folk songs and folklore. Their first recording, Lai māsiņa rotājās!, was performed together with the drum and bagpipe ensemble Auļi, and the group’s proper first debut album, simply entitled Tautumeitas, was released in 2018.

In just a few years, the ensemble has become one of the best known and most popular folk ensembles, and have even appeared in a commercial for the Latvian national airline airBaltic. The members of the group are Asnate Rancāne (violin, voice), Aurēlija Rancāne (drums, voice), Ilona Dzērve (accordion, voice), Lauma Bērza (violin, voice), Laura Liepiņa (percussion, voice) and Laura Marta Arāja (percussion, voice). The album also features additional musicians and instruments, such as brass instruments and cello. Integral to the album’s sound is also producer, percussionist and arranger Reinis Sējāns.

Though they use many elements from Latvian folklore in their songs, it is still a thoroughly modern album, and one might consider the songs to be a kind of ethno-pop style of world music.

As all six members of the group are singers, it is then no surprise that the vocals are the main focus for the musical offerings. The importance of singing is echoed in the first song, the appropriately titled ‘Sadziedami’, where the powerful vocals are supported by a thunderous musical accompaniment while the ensemble sings ‘sadziedam mēs, māsiņas’ (let’s sing together, sisters!)

Inspired by the Krustabas ritual (or Latvian folk Christening), the song ‘Pāde’ is a song about self-growth. The ritual of the ‘pādes dīdīšana’, where the one being christened is passed around in the arms of the invited guests, is meant to pass along positive thoughts from the guests. In this song, as with many of their songs, Tautumeitas use the mystical aspects of Latvian folk rituals to create a richly layered song, with help from Reinis Sējāns, who provided the arrangement.

Though much of the album is energetic and exuberant, there are moments of calm and tenderness, such as in the song ‘Pelīte’, a soothing, entrancing lullaby. The song tells of a mystical mouse that brings sleep to small children, and shows that the ensemble are equally versatile in both more active songs, as well as calmer and more peaceful songs like this one. Similarly, the somber ‘Raudi raudi’, a song about a boy crying, as the maiden will not come to him, is one of the album’s more intimate moments.

Other highlights include the rhythmic ‘Aiz azara’, sung in the Latgallian dialect, the catchy and infectious ‘Dai citas meitas’,  and the mystical, almost ritualistic ‘Raganu nakts’, a vibrant song about witches travelling the land during Midsummer.

Vibrant and vivacious, Tautumeitas’ debut album is both enjoyable and refreshing. With their powerful voices and harmonies, the group has established themselves as one of the premiere ensembles in Latvia. Combining elements of Latvian folklore with modern elements, the ensemble has woven together an engaging collection of songs.

For more information, please visit the Tautumeitas website.

Tautumeitas

Tautumeitas

ONAIR Studios

2018

Track listing

  1. Intro
  2. Sadziedami
  3. Pāde
  4. Raganu nakts
  5. Vainagu deja
  6. Bērziņš
  7. Pelīte
  8. Raudi raudi
  9. Sastdine
  10. Ūgas
  11. Bārainīte
  12. Aiz azzaru
  13. Dai citas meitas

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.