Thunderous drum and bagpipe ensemble Auļi celebrate 20 years with recent release

Over the past two decades, drum and bagpipe ensemble Auļi have become one of the best known and most visible musical groups from Latvia. Their energetic, even thunderous, recordings and live performances have attracted listeners from all over the world.

To celebrate their twentieth birthday in 2023, Auļi released a best of compilation entitled Deviņvīru spēks, which translates literally to ‘strength of nine men’, but is also the Latvian name for the mullein plant (Verbascum Thapsus), used in a number of Latvian folk remedies. The collection includes eighteen tracks from throughout their history.

This is Auļi’s second ‘best of’ compilation, the first one being Dižducis, released in 2013 to celebrate their first decade.

Latvian folk traditions and beliefs have inspired many of Auļi’s songs, and the group has expanded their sound throughout the years with new kinds of drums and bagpipes, to further diversify their sound palette. They have released albums with songs inspired by the Jāņi, or Midsummer, festival such as ‘Līgo lauki, līgo pļavas’, and songs about the ķekatas (mummery) tradition, such as ‘Laid, māmiņa, istabā’.

Auļi have also extensively collaborated with not just other Latvian musicians, but with many international musicians, and many of the tracks on Deviņvīru spēks are such collaborations. From Latvia, Auļi have performed with the group Tautumeitas on the song ‘Dzied’ papriekšu, brāļa māsa’, and assembled a large group that included Suitu sievas, Vilkači, Tarkšķi and others, to perform the song ‘Ozoliņi’.

Auļi have also worked with many artists worldwide, such as ‘Tāltālu’ with singer Kilema from Madagascar, ‘Maijodler’ with yodeler Albin Paulus, and ‘Orbina’ with Sami joik singer Kai Somby. One of their most popular songs (whose video has reached more than seven million views) is ‘Hunnu Guren’, performed with Mongolian throat singer Batzorig Vaanchig.

The CD booklet includes some brief biographical notes and a few words about every Auļi album, and the notes are in both Latvian and English.

For further information, please visit the Auļi website.

Auļi – Deviņvīru spēks

Lauska CD102, 2023

Track listing:

  1. Sūda dziesma
  2. Auļos…
  3. Liftilugu
  4. Ozols
  5. Diņķis
  6. Tāltālu
  7. Metens
  8. Dzied’ papriekšu, brāļa māsa
  9. Maijodler
  10. Orbina
  11. Hunnu Guren
  12. Alšvangas dūdu meldiņš
  13. Ozoliņi
  14. Jūra
  15. Perkons brauca pār debesi
  16. Līgo lauki, līgo pļavas
  17. Laid, māmiņa, istabā
  18. Man bij’ kaltis kumeliņis

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.

10th folk compilation Sviests includes collaborations between Latvia and Ukraine

A tradition now two decades in the making, the Latvian folk music label Lauska releases a compilation of new folk and folk inspired recordings every two years. The latest entry – Sviests 10 – was released in 2023 and contains nineteen new recordings.

The Sviests series have always spotlighted the broad universe of Latvian folk music – from more traditional interpretations to modern arrangements. The series also balances recordings by well-known and established artists with tracks by new artists and ensembles.

Familiar names on this collection include folk group Laiksne and their song ‘Ai, jūs puiši’. Sviests 10 also includes ‘Trejdeviņi’ from Rasa, an ensemble originally founded in the 1980s and features well-known names from Latvian folk music like Rūta and Valdis Muktupāvels. Rasa had been dormant for many decades, and reunited recently to record a few new songs. The new ensemble A.I.I.Z. and their song ‘Vīri, vīri!’ features established names like veteran folk singer Zane Šmite and guitarist Ilze Grunte.

Newer names and sounds on Sviests 10 include Krāce, from the city of Krustpils, an ensemble that focuses on music from the Sēlija region of Latvia, and their contribution is ‘Līvanu polka’. Multi-instrumentalist Ivars Štubis provides the ambient folk ‘Aiz Daugavas’. All the Baltic nations are represented in the group The Baltic Sisters and friends on their song ‘Saulala’. Ukrainian singer and bandurist Darja Leleko joins cellist Kārlis Auzāns in a performance of the Latvian folk song ‘Tumša nakte’.

The CD booklet includes notes on all the artists and songs, and also notes that many of the songs and performances were influenced by the brutal Russian war on Ukraine. However, the war led to many cultural collaborations between Latvia and Ukraine, including the Ukrainian folksong ‘Kalina Malina’ performed by Latvian and Ukrainian singers united in the ensemble ‘Žurba’.

For more information, please visit the Lauska website.

Track listing:

  1. Tumša nakte – Darja Leleko, Karlis Auzans
  2. Saulīt’ vēlu vakarā – Adriāna Marta Gotlube
  3. Gaisma ausa, saule lēca – Ejueju
  4. Oldfolkdance – Aleksandrs Maijers
  5. Vīri, vīri! – A.I.I.Z.
  6. Trejdeviņi – Rasa
  7. Saulala – The Baltic Sisters, Roger Sans Guimerà, David Sitges-Sardà
  8. Jaunskungs uzkāpj augstus kalnus – MM Orķestris, Suitu sievas, Suitu vīri, Suitu dūdenieki
  9. Tumba – Saucejas
  10. Līvānu polka – Krāce
  11. Mella cūka peld pār jūru – Ogas
  12. Še dziesmiņu darināt – Garataka
  13. Seši jauni bandinīki – Dyrbyni
  14. Ai, jūs puiši – Laiksne
  15. Aiz Daugavas – Ivars Štubis
  16. Tumša tautu istabiņa – Lans
  17. Kus sa jūokšõd, unnõ īrki – Elīna Ose, Latvīte Cirse
  18. Svētais koks – Līgas pH3
  19. Kalina Malina – Vira un latviešu dziedošā apvienība Žurba

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.

Recent album shows Juris Karlsons’ imagination & skill with theatrical music

Few composers have contributed as much to the Latvian academic repertoire than Juris Karlsons. Over his many decades of composition, he has enriched almost all genres with his contributions. Particularly notable is his contribution to the field of theater and stage music.

To spotlight this section of Karlsons’ oeuvre, the Liepāja Symphony Orchestra and conductor Guntis Kuzma recorded some of Karlsons’ compositions for and inspired by the stage, and the resulting album, entitled Dzīves un nāves dejas (Dances of Life and Death) was released in 2023.

One of French playwright Pierre Corneille’s best known works is Le Cid, about the legendary Spanish warrior El Cid. Karlsons’ work “El Cid. Dzīves un nāves dejas” was inspired by this play (as well as a production of the play at the Riga Dailes Theater in 1996), and Karlsons encapsulates the story and legend in this work.  The subtitle (meaning ‘Dances of Life and Death’) already indicates the dramatic, perhaps fatalistic nature of the work, and Karlsons’ music expressively presents the story. The interplay between the woodwinds and the brass instruments is vividly performed by Liepāja Symphony Orchestra. As the work moves from moments of levity to moments of deep foreboding, the orchestra builds upon the intensity contained in Karlsons’ work.

Latvian playwright Rūdolfs Blaumanis added many memorable plays to the world of Latvian literature, but perhaps none is as beloved as Skroderdienas Silmačos, a play set in the time of Jāņi (midsummer). It is a work that continues to play to packed houses every summer in Latvia. Inspired by Blaumanis’ work, Karlsons composed the music for “Antonija #Silmači”, a ballet based upon the play.

A tender and bucolic melody opens the first work in the suite, entitled ‘Antonija’, Antonija being the owner of the Silmači farmstead and a young widow. Karlsons’ tender music is tinged with sadness, and the orchestra’s sweeping performance creates a deep and layered portrayal of Antonija. The image of Antonija is then followed by the energetic, even galloping ‘Skroderi nāk’, inspired by the approach of the travelling tailors to Silmači, musically imagining the preparations and apprehensions for some.

Though ostensibly a comedy, Skroderdienas Silmačos still carries a lot of emotional weight and drama, and Karlsons’ music brings forth the many layers of Blaumanis’ play. This can be seen in the vivacious and even turbulent ‘Zāra’, about the Jewish dressmaker of the same name, and her romance with Joske, the son of merchant Ābrams. There is a similar storminess in ‘Bites’ (Bees), which may also be partially inspired by Rimsky-Korsakov’s ‘Flight of the Bumblebee’, a work famous for its frantic depiction of the winged insect, and the Liepāja Symphony Orchestra skillfully and artfully performs this work of technical intricacies.

The album also contains Karlsons’ ‘Jāzepa vīzijas’ (Joseph’s Visions), music inspired by a 1981 production of ‘Jāzeps un viņa brāļi’, a tragedy written by famed Latvian poet Rainis, and itself inspired by the Old Testament story of Joseph, the son of Jacob. Weaving together Middle Eastern motifs with the broad orchestral palette, Karlsons creates an engrossing musical vision, revealing the modern parallels to be found in this ancient story. This work is also the only one to feature vocals, a searing vocal performance by baritone Daumants Kalniņš.

Dzīves un nāves dejas is a memorable document of composer Juris Karlsons’ rich imagination and skill with theatrical music. These works (or, one might call them ‘visions’) bring together many dramatic and even comedic threads, and, when performed by such skillful musicians such as the Liepāja Symphony orchestra and conductor Guntis Kuzma, reveal a lush theatrical world.

For further information, please visit the Liepāja Symphony Orchestra website.

Juris Karlsons – Dzīves un nāves dejas

Liepāja Symphony Orchestra, conductor Guntis Kuzma

LMIC/SKANI 148, 2023

Track listing:

1. El Cid. Dzīves un nāves dejas

Suite from the ballet Antonija #Silmači

2. Antonija

3. Skroderi nāk

4. Zāra

5. Pindacīša un Ābrams

6. Aleksis un Elīna

7. Bites

8. Cik b(l)ēdīgi tie vecāki

9. Antonija un Aleksis

10. Fināls

11. Jāzepa vīzijas

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.