Connoisseurs won’t find this folk album boring

Bolta eimu

This is the third recording in the Latvian Folk Music Collection by UPE Recording Co., and, like the first two (Pagānu gadagrāmata and Latviešu danči), is a very nice one indeed. Biruta Ozoliņa sings songs of her native Latgale (the eastern part of Latvia), accompanied by the kokle, which is a stringed folk instrument similar to a zither, played throughout the eastern Baltic region.

This recording is very traditional compared to the first in the series, Pagānu gadagrāmata, except for a couple of modern-sounding chords here and there.

Ozoliņa is best known as a former member of the folk group Iļģi, and in this group her high, light voice nicely complemented Ilga Reizniece’s distinctive lower and fuller voice. Alone on this recording, though, something almost seems to be missing. The liner notes say that Ozoliņa no longer performs, but now only sings alone and for herself. If you sing for yourself, you will, of course, sing the songs that you like. There’s no question about what type of songs Ozoliņa likes! They are all calm and gentle, with beautiful melodies. Bolta eimu is a very contemplative recording. It is not a performance, but rather a meditation. Some more critical ears might even call it background music.

Because the songs’ lyrics (all except one, “Zvīdzi zvīdzi sērmais zirdzeņ”) are from a young woman’s point of view—dealing with various aspects of courtship and marriage—they fit nicely with Ozoliņa’s voice. Her voice is amazingly clean, clear, light, simple and almost fragile. The songs are also very simple, and in this simplicity, I believe, is all the beauty of Latvian folk music.

All of the songs are in the Latgalian dialect, which might take some getting used to if you speak Latvian. Latvian speakers who have little experience with it may find some of the words hard to understand. For those who don’t speak Latvian, the one-line English translations in the liner notes may make the songs sound overly simple or trivial. Unfortunately, this is all too common a problem in translating folk songs in general. As a result, the translations cannot convey the complexities and poetry of the traditional texts—the cultural context, symbolism, mythological parallels, and deeper meanings of many texts are lost.

My husband’s only comment about this compact disc was that it all sounded the same. He says that about most of my folk recordings, but for once I had to agree with him. Maybe what’s missing is variety. All of the tracks sound very similar. One song, “Zyna Dīvs, zyna Laima,” is sung a capella, but in my opinion there could have been more, since Ozoliņa’s voice stands well enough on its own. In another song she uses a considerably lower tone, which is also a nice change. The four tracks recorded in 1998-99 (“Jau sauleite aizalaide,” “Apleik kolne saule tak,” “Treis mōzeņas mežā gōja,” and “Muns bōleņš karā gōja,” with the rest from 1987-92) have a slightly different sound to them, but not enough to be called “variety.”

My own taste in Latvian folk songs leans toward the calmer, more melancholic melodies, and there are plenty on this recording. (In Latvian music, a minor key does not necessarily indicate a sad song. This seems to be common in Eastern European folk music.) I don’t mind a whole recording of the same type of music—especially because I like it—but I know people who will complain.

Some might find the lack of variety in Bolta eimu boring, but for connoisseurs of the calm, melancholic melodies and Latgalian dialect this is a wonderful recording. As for me, it is a treat to have a whole CD devoted to Ozoliņa and “her” type of songs.


Bolta eimu

Biruta Ozoliņa

Upe Records,  1999

UPE CD 013

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