Venerable Latvian drum and bagpipe ensemble Auļi have, for almost two decades now, entertained listeners with their powerful and energetic performances. Though mostly performing instrumental arrangements inspired by Latvian folk songs and folklore, the group often collaborates with vocalists to add an additional dimension to their already layered instrumentation.
Expanding the scope of their collaboration rather dramatically, Auļi released their sixth album – Senču balsis (or Voices of the Ancients) in 2019, which features a varied group of singers performing vocals in their own, native style. Guest vocalists include Batzorig Vaanchig from Mongolia, Kai Somby from Norway, Edgars Lipors from Latvia and Albin Paulus from Austria. Highlighting the distinctive vocal talents of each singer, Senču balsis proves to be one of the most diverse Auļi albums yet, displaying the various ways the human voice can be used to sing.
Batzorig Vaanchig performs in the khoomei or ‘throat singing’ style, and also writes his own songs, such as ‘Hunnu guren’, a war song about the Hun Empire. Vaanchig’s khoomei singing, which sounds like a deep growl, but still rhythmic and melodic, fused together with the driving drums and bagpipes of Auļi, creates, gives a cinematic quality to this song about the Hun army setting forth to conquer Asia. Vaanchig also lends his talents to ‘Chinggis Khaan’ (also known as Genghis Khan), an ode to the Mongolian ruler of the 13th century. This epic tale, which also features Vaanchig performing the morin khuur, a traditional Mongolian stringed instrument, creates a music tribute to the fearsome (and often brutal) conqueror.
As a somewhat jarring contrast to Mongolian throat singing, Albin Paulus, an accomplished yodeler, provides a rousing performance of the Austrian folksong ‘Almerlied Huidirdio’, a song about churning butter and then bringing it to market. The joyous song, which concludes on the positive note of making a lot of money at market, displays not just Paulus’ talents, but also the seamless flow between Auļi and this traditional Alpine vocal style. Paulus is also a songwriter, and one of his original works, the rapid and almost frenetic ‘Maijodler’, features him rapidly yodeling over the pulsating beat of Auļi.
Representing the Sami joik singing tradition, Kai Somby sings in a dramatic, wordless manner on songs like ‘Orbina’. Joiking is described as ‘an expression of a person’s feelings without words’, and this becomes clear on the weighty, fateful ‘Orbina’ (or ‘Orphan’), a traditional Sami joik, with the drums and bagpipes of Auļi accenting the tragic sadness of the performance. Somby also performs on the brief, yet expansive ‘Eallin’ (or ‘Life’), which, as the title indicates, is a joik about all the stages of a person’s life, from birth to old age. Though it has a subdued beginning, the sections of the joik are bridged with pounding, almost sudden interludes by Auļi.
The Latvian singing style is represented by Edgars Lipors, who is also known from his work with the men’s folk group Vilki. Lipors has spent most of his life immersed in Latvian folk songs and folklore, and his deep reverence and appreciation for the music can be heard on songs like ‘Bērītim, kumeļam’, a wedding song which also features all the other guest vocalists on the album, creating a memorable and fascinating pastiche of the varied singing styles. The incantation ‘Dzelzs vārdi’, a song about preparing for war, provides for a memorable conclusion to this collection.
The CD booklet has extensive details on not just all the guest singers but also notes on each individual’s singing styles as well. It also notes that Auļi journeyed to the homelands of all the vocalists, to ensure an authentic and immersive listening experience. Bringing together varied singing styles, with the drums and bagpipes of Auļi providing the foundation, Senču balsis creates a vivid musical journey.
For further information, please visit the Auļi website.
Lauska, CD090, 2019
- Bērītim, kumeļam
- Hunnu guren
- Almerlied Huidirdio
- Tēva bites
- Tavan Hasag
- Chinggis Khaan
- Dzelzs vārdi
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