We lovers of traditional folk music, whether it’s Latvian, Bulgarian or Moroccan, often are constrained to listen to it with earphones or when we’re alone in the house or car. Otherwise, we have to deal with comments such as “Do you really have to listen to that right now? Can’t you put something else on? What is that noise, Mama? Why are they howling?”
That’s why I am happy to report that the newest compact disc from the men’s Latvian folklore group Vilki, Mans bērīt’s kumeliņš (My Dearest Bay Horse), should elicit no such comments from non-folk enthusiasts. I played the disc through at least three times with my kids in close vicinity and they didn’t complain in the least.
One reason could be that an all-male folk ensemble, which by nature stays in the lower tonal registers, is simply more pleasurable to listen to for an extended period of time, according to some. This would be as opposed to higher-pitched female voices, which after a while can seem grating and irritating, especially if the repertoire consists of many “calling” songs meant to be sung outdoors. (I myself love to sing such songs, but must admit that listening to recordings of them for more than half an hour becomes a tad tiring.)
I can say with conviction, however, that the songs on this disc are quite melodic, have an easy, rhythmic quality (probably due to the fact that they were originally sung while riding—whether off to war, in search of brides or working the fields). They are accompanied by unobtrusive and pleasant instrumental arrangements. None of the Vilki is a professional musicians, yet their 15-year history and practically unchanging membership has made for a very tight-sounding group with nary a technical slip.
It must be mentioned that the members of Vilki are not only singers and musicians. They are foremost a group of “traditional way-of-life devotees.” Their folk costumes are archaeological reconstructions handmade either by themselves or their wives. The same goes for their weapons, with which they hold mock battles and even go hunting. The Vilki and their families also celebrate traditional holidays and life events, such as weddings and baptisms, in the way of their ancestors as closely as can be reconstructed from written and oral histories.
The ancient tribes of Latvia depended heavily on their horses, which can be deduced from grave-site excavations rich with gear relating to horses, as well as the great number of folk songs praising the virtues of the horse. I recall hearing in a lecture given by the folklorist Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga (in her pre-presidential days) that in the Latvian folk song archives there are about 10 times more “male” songs revering “his” horse, than songs flattering “his” bride.
With such a rich trove of songs to chose from, Vilki has produced an album with a good variety of pieces in terms of mood: jovial (for example, riding to fetch a bride), contemplative (off to war) and even esoteric (glorification of mystical horse deities). The CD cover and insert include impressive photos of the group, an informative piece on the importance of horses to ancient Latvians, and a short biography of Vilki. Summaries in English also are provided. I would definitely recommend this disc to all those with an interest in traditional folk music, and even to people who may not be folk fanatics, but who simply appreciate national or ethnic music.
Man bērīt’s kumeliņš
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