If you’re Latvian and grew up in the United States or Canada, perhaps you can remember all the times people thought you said you speak Latin rather than Latvian. After all, everyone’s heard of Latin. It’s Latvian that’s the obscure language, right? It’s for all those times we wish we’d had an album like Odi Et Amo to serve as a comeback to our errant acquaintances. “Here,” you could have said. “Listen to this. It’s a bunch of Latvians singing in Latin. Just to confuse you even more.”
And that’s what Odi Et Amo is: a bunch of Latvians singing in Latin. But this is no ordinary bunch. Its producer, singer and musician Uģis Prauliņš working with the well-known and respected Rīga Dome Boys Choir.
The 13 tracks on this album take the choir, directed by Mārtiņš Klišāns, in a new direction. These aren’t the sweet and thoughtful compositions often performed by the choir. Rather, Prauliņš takes spiritual texts and with his musical arrangements moves the listener through a range of emotions, from reflection to anger, perhaps even to fear.
The album’s title track, “Odi Et Amo” (I Hate and Love), is taken from a short work by the Roman poet Gaius Valerius Catullus, who died about 50 years before the birth of Jesus Christ. The poem speaks of the conflict within one’s soul and sets the tone for the rest of the album:
Odi et amo, Quare id faciam, fortasse requiris.
Nescio, sed fieri sentio et exrucior.
(I hate and love. And if you ask me why,
I have no answer, but I discern, can feel,
my senses rooted in eternal torture.)
Three compositions on the album are based on verses from the Biblia Vulgata, the biblical translation by Eusebius Hieronymus, the Balkan-born linguist, scientist and philosopher who lived from about 340 to 450 and who at one point was headed down a path that could have seen him chosen pope.
It is one of these compositions, “Quare Fremuerunt Gentes,” that is the most surprising. The track begins with men’s voices intoning the title only to suddenly have the boys launch into a rap, accompanied by heavy, driving guitar and bass chords. The piece, based on Psalms 2 and 74, even has the boys screaming, something they probably couldn’t get away with in the Rīga Dome Church. Played loud, this track also is perhaps the most unsettling on the album … as art should be.
It is followed by the almost Enya-sounding homily “O Beata Trinitas,” a proper piece with which to settle one’s nerves.
In addition to the Biblia Vulgata, Prauliņš drew from other historical material, some by well-known literary or religious figures, some not. For example, “Ad Dianam” presents fragments from a work by English poet Thomas Campion (1567-1620), who used the character of Diana to praise Queen Elizabeth. “Pangue Lingua” comes from a hymn by 13th century theologian and philosopher St. Thomas Aquinas. And the “Chorus Novae Ierusalem” is from an Easter hymn, penned by Bishop Fulbert of Chartres, sung during the Crusades.
One favorite on this album is “Qui Creavit Coelum,” a song originating in the Nunnery of St. Mary in Chester about God’s creation of the world. As the choir sings the refrain, “Lully, lully, lu,” you almost have to smile, something that’s otherwise difficult given the seriousness of the rest of this album.
Besides the choir and Prauliņš, who provides narration and vocals as well as performing on keyboards, samplers, the kokle and the fiddle, a number of other musicians and vocalists helped out on this project. They include Armands Alksnis and Arnolds Kārklis on guitars, Arvīds Klišāns on French horn, and Aigars Godiņš, Edgars Janovs, Māra Kalniņa and Mārtiņš Klišāns on vocals. Kalnina, who also performed with the folk group Ilgi, was killed in an automobile accident in late August, just a few months after this album was released.
In conversations we’ve had with people who have listened to this album, it has been suggested that with the proper exposure, Odi Et Amo could raise Latvia’s stock in the music world. Certainly, the fact that it’s in Latin—and not Latvian—opens the album to a wider audience, at least intellectually. We have to agree that it’s worth the effort.
Odi Et Amo
Uģis Prauliņš and Rīga Dome Boys Choir
UPE Recording Co., 1999
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