Ethnographic ensemble Vabaļis records local wedding songs in Latgalian

Latvian ethnographic ensemble Vabaļis, from the Vabole parish in southeastern Latvia (in the Latgale region), for more than fifteen years has been recording and popularizing the songs and music from the area. The group has recorded four albums, the most recent of which, Aj, moseņa… was released at the end of 2022, and reveals the richness of the local wedding tradition songs in the collection of eleven songs, sung in the Latgalian language.

The included songs are not just wedding songs, but related activities as well. A Latvian wedding tradition is the apdziedāšanās – songs in a playful, teasing style, often sung about the bride and groom and their respective families. There is a rich history of these kinds of songs in the Vabole region and that was one of the inspirations for recording this album, according to folklore researcher Iveta Tāle, who provided detailed notes on the album and process in the CD booklet. The apdziedāšanās style is presented in the song simply entitled ‘Apdziedāšanās’, where, for nearly eight minutes, all the women singers sing verses to playfully tease the men (who then also have the chance to respond in a similarly humorous way).

The members of Vabaļis are older women, and perform the songs in an authentic manner, and most of the recordings are either a cappella or accompanied by accordion. As these singers have been singing and performing for decades, the performances are genuine and evoke the atmosphere of a traditional Latgalian wedding.

The essay by folklore researcher Iveta Tāle included in the CD booklet includes several fascinating details about the creation of the album. For it to be even more authentic, the ensemble’s director, Artūrs Uškāns (also the leader of the folklore group Laimas Muzykanti) searched through folklore archives to find songs from the Vabole region, which helped rejuvenate a number of these melodies. Still, the CD booklet does not include song specific notes or lyrics, which may make deciphering the songs difficult for those without an excellent command of Latgalian.

With their enthusiasm and energy, Vabaļis have once again revealed rarely heard wedding tradition songs that might otherwise have been forgotten. The group’s dedication to shine light on lesser-known songs from the Latgale region has been one of the goals of the ensemble (for example, Vabaļis’ previous album – Labi dzeivōt kolchozā! – focused on songs sung on Soviet era kolkhoz or communal farms in Latgale). Partly traditional wedding celebration songs, partly a historical document, Aj, mōseņa… is a valuable addition to the Latgalian cultural heritage.

For further information, please watch this YouTube video (in Latvian and Latgalian) about the creation of the album, as well as this article from LSM (in Latvian) regarding the album.

Aj, mōseņa…


Lauska CD101, 2022

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.

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