Happy days are here again

On the three-hour automobile trip to a Jāni celebration in mid-Wisconsin, our passengers included two twenty-something au pairs from Latvia. Figuring they might be starved for the latest music from back home, we took along a few newer compact discs: Prāta Vētra’s Starp divām saulēm, The Satellites’ Piens and, just for kicks, Guntars Račs’ retrospective Dienas. We thought these two young Latvian women especially would be eager to hear the latest Prāta Vētra recording. Nope. “Put in that Račs CD!,” they begged.

Even if you’ve never heard of Guntars Račs, if you’ve listened to popular Latvian music you most likely have heard his song lyrics. Does your CD or tape collection include anything by the group Bet Bet (which includes Račs)? Do you have something by the guitar rockers Līvi? How about something by Igo? Chances are you’ve heard one or more tunes penned by Račs.

Dienas pulls together 16 of Račs’ best-known songs from the past two decades. Most have been released earlier. Songs include:

  • “Diena,” performed by Račs himself in a new recording backed by the rest of the Bet Bet crew.
  • “Piedod man,” performed by the group Līvi from Liepāja. The track is taken from 1997’s Bailes par zinģēm.
  • “Vakara vējā,” performed by Bet Bet with lead vocals by Zigfrīds Muktupāvels.
  • “Tikai tā!,” performed by Liepājas brāļi.
  • “Vai ar to tev nepietiek,” performed by the pop-rock group Jauns Mēness, led by Ainars Mielavs. Recorded in 1988 when Račs was the drummer for the group.
  • “Es esmu vēl dzīvs,” also performed by Jauns Mēness and, like the song above, recorded in 1989 but not previously released.
  • “Vējs,” by the long-time group Zodiaks.
  • “Pūt, vējiņi,” also by Zodiaks.
  • “Ozolam,” another one by Līvi.
  • “Dzīve ir viena,” by Olga & Tango.
  • “Lietus,” by another long-time group, Credo.
  • “Bumerangs,” by Igo (Rodrigo Fomins), another singer from Liepāja whose career is just as notable as Račs’.
  • “Vētrasputns,” performed by Varavīksne.
  • “Romance,” performed by Neptūns and not previously released.
  • “Kapteinis,” performed by the jazz singer Laima Vaikule.
  • “Tā ir jānotiek,” performed by Zvaigžnu koris.

“Once about a hundred years ago,” music critic Klāss Vāvere writes in the liner notes, “some journal proclaimed Račs as the new hope of national poetry. Even though I never read poetry journals, I read his verses and concluded: here’s a sensible fellow.”

Reading the lyrics in Dienas (and the liner notes thankfully include them) we encounter simple thoughts wrapped in visions found in nature. For pop songs, it’s a wonderful formula. In the liner notes, Račs explains himself: “The wind blew me here from Liepāja and therefore it’s no wonder that my songs are about the wind, the setting sun and love… I am truly happy about all that is going on with me and around me at the great threshold of the millenium.”

Račs has good reason to be happy. He’s a successful pop song lyricist, he’s a successful drummer (usually performing for Bet Bet), and he’s the successful marketing director for Latvia’s top recording label, MICREC. Raitis Sametis, who produces the music e-zine Kieģelis, has tagged Račs one of the 10 most influential people in the Latvian pop-rock music scene, particularly for his efforts to make Latvian artists known outside of Latvia.

Račs also was honored during the Latvian recording industry’s “Gada Balva 98” awards ceremony in April when the song “Par to (raudāja māte)” was named the best schlager style song of last year. Račs wrote the lyrics and Raimonds Pauls the music. The tune perhaps is best recalled as the theme song for the 1998 film by director Jānis Streičs, Likteņdzirnas. We almost wish the song was on this album, if for no other reason than to offer a counterpoint to the generally fast-paced tunes.

As for the songs that do appear on the album, about the only one worth criticizing is “Diena.” The song itself is good, but the studio performance here is embellished by a couple of special effects that don’t add anything to the presentation and seem to be included only because digital technology allows them.

This one point aside, Dienas is a worthy addition to any collection of recorded Latvian music.



Guntars Račs

MICREC,  1999

Andris Straumanis is a special correspondent for and a co-founder of Latvians Online. From 2000–2012 he was editor of the website.

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