Joyful songs by ensemble create historic Vidzeme tavern atmosphere

Among the many folklorists who went on ‘expeditions’ around Latvia to gather and write down local songs and dances (since many were passed down over generations orally), a slightly less familiar name is Voldemārs Stelbergs. Stelbergs travelled throughout the Vidzeme region of Latvia in the early 20th century and wrote down more than 1300 melodies and songs throughout his journeys.

Folklorist and musician Inese Roze, when researching music of her native Vidzeme, encountered the collection of Stelbergs’ notes in the Latvian folklore archive, and decided to bring together a number of musicians to record an album of songs and melodies from the Stelbergs collection. Along with the ensemble Drabešu muižas muzikanti, with support from the “KasTe” society (dedicated to traditional cultural initiatives), they released the album Kad mana sieva piedzērus’ in 2020.

Many of the songs collected by Stelbergs’ are dance songs or drinking songs as well as humorous and good-natured tunes to be enjoyed over a mug or two of beer. The ensemble also recorded the album using traditional instruments, to create an authentic re-creation of an evening in a tavern in Vidzeme in the first half of the 20th century.

There are a number of instrumentals, some with no name beyond ‘Polka Nr. 25’ or ‘Polka Nr. 49’, but the instrumentals are performed enthusiastically and energetically, appropriate for a boisterous evening of dancing, particularly the bouncy dance ‘Rucelis’.

Themes of life and death and suffering are humorously presented in ‘Dažs tēviņš šinī pasaulē’, about how some eat and drink well while others suffer and await death, and a note about how Heaven waits for some while Satan waits for others. Though these are seemingly weighty themes, the ensemble’s performance of the song is upbeat and lively.

The positivity that is woven throughout the album is evident in many of the songs, such as ‘Šai goda dienā’, a song of well-wishing. The singers wish not just happiness and health, but as the song progresses, it becomes more humorous with wishes like peas the size of apples, as well as beautifully curved cucumbers.

Many of the songs have little in the way of lyrics, just repeating a phrase a few times. For example, ‘Dziesma ar dziedāšanu’ (or ‘Kad mana sieva piedzērus’’), where a man sings multiple times about how, when his wife is drunk, he ties her up in a sack. Though certainly meant in a lighthearted and humorous way, a modern perspective on the song likely interprets this as misogynistic. It is also a curious artistic choice to give the album the title ‘When my Wife is Drunk’, an alternative title may have worked better.

The CD booklet has extensive notes on each song, including the lyrics and English translations, and notes on where and when the song was written down. There is also a detailed biography of Voldemārs Stelbergs and notes on his travels by musicologist Lauma Bērza.

On Kad mana sieva piedzērus’, Drabešu muižas muzikanti display the rich results of Voldemārs Stelbergs folklore expeditions, and the vivacious and exuberant performances reveal songs of joy and happiness. These songs may not be familiar to many listeners, but the ensemble, with their authentic and spirited performances, has done a commendable job of restoring these songs to the Latvian folklore repertoire.

For further information, please visit the Lauska Drabešu muižas muzikanti information page

Kad mana sieva piedzērus’

Drabešu muižas muzikanti

Biedrība “Tradicionālās kultūras iniciatīvu centrs “KasTe””, 2020

Track listing

  1. Es gāj’ pa puķu puķītēm
  2. Palkavnieka valsis
  3. Polka Nr. 25
  4. Polka Nr. 49
  5. Pasvilpo, vālodzīt
  6. Deja “Rucelis”
  7. Trīcēja, skanēja mežiņa malā
  8. Šai goda dienā
  9. Polka Nr. 23
  10. Grib tai glāzei diben’ redzēt
  11. Deja ar dziedāšanu / Kad mana sieva piedzērus’/
  12. Lecampolka
  13. Rātes stabs
  14. Vai dieniņ, kas par brīnumiem
  15. Reiz satik’ vienu meitiņu
  16. Rikšiem bērīt’ es palaidu

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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