Līgo, the latest compact disc in UPE Recording Co.‘s Latvian Folk Music Collection doesn’t sound like the Jāņi celebration I was at earlier this summer. Of course, the basic songs and the “līgo” refrains would have fit in. But this recording is more of an exercise in musical arrangement, more of an “art recording” by former Iļģi member Zane Šmite, Ilze Grunte and Mārtiņš Tauriņš.
Jāņi is the Latvian summer solstice celebration—the longest day and shortest night of the year—and “līgo” is the typical refrain of the summer solstice songs. “Līgo” means a type of swinging or swaying, also in the sense that in early summer everything in nature, as well as human activity, is “in full swing.” Jāņi tends to be a boisterous and exuberant celebration. But there is also a mystical side to Jāņi that often goes unnoticed: the quiet miracle of nature in full bloom and a yearning to become a part of it. It seems that this CD has tried to capture some of that mysticism, by way of modern arrangements of ancient folk tunes.
The CD begins with birds chirping and softly sung verses proclaiming that Jāņi is the holiest day of the year. This reverie is interrupted by a horn announcing the arrival of the loud neighbors and jāņabērni (Jāņi celebrators). The second and third songs are again quieter. Grunts and overtone singing make the fourth song, “Jāņu nakti nepazinu,” very masculine, almost macho. The next song, “Uz avotu līgot gāju,” has an easy-listening sound to it, while “Teku, teku” makes beautiful use of echoes. (Or is it a round? It’s hard to tell, but the result is entrancing.). Whispers and heavy breathing give “Sijāju uguni” a slightly disjointed sound. It is followed by an unruly version of the song-game “Dimdaru, damdaru.”
Līgo ends with one of my favorite Jāņi melodies. Against a background of static-like rain and with understandable tiredness in her voice—because it is a tradition to stay awake all night at Jāņi—the singer sings a farewell to Jānis, the namesake of the celebration, and tells him that everyone will be awaiting his return next year.
Mostly guitar, bass and nature sounds accompany the stylized songs of Līgo. If they are all, in fact, traditional melodies, then some of them are well hidden in the arrangements. As always in the Latvian Folk Music Collection, the liner notes provide the full text and translation for every song.
With nature at its fullest and all of the festivities taking place outdoors, Ive always felt like singing loudly at Jāņi. That’s why at first the mostly reserved manner of Līgo seems kind of out of place. That said, the CD does have that mystical feeling and is pleasant to listen to, although some may wonder whether it’s a bit too contemporary to be included in a collection of folk music.
Latviešu tautas mūzikas kolekcija
UPE Recording Co., 2003
UPE CD 047
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