It was late one Jāņi (or was it really early?) several years ago. The Latvian-Americans around the bonfire were beginning to dwindle, their steady offering of folk songs interrupted by longer and longer spells of silence. All at once, a group of Latvians from Latvia broke into a sloppy rendition of “Vecpiebalgas cūku māte,” a favorite song from the 1995 Alumīnija cūka album by the pop jokers Labvēlīgais Tips. I’ve always liked that song. It’s among the songs I wish the group had put on Tipa labākās dziesmas, released this past April.
Labvēlīgais Tips has managed to find an audience in Latvia that each year awaits April 1, when—in the spirit of the day—the group has released its new album. I suppose it’s only fitting that in this fifth year the group would offer a “best of” album. Surprisingly, Labvēlīgais Tips isn’t as well known among Latvians in North America. Perhaps it’s because the group has never toured Latvian colonies here. Perhaps it’s because the group is a post-1991 phenomenon, while some Latvians on this side of the Atlantic still only have memories of Jauns Mēness, Jumprava and Pērkons. Perhaps it’s because a certain amount of the group’s material takes a somewhat sardonic view of life in Latvia, often seeming like a “you had to be there” joke.
I suppose the same could be said of Čikāgas piecīši. A Latvian from Latvia might have difficulty understanding the cultural relevance of the piecīši. For us, it just makes sense because we’ve lived it.
And it’s that difference that makes Labvēlīgais Tips so welcome. The group performs songs that, even for someone not well-acquainted with daily life in Latvia, provide a window into the ironies of existence. Songs such as “Pumpa,” about a man’s troubles with a pimple on his rear end, are prima facie funny, but also are a sad commentary on life. The main character in the group’s songs often seems to be the schlemiel, in other words, you or me.
Western listeners might better understand a song such as “Mans brālis Čikāgā,” sung from the perspective of a Latvian in exile who laments not being in the homeland, but questioning whether it’s not all for the best, given conditions in Latvia today. The lyrics make one stop and think—and I wish Labvēlīgais Tips would perform more such songs.
All but three of the 17 songs on Tipa labākās dziesmas were originally heard on the four earlier albums, Alumīnija cūka (1995), Pilots Antons Šmits (1996), Pumpa (1997) and Tā, lūk, man iet (1998). Taken from Alumīnija cūka are “Alumīnija cūka,” “Džins ar toniku”, “Koki,” “Lodziņš” and the popular “Zivis.” From Pilots Antons Šmits we get “Omnibuss” and “Aija” (renamed from the original “Aijai”). From Pumpa come “Atlantīda,” “Mans brālis Čikāgā,” “Pumpa” and “Šī nav tā dziesma.” And from Tā, lūk, man iet there are “Desmitais tramvajs,” “Princese un Cūkuģīmis” and “Tā, lūk, man iet.” Three songs—“Tu saki Jā,” “Kas tā dara” and “Lai”—are new.
Musically, Labvēlīgais Tips seems at home in the pop genre, but floats easily into schlager, rock and a few other musical forms—whatever suits the mood. At the core of the group is Andris Freidenfelds, who also is known as a morning disc jockey on Radio SWH.
If you’re familiar with the originals, you’ll soon appreciate that the “best of” versions are not just lifted from old masters. Instead, these are new recordings, often adding new sounds or twists.
In an interview with the daily newspaper Neatkarīgā Rīta Avīze shortly after the album appeared, Elita Mīlgrāve, director of the MICREC record company, suggested that the popularity of Labvēlīgais Tips comes from the good-natured humor of their songs. She suggests that the songs don’t have a deep subtext, nor are they meant to be. One could argue, however, that Labvēlīgais Tips has struck a chord that resonates in listeners precisely because their songs sometimes don’t need much thought to understand. They are songs to which a listener could easily answer: “Ain’t that the truth!” But perhaps that’s over-analyzing Labvēlīgais Tips.
Tipa labākās dziesmas
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