Latvian American rock band Akacis’ remastered “Svešā malā” released

Latvian American rock band Akacis, who were active from the late 1970s to the early 1990s, combined many different styles (rock, pop, new wave, funk, ska, reggae, as well as Latvian elements) to create a distinctive sound that was entirely their own, and recorded many memorable songs. Though their active career ended decades ago, their contribution to Latvian music is still very fondly remembered by many, and Akacis, due to their musical and songwriting talent, not to mention their professional sound and production, could arguably be considered among the best Latvian rock bands of all time.

For many years, their music had limited availability. However, in the past few years, the band has been remastering all their albums and releasing them digitally. Though all of their albums are worth listening to, one album that is worth particular attention is actually their last album (under the Akacis name, they would release one further album in English under the name ‘Quags’) – Svešā malā. Originally released in 1991, but remastered in 2024, this double album contains a broad variety of songs recorded in the previous few years. This was also the time of the Latvian reawakening that portended Latvian independence in 1991, and many of the songs have themes of a longing for freedom and independence.

At the time, Akacis was a core trio of Gatis Gaujinieks (bass, vocals), Arnolds Kārklis (guitars, vocals) and Vidvuds Mednis (guitars, vocals), though many of the recordings are augmented and enhanced by Aivars Šmits (drums) and Dainis Romāns (saxophone).

One of Akacis’ many positives is their songwriting strength, as they have had many memorable original songs throughout their career. Svešā malā includes songs like the catchy and poppy ‘Varbūt rīt’, a song of longing for someone to return that became a major hit for the group Dāmu pops in Latvia, though the original Akacis version has more of a rockier edge and natural sound (not to mention a memorable saxophone solo by Romāns), as compared to the version recorded by Dāmu pops. Many of the songs on the album are also just vocals and guitar, and Akacis also thrives in this format, with songs like ‘Dzīve’, a moving and philosophical song with words by Elga Leja. As per the album’s liner notes, this turn towards acoustic ballads was the result of Vidvuds Mednis joining the group full time. The original songs on Svešā malā also show some experimentation, even progressive elements, such as on ‘Varavīksne’, which also displays the drum skills of Šmits (who, sadly, passed away in 2011).

Akacis was invited to Latvia to perform on multiple occasions, beginning in 1989, and, while there, they met and collaborated with many Latvian musicians. Perhaps their most fruitful collaboration was with the members of the group Zodiaks (particularly composer Jānis Lūsēns and vocalist Maija Lūsēna). One of the highlights of Svešā malā is ‘Līdz palodai’ (originally released on the Mikrofons 89 record in Latvia), one of the more beautiful songs Akacis has recorded. The tender song, with lyrics by Velta Sniķere, features both lovely vocals and mandolin work.

Beyond collaboration with Latvian artists, Akacis also recorded their own versions of several songs by Latvian artists. Svešā malā includes their version of ‘Zaļā dziesma’, one of the best-known songs by the rock band Pērkons (led by the late keyboardist and composer Juris Kulakovs). Stripped down to just vocals and guitar, the song, a celebration of Latvian nature, loses none of the power of the version by Pērkons (sung powerfully by Ieva Akurātere), and perhaps even gains new facets in this arrangement. Akacis also arranged an English version of songs by Jumprava, Zodiaks, and Opus Pro together in the pastiche ‘Under Two Flags/Freedom for Baltija’, which also powerfully intersperses recordings of President George H. W. Bush and Baltic leaders condemning the atrocities being committed by Soviet forces in the Baltic States in January 1991.

Another powerful moment on the album is their arrangement of the tragic, yet beautiful Latvian folksong ‘Kad pārnāksi, bāleliņ’ – a song about the long wait for a boy to return home from war. An ominous, pounding bass guitar provides a stark introduction and foundation for the arrangement, which is then punctuated by guitars and saxophone to provide a modern interpretation of this timeless song, which, even today, remains relevant as a heartbreaking reminder of the toll of war.

Perhaps the only weak moment on the album is the closing track, titled ‘Paldies’, where, as its title indicates, the band gives thanks to its listeners and others, but the song is sped up, so the spoken words are near incomprehensible (which probably is the point of the joke). This may have worked better as an instrumental (and at the actual speed).

Svešā malā, though perhaps ostensibly a disparate collection of songs rather than a proper album, is still a cohesive and engrossing collection, with its themes of Latvian independence and Latvian spirit woven throughout, and is an enduring testament to the talents of the members of Akacis. Combining original songs, cover songs, live recordings, and collaborations, the album shows a band at the peak of its creative and musical powers, and is still an absorbing listen, more than three decades after it was originally released.

For further information, please visit the Akacis Bandcamp site.

Svešā malā

Akacis

Plate Records, 1991

1.  Svešā malā

2.  Viss ir mainījies

3. Pūt vējiņi

4. Dzīve

5. Varavīksne

6. Esība

7. Zaļā dziesma

8. Independence

9. Laiks

10. Kad pārnāksi, bālēliņ

11. Under Two Flags/Freedom for Baltija

12. Arī šajā zemē dzīvot var

13. Varbūt rīt

14. Līdz palodai

15. Nesaki vārdu rūgtu

16. Vīrs ar suni

17. Jasmīnu tēja

18. Nenāk miegs

19. Saulei jālec rīt

20. Paldies

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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *