Latvian folk songs about Soviet life on the ‘kolhozs’

Throughout the centuries, Latvians have had to endure many hardships and suffering. As perhaps a kind of a ‘coping mechanism’, Latvians turned to singing to help get them through difficult times. It is no surprise then, that so many Latvian folk songs are about war, orphans, sadness, not to mention hard work.

The era of Soviet occupation is one of many bleak chapters in Latvian history, and one of the difficulties endured by the Latvian people during that era was the collectivization of agriculture. The work on the kolhozs was difficult, the pay meagre, but, as throughout history, the Latvians endured and even found musical inspiration of sorts from this, and songs about working on a kolhozs appeared.

As the Soviet era (and collective farms) are long gone, to ensure that a record remained of these songs, the ethnographic ensemble Vabaļis, from the city of Daugavpils, recorded a number of these songs that were sung in the Latgale region of Latvia. The album, entitled Labi dzeivõt kolchozā! was released in 2018.

Vabaļis, founded in 2006, is led by Iveta Sprinda, and one of the goals in their performances and recordings is to present traditional local music and lesser known, if not forgotten songs, from the Latgale region. Labi dzeivot kolchozā! is their third album, having previously released  Pa celeņu… in 2013, which was an album of traditional songs from the Vabole region in Latgale, as well as Lobais reits in 2014, a collection of Catholic songs sung in Latgallian homes.

Many of the songs are rich in irony, such as the title song, where the group sings ‘Labi dzīvot kolhozā, te neviens mūs netraucē’ (Life is good on the collective farm, nobody bothers us here!) Some of the songs use well-known Latvian folk music melodies, but with new texts, such as ‘Ryndā dzymu’, which uses the melody of the folk song ‘Dziedot dzimu’, but instead of being ‘born singing’ as in the folk song, Vabaļis sings about being ‘born in line, growing up in line’.

The spirited ‘Sasatiksim dabasūs’ references both Khrushchev and the first female cosmonaut, Valentina Tereshkova. Further archaic references are in the song ‘Žyguļi’, a song about the ubiquitous Soviet era car, as the ladies sing about blaming the car being ‘at fault for everything’. Generational differences are presented in a humorous way in ‘Jaunim dzert un uzdzīdōt’.

The performances are also authentic – after a day of labor at the collective farm, the women gather to sing songs together, and this recording captures that energetic atmosphere. However, since the songs are mainly sung in unison, with occasional accordion accompaniment, this may not be to the taste of all listeners. Additionally, the record works best as a kind of historical document, a glimpse of an era that, today, can be difficult to imagine.

The CD booklet provides for an interesting overview of the project itself, as well as a bit about the history of collective farms in Latvia, with notes from folklorist Artūrs Uškāns and historian Dr. Toms Ķencis in both Latvian and English. Unfortunately, though, the booklet does not contain the lyrics to the songs – the lyrics (as well as song explanations and interpretations) would have been helpful, as not all listeners may understand the Latgallian dialect.

As far as music niches go, kolhozs songs sung in the Latgallian dialect is probably one of the smallest and most obscure. However, all the better that Vabaļis have brought these songs to light (and the folk label Lauska gave them an opportunity to record and release them), as many listeners might not even be aware that songs like these even existed. That they do exist, and that Vabaļis gathered them on Labi dzeivõt kolchozā! provides for a fascinating glimpse as to what life was like on a Latvian collective farm, and how Latvians found humor and inspiration to sing even under these circumstances. Vabaļis continue to reveal the broad variety of songs sung in Latgale throughout history.

For further information, please visit the Lauska Vabaļis page.

Labi dzeivõt kolchozā!


Lauska, LAUSKA CD082, 2018

Track listing

  1. Labi dzeivōt kolchozā
  2. Ak, dzeive
  3. Dzer, bōb, nabādoj
  4. Ryndā dzymu
  5. Kolchozā beja
  6. Sasatiksim dabasūs (kosmonauti)
  • Ganeņ, pyut stabuli
  • Laime i cereibu zīdi
  • Cukrabītai gryuta dzeive
  • Labi dzeivōt Vabalie (Ai, Zuzanna)

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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