New release features Latvian folk songs with a twist


Folk singer and kokle player Biruta Ozoliņa has always pushed the boundaries of Latvian folk music.

One of the early members of the ensemble Iļgi, to her first album Bolta eimu in 1999 (performances of Latgallian folk songs featuring just voice and kokle – were one of the definitive Latvian folk albums), then to the almost new age Sirdsgrieži in 2002, the jazz folk of Patina in 2006, Ozoliņa has experimented with various interpretations of Latvian folksongs.

These experiments continue with the 2013 release of Sauli sēju, a collaborative effort with DJ Monsta (Uldis Cīrulis) where Ozoliņa sings and plays the kokle, while DJ Monsta provides drum programming, synthesizers and scratch to make a stylish and unique synthesis of the ancient Latvian folk songs and modern music technology.

Joining the two musicians on the record are Toms Poišs on bass, Mikus Čavarts on percussion, Jānis Pauls on cello, and Zane Estere Gruntmane on violin.

Though Ozoliņa has mainly performed songs from the Latgale region of Latvia, this CD contains not just songs from Latgale, but from the Kurzeme region as well. In fact, the CD booklet provides not just the texts of the songs, but which area the song is from.

Though some may bristle at the thought of adding programmed beats and scratches to Latvian folk songs, the combination is not as jarring as one might think. In fact, the electronic effects do not seem to overwhelm Ozoliņa’s kokle and voice, which remain always in the forefront. This interplay is particularly evident on closing track ‘Aiz upītes es izaugu’, where the percussive effects provide a unique rhythm. In fact, the song starts out very traditionally, with just kokle and vocals, so there is plenty on this album for the folklore purist to enjoy!

Also interesting is the fact that Ozoliņa sings many verses of these folk songs. Where some may be used to normally only singing a handful of verses, in songs like ‘Kur tu īsi buoleleņi’, there are more than a dozen, making for a lyrically dense performance of this folk song.

There are also some New age-type moments on the album as well, particularly the ethereal beginning to ‘Rudzu bolss’, featuring the cello by Pauls and violin by Gruntmane, as it builds into a crescendo with Ozoliņa’s normally fragile voice adding power and strength as the song progresses as DJ Monsta’s scratches become louder and more pronounced, then returning to the calm serenity of the opening.

‘Garā pupa’, an entirely instrumental track, features a guest appearance by kokle prodigy Laima Jansone. Though without vocals, this is one of the more melodic tracks on the CD, with Jansone’s kokle wizardry making for a memorable performance.

‘Ej gulēt vēja māt’ features just Ozoliņa’s vocals and simulated wind sounds. The arrangement, which changes from minor to major and back again, makes for a unique rendition of this prayer for the Wind Mother to stop the blowing wind.

Biruta Ozoliņa and DJ Monsta reveal unexpected and unforeseen aspects of Latvian folk songs on Sauli sēju, proving that the ancient and the modern can still go together quite effectively and musically. This collaboration has created one of the more unique Latvian folk music albums to be released in recent memory, and one can safely say that this ‘experiment’ has proven to be successful.

Artists website:


Biruta Ozoliņa un DJ Monsta

LikeISaid Agency,  2013

Track listing:

1. Kur tu īsi buoleleņi

2. Rudzu bolss

3. Gūteņ munu

4. Še lozdu kryumeņi

5. Sīna bolss I

6. Sīna bolss II

7. Garā pupa

8. Nerāj māmiņa vakarā meitas

9. Ej gulēt vēja māt

10. Man sajāja rāmas tautas

11. Ej projām ledutiņu

12. Aiz upītes es izaugu

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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