The illegal downloading of music has over the past couple of years become a problem even in Latvia, resulting in some in the recording industry blaming the online activity—coupled with piracy of compact discs and cassettes—for a substantial loss of income.
A few years ago, the problem seemed limited to high-priced imported recordings, but today even domestic recordings are transferred to the popular MP3 digital format and uploaded to servers to be shared with other music fans.
Fans of Latvian music who want to keep their downloading free and legal, choosing online sources that do not violate copyright, can find a small but expanding list of Web sites that provide full MP3s, not just short clips. As with many big-name artists, the most popular and commercially successful artists, such as Prāta Vētra, don’t make digital files available for free. (Some Prāta Vētra material can be found on the Apollo portal’s fee-based digital library, Fonotēka.)
But if you are searching for music from up-and-coming artists, or even those who might never make it big, quite a few sources are available if you know where to look. What follows is just a sampling.
Three of the broadest collections provide music from Latvia’s folk, electronica and underground or alternative artists.
The Basement, a site dedicated to providing a place for Latvian groups to publicize their music, has tracks available from nearly 90 artists and bands in MP3 and Windows Media formats. Some of the groups are relatively well known, such as Crowd and Nasty Smile, but most are groups with a tiny fan base.
Ansis Ataols Bērziņš unveiled the folklora.lv Web site in 1999. The site offers a rich catalog of Latvian folklore groups from throughout the country, providing short descriptions of their history and their music. In many cases, the descriptions are augmented with one or two recordings in MP3 format. Take note that these recordings often are not studio quality, but are taken from live performances, adding some charm to the sound. Visitors will find well-known groups such as Auļi and Laimas muzykanti, as well as many lesser-known ensembles.
TORNIS.lv, run by Jānis Daugavietis, offers an archive of MP3s from about 25 underground and alternative artists. To get to the digital archive, look for the “Mūzika” link in the navigation menu. The tracks are mostly from recordings made in the 1990s and thus provide a peek into Latvia’s recent music history. It’s no wonder, of course, given that the TORNIS project to assist the Latvian alternative music scene has been in existence since 1991. The Web site began in 1996.
The California-based technology news portal CNET in the music section of its Download.com site lists 15 artists from Latvia from whom MP3s are available. Among the most popular is the Rīga ska band Voiceks Voiska, which offers six tracks include “To nevar darīt šeit” and “Ludis mīl.” Music also is available from the “black metal” band Urskumug, the rapper Snowflake and other unknown artists.
A few complete albums can be found for free, too.
Musician Jānis Žilde in March made two of his albums available for download through the TVNET portal. He told the portal that his 2004 instrumental solo album, Stāvi, and his former group’s Satellites LV mostly instrumental EP recording Kind of Glue (2001) are being posted to the Internet to make a point: that legal Latvian music can reach fans without the need for recording companies. Žilde said he hoped other Latvian artists would follow his lead, but few—if any—have done so.
TORNIS.lv has produced several samplers of Latvian alternative music and one of those, Starteris I, is available entirely in digital format from the Web site. The album was released in 2000. The followup Starteris II was released in 2001 and had 21 tracks, 17 of which are available for download.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church in Latvia offers six albums for download, and not just of spiritual music. Included are such recordings as Māci man ticēt by the children’s ensemble Zvirbulīši and an album by the kokle ensemble from the P. Jurjāns Music School. The albums are in the site’s “Materials & Multimedia” section under the music category.
Many musical artists with their own Web sites offer visitors only samples of their music, but some make available complete tracks. The goal in many cases is to convince listeners to purchase a recording or to attend a concert.
The ever-popular composer Raimonds Pauls has a Web site featuring his biography and his compositions. In a section devoted to his songs, visitors will find a selection of 10 MP3s of some of his best-loved compositions, including “Anniņa vanniņā,” “Kūko kūko dzegūzīte” and “Viss nāk un aiziet.”
The Mundane, a group that has been relatively quiet since releasing its 2002 album Klaji meli, shows that it’s still active by providing three tracks for download: “Kas tāds” and studio and live versions of “Ar divām nepietiek.”
A number of bands outside of Latvia also provide full MP3s to entice listeners. The Chicago-based group Adam Zahl, which has released two albums, offers fans six musical tracks recorded live during the band’s July 2002 appearance in the Metro club, when it opened for Latvia’s Prāta Vētra. While the quality of the recordings is not the best, they may bring back memories for anyone who attended the concert. The U.S.- and Canada-based punk band Agrais pīrāgs offers three tracks from its debut album, Tic vai netic. And the Colorado country and folk dance band Denveras Jūrmalnieki often changes the selection of four MP3s available for download from its site.
Many more free and legal Latvian MP3s can be found on the Web. For example, Latvians Online has a MP3 catalog with full samples of some artists active outside of Latvia, such as the Latvian-British band Arvīds un Mūrsitēji.
All the music fan has to do is search.
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