ZeMe’s album fuses sounds of traditional kokle with modern technologies

Kokle prodigy Laima Jansone has long been at the forefront of popularizing the ancient stringed Latvian instrument, and has performed on multiple albums, including her own solo releases. DJ Monsta (Uldis Cīrulis) is also a well-known name in Latvian folk circles, as he has brought his DJing talent and skill with technology together with many folk performers, such as folk singer Biruta Ozoliņa.

Jansone and Monsta have joined together in the group ZeMe, which fuses the traditional sounds of the kokle with modern sounds and technologies, and the ensemble released their first album – Visuma Vizošā Tumsa (or The Glimmering Universe) in 2019. The mostly instrumental album collects ten songs that include elements of Latvian folk songs and folklore, presenting these melodies in new arrangements that combine both traditional and modern elements and sounds.

The album begins, appropriately, with the song ‘Saullēkts’ (or ‘Sunrise’), which is based on the sad but hopeful Latvian folk song ‘Gauži raud saulīte’. Jansone’s kokle presents this beautiful melody, while DJ Monsta’s sound effects and electronic sounds give the performance an immersive feel, creating an authentic early morning atmosphere. The duo is also joined by contrabassist Toms Poišs, who provides another facet to the layered textures of the ensemble’s sound. Poišs is featured again on the atmospheric ‘Miglas vāli’, where his contrabass has a kind of dialogue with Jansone’s kokle, to create a flowing and engrossing picture of mist rolling across a field.

The group also uses archival recordings as part of their arrangements, and this is used to great effect on the energetic ‘Bumbulēt!’, which features a recording of folk singer Karlīne Puraviņa made in 1968. The joyful and playful combination of the recording with the modern sounds of DJ Monsta creates a memorable meld of various eras.

Much of the album is dreamy and has elements of the mystical, such as ‘Es gulu, gulu’ which again finds inspiration in a sad but beautiful folk song about a girl who dreams her beloved is departing. DJ Monsta adds percussive effects, perhaps to imply the sound of a horse’s hooves, while Jansone’s ethereal kokle performance adds a mysterious element to this performance.

Themes of light and darkness reoccur throughout the album, such as on the cosmic ‘Visuma vizošā tumsa’, which portrays the billions of glimmering stars that are visible in the otherwise dark universe. DJ Monsta’s sound effects generate the sense of a journey throughout the cosmos, while Jansone’s shimmering kokle sounds are like tiny points of light, representing the stars. Similar themes are presented in the final song on the album, ‘Saules grieži (aka Sidrabiņa lietiņš lija)’, based on a folk song about the winter solstice. The pulsating rhythm provided by both Monsta and Jansone creates an effective portrayal of the shortest day of the year.

The electronic sounds of DJ Monsta and the traditional sounds of the kokle performed by Laima Jansone unite to make a layered, textured sound on ZeMe’s debut album Visuma Vizošā Tumsa. With both modern and ancient elements, the performances, inspired by Latvian folk songs and themes both cosmic and universal, provide for an absorbing listen, revealing how the kokle and Latvian folk songs can seamlessly be joined with modern sounds.

For further information, please visit the ZeMe website and the ZeMe Facebook page.

Visuma Vizošā Tumsa


Lauska CD088, 2019

Track listing:

  1. Saullēkts / Sunrise
  2. Bumbulēt!
  3. Miglas vāli / The Rolling Mist
  4. Veļu dziesma / The Song of the Ancestors
  5. Es gulu, gulu / I Saw in My Dream…
  6. Ūsiņš
  7. Koku čuksti /The Whispers of the Trees
  8. Visuma vizošā tumsa / The Glimmering Universe
  9. Urbānās dzīres / Urban Feast
  10. Saules grieži (aka Sidrabiņa lietiņš lija) / Solstice (aka Silver Rain)

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.

Dārdi album proves there is power in ancient Latvian folk songs

The post-folklore group Dārdi, an ensemble of eight musicians that offer both arrangements of Latvian folk songs as well as their own original songs, was formed in 2011, and released their first album – Stipri vārdi ­– in 2019. The title of the album, which means ‘Powerful words’, is meant to represent the strength that Latvians have found in their folk songs throughout the centuries, especially considering the often unhappy history of the Latvian people and nation. Through all the trials, Latvians kept singing and found strength and solace from their thousands of folk songs.

The word ‘powerful’ does not necessarily have to be interpreted as ‘loud’, or even ‘fast’, many of the songs on the album are actually quite reserved and quiet (though there are plenty of energetic and lively moments), especially considering that the group has eight musicians (of which seven are also vocalists). One example is the sparse arrangement of the song ‘Aiz Daugavas vara dārzi’, which is sung in an almost chanting way, underscored by a rhythmic cello performance.

The Latvian kokle is used to great effect in Dārdi’s performance of the song ‘Rāmi, rāmi’ (or ‘Calmly, calmly’). The repeated word ‘rāmi’ gives this interpretation a meditative atmosphere, as if repeating a mantra.

The percussive ‘Lai bij’ vārdi’, with its rhythmic, precise sound, combines vocal harmonies and percussion to create a hypnotic performance, almost like a song of conjuring. Many of the songs have elements from Latvian pagan mythology, such as ‘Sajāja bramaņi’, a song about a pagan priest ritual. The priests hang swords from a tree, perhaps as a request for a blessing.

The group also perform their own songs, inspired both by Latvian folklore, as well as world cultures. The song ‘Austošās saules dziesma’, with words by band member Aisma Valtera, uses a Native American text as its refrain. The song, which is about finding strength in the rising sun, reveals a deep spirituality and oneness with nature.

The album concludes with the appropriately dreamy ‘Šūpuļdziesma cilvēkam’, another original song with words by Valtera. The lullaby, with its delicate accompaniment of kokle and cello, provides for a lovely conclusion to this collection of songs of strength.

Stipri vārdi by Dārdi proves that there is still much power in ancient Latvian folk songs, power that flows through the songs and their words to the people of Latvia. Though the arrangements are at times sparse and the performances reserved, this brings the words of the folk songs to the forefront, revealing the strength and power behind them.

For more information, please visit the Dārdi Facebook page

Stipri vārdi


Lauska CD091, 2019

Track listing:

  1. Aiz Daugavas vara dārzi
  2. Lai bij’ vārdi
  3. Gauži raud saulīte
  4. Rāmi, rāmi
  5. Aiz upītes sētiņā
  6. Dziedati, meitas
  7. Sajāj tautas, sarīb zeme
  8. Tautumeita purvu brida
  9. Tumsā gāju vakarā
  10. Sajāja bramaņi
  11. Divi dienas mežā gāju
  12. Austošās saules dziesma
  13. Šūpuļdziesma cilvēkam

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.

New Latvian folksong album – great for sing-a-longs and teaching children

The Latvian folklore ensemble Tarkšķi, based out of Iecava, released an album for younger listeners entitled Sadziedam? in late 2020. Featuring the youngest members of the ensemble, the digital only album collects performances of children’s folk songs. The album includes such popular children’s songs as ‘Aiz kalniņa dūmi kūpa’, ‘Kur tad tu nu biji’ and ‘Kur tu teci’, among many others. The album also includes instrumental-only versions of the songs.

The songs were arranged by the ensemble’s director Kristīne Karele, and feature instruments such as the Latvian kokle, mandolin, violin, and others. The group includes children from 2 to 18 years of age.

The recording was made in the Lauska studio, with producer Kaspars Bārbals, and the American Latvian Association helped finance the recording.

The album can be heard via multiple streaming services.

For more information, please visit the Tarkšķi Facebook page

Track listing:

  1. Baltu pupu iestādīju
  2. Cielava, baltgalve
  3. Kur, pelīte, tu tecēji
  4. Mēs bijāmi trīs māsiņas
  5. Kur tad tu nu biji?
  6. Maza, maza meitenīte
  7. Kumeliņi, kumeliņi
  8. Adiet, bērni, ko adieti
  9. Dievs nolaida bumbul’ zemē
  10. Aiz kalniņa dūmi kūpa
  11. Aijā, žūžū
  12. Kur tu teci

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.