“Latvians Abroad” Museum – Collection, Outreach, Accreditation

The Museum “Latvians Abroad” (“Latvieši pasaulē” or LaPa, for short) is the only institution in the world that is entirely devoted to compiling and exhibiting the activities of Latvians around the globe. Last year the Museum Board set the goal of gaining state accreditation from the Latvian Ministry of Culture, because accreditation will add the Museum’s collection to Latvian cultural heritage, thus ensuring its long-term viability and availability, and open up more government support.

We are happy to report that during 2019  the Museum  has moved significantly closer to that goal. Thanks to donations from members of the diaspora and in Latvia as well as some support from the Latvian government, the Museum Board was able to hire a full-time collections manager. She has started a systematic, detailed and extensive description of the more than 8000 units in the collection, according to the rules for accredited Latvian museums. But the task is huge, and we have realized that in order to bring the collection in compliance with all the elaborate rules for accreditation, we will need to hire another collections staff member in 2020.

The work with accreditation is only one aspect of the activities of the “Latvians Abroad” Museum last year. The major new undertaking for the year has been the Exhibit and Escape room Refugee Paths about the experiences of refugees as they fled Latvia during the waning days of World War II. It is open to all interested persons in groups of up to 7 and has become one of the most popular programs for secondary school field trips in Latvia. Come visit us! You can set up a date by calling +371 2657 2789 or writing to lapainfo@gmail.com.

The three exhibits that Museum staff and associated experts created for Latvia’s centennial last year have continued to be available to the public in various venues. The hugely popular Story Quilt can now be viewed online. It was also exhibited at Sēļu Mansion in Vidzeme during the summer.  The multimedia exhibit I, too, am a Latvian, was exhibited in Liepāja and Vidzeme University in Valmiera. The travelling exhibit Song Festivals Outside Latvia  was exhibited in the Song Festivals in Ireland and Canada, as well as at six venues in Latvia. Our Museum’s materials form a part of and can still be viewed at the joint centenary exhibit at the Latvian National History Museum.  In addition, some materials are also deposited to other memory institutions in Latvia and abroad and can be viewed in their exhibits.

Every month we show an Object of the Month with its story and the wider context in the Latvian National Library atrium.

To reach out in a more personal way to people interested in diaspora history and questions, we held four Fall LaPa Outreach and Discussion Evenings on topics of interest to the Museum and the diaspora.

During field work in Norway we collected new, valuable materials for the Museum, including objects and stories from recent emigrants from Latvia. We receive new and valuable historic items every day that attest to the activities of Latvians abroad during various periods in history. Last year the Museum accepted 1682 new items, for a total of more than 8000.

All this has been accomplished with very modest financing and a small staff.

For the next year the museum’s goals are:

  • to finish processing the collection for accreditation,
  • to continue our outreach and work with schools; and
  • to build a major exhibition about emigre anti-Soviet activities, Nyet, Nyet Soviet, to be shown at the Railroad Museum in the summer of 2020.

Even though the Museum has made great strides in bringing the collection in compliance with prescribed norms and fulfilling the other obligations for accreditation, it has become obvious to us that the job is too huge for one person alone. Therefore, the Museum is having a fundraising campaign to raise $20,000 in order to hire another collections staff member in 2020. We are happy that a supporter has offered to donate $5000, but only if the Museum raises another $15,000 by Dec. 31, 2019.

Donations to the Museum can be made in several ways:

From Latvia and elsewhere:  Electronic funds transfer to the museum’s bank account (please indicate the name, address and email of the donor):
“Latvieši pasaulē – muzejs un pētniecības centrs”
Swedbank account nr. LV15HABA0551018556914,
Registration nr. 40008119789

Via credit card, follow instructions on the Museum’s webpage.

US residents can receive a tax break for their donations. Write checks out to:

Latvian Diaspora Museum Fund, c/o M. Voldins, 131 Langdon St, Newton, MA 02458, USA

Canadian residents can receive a tax break for donations through the Daugavas Vanagi Kanāda, noting that the donation is meant for “LaPa Muzejs”. Cheques can be made out to the “Latvian Relief Society of Canada – Daugavas Vanagi”.

Postal address:  Ms. Gunta Reynolds, Daugavas Vanagi Kanādā, 4 Credit Union Drive, Toronto, ON M4A 2N8  

Percussion ensemble Kanisaifa melds Latvian folk songs and world music elements

Latvian percussionist Nils Īle has, for decades, been working with and investigating world drumming techniques and sounds. He has traveled all over world, from Africa to Asia and throughout Europe, gathering knowledge and musical experience. He also has founded a drumming studio, which is, according to his website, a “place where both seasoned musicians and the musically curious can come to learn about rhythmic composition”.

That creative atmosphere at Īle’s studio led to the foundation of the ensemble Afroambient in 2001, considered to be the first such ethno-percussion ensemble in Latvia. Over time, the ensemble evolved, and adopted a new name – Kanisaifa – a name that Īle says came to him in a dream. The group released their first album – Atdzīvinot vēju (Or ‘Reviving the Wind’) in 2018. The album mixes percussion together with Latvian folk songs and world music elements.

Much of the album has an atmospheric and dreamy quality to it, such as in the introductory track, appropriately called ‘Sākums’ (or ‘Beginning’), an instrumental work that combines percussion, stringed instruments, sound effects and a wordless vocalization. Using various instruments and sounds, over the course of the track’s eleven minutes, the ensemble creates a multi-layered musical painting.

The mystical ‘Melni vērši’ is based on a Latvian folk song, and Kanisaifa’s performance of this song is particularly memorable, as their percussion-heavy interpretation brings out the otherworldly elements of this song about what appear to be black bulls swimming in the water, but are actually horses with silver bridles.

There are quite a few Middle Eastern elements throughout the album, such as on the hypnotic ‘Vilku deja’ and the passionate ‘Ja dust’. Both songs feature guest musician and vocalist Hamidreza Rahbaralam from Iran, who some will know from his work with the instrumental ensemble Dagamba. Rahbaralam’s vocals and percussion add an additional dimension to these songs, enhancing the world music elements even further.

The record concludes with the – as the group call it – ‘intuitive improvisation’ ‘Atdzīvinot vēju’. As it is an improvisation, the work has a formless, meandering quality to it, but, at almost eighteen minutes in length, some listeners may find it a bit hard to follow. Particularly the last five minutes, which are almost entirely just the sounds of a vargan (or Jew’s harp), a single pitched instrument. Though this gives this performance an ethereal quality, it goes on a bit longer than might be necessary.

Nils Īle and the members of Kanisaifa have brought together not just their musical talents, but a wide variety of percussive instruments (more than a dozen different percussive instruments are listed in the credits) to create a broad sonic palette that is woven throughout Atdzīvinot vēju. Though there is an abundance of percussion, the performances are never noisy or overpowering – quite the opposite, using these drums and other instruments, the group has put together a meditative, melodious and immersive record.

For further information, please visit the Kanisaifa website and the Nils Īle Studio website.

Atdzīvinot vēju


NABA Music / Melo Records, 2018

Track listing

  1. Sākums
  2. Melni vērši
  3. Vilku deja
  4. Kalnos jau snieg
  5. Piesaukšana
  6. Sabāra
  7. Senegāla
  8. Princes ar pērtiķi
  9. Ja dust
  10. Atdzīvinot vēju

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.

Compositions by Kalniņš released as part of Latvian Centenary collection

Latvian composer Imants Kalniņš, throughout his long career, has composed many beloved songs and melodies. Though perhaps slightly better known for his popular songs, performed by groups like Menuets and Turaidas roze, many of his symphonic works have had enduring appeal and remain in the public consciousness. His 4th symphony, with its rock inspired rhythms and arrangement, has long been a defining work in Latvian academic music.

Beyond his 4th symphony, Kalniņš has composed many noteworthy and memorable symphonic works. Recognizing this, the Liepāja Symphony Orchestra, along with conductor Atvars Lakstīgala, as well as guest conductor Māris Sirmais, recorded a number of Kalniņš’ orchestral works, both past and recent compositions. The two disc collection, simply entitled Imants Kalniņš, was released in 2018 by the Latvian national music label Skani as part of their Latvian Centenary collection. The album includes Kalniņš’ 5th and 7th symphonies, his Oboe Concerto, and the orchestral work entitled ‘Santa Cruz’.

‘Santa Cruz’, conducted by Māris Sirmais, was composed in 2015 and includes many of the elements that have endeared Kalniņš to many listeners. This brief orchestra miniature, with its gently flowing melody in the sounds of the plucked strings, manifests a musical landscape with picturesque scenery.

Kalniņš has also composed for theater and film, and many of the dramatic elements from those mediums can be heard in his 5th symphony, composed in 1979. The first movement is full of tension, with the strings in constant motion, and then this tension transitions to a slower, more ominous theme, before the agitation returns towards the end, with pointed horn bursts to accentuate the drama. The work comes to a harmonious end in the fourth movement, with expands to a triumphant, celebratory theme, punctuated with cymbal crashes and a percussive rhythm, and then a slow fade continues all the way to the end of the work, and the somber melody dissipates into silence. Conductor Lakstīgala accentuates the dramatic in this work to great effect, creating a truly cinematic interpretation of Kalniņš’ composition.

The Oboe concerto, composed in 2012, is one of Kalniņš more playful and joyful works. This performance features oboist Pēteris Endzelis, and his adept and vivid interpretation results in a memorable rendition of this composition. The first movement, with its almost dainty melody, presents a mystical song of conjuring, which may remind some of Kalniņš’ popular music, which often had mystical and mythological lyrical themes. The calm and hopeful beginning of the second movement gives way to Kalniņš’ trademark undulating strings, setting the stage for the dance that begins the final movement, which ends on a reassuringly hopeful note.

Kalniņš’ most recent symphony, his seventh, was composed in 2015, has sentimental and nostalgic elements. Pastoral elements fill the first movement, perhaps suggesting a rural landscape of childhood. However, there are still elements of foreboding throughout the work, as things reach a climax in the third movement, where elements of conflict appear in the horns and percussion, almost like an alarm. The military-like beginning of the final movement, with its deliberate rhythm and relentless advance, continues with clocklike precision with the help of Sirmais’ exact conducting.

Imants Kalniņš, for many decades, has been a leading and defining figure in Latvian music. His signature style can be heard throughout the performances on this album, and are given vivid textures and rich colors, aided by the Liepāja Symphony Orchestra and conductors Atvars Lakstīgala and Māris Sirmais. These recordings display Kalniņš’ acute sense of melody and dramatic abilities, and provide for an engrossing and enjoyable journey through Imants Kalniņš’ symphonic works.

For more information, please visit the Skani website and Liepāja Symphony Orchestra website.

Imants Kalniņš

Liepāja Symphony Orchestra

Skani 067, 2018

Track listing

CD 1

1. Santa Cruz (2015)

Symphony No. 5 (1979)

2. Allegro appassionata

3. Sostenuto dolce

4. Allegretto festivo

5. Largo con grazia

CD 2

Oboe Concerto (2012)

1. ♩= 120

2. ♩ = 60

3. ♩.= 80

Symphony No. 7 (2015)

4. Allegro

5. Andante

6. Allegro

7. Grave

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.