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.

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