Retrospective CD provides satisfying overview of folk ensemble Kolibri

Kolibri atskatās

While other Latvian-American ensembles of the late 20th century performed popular and traditional tunes, Kolibri made its mark by performing Latvian folk songs, often with its own arrangements.

Though the ensemble has long since ceased active performance, it certainly has not been forgotten. A collection of Kolibri’s folk song arrangements and performances entitled Kolibri atskatās / Kolibri Reminisces was released in November 2009.

Formed in Boston in 1976 and most active through the 1980s, the ensemble made a name for itself with its professionalism, its unique arrangements of folk songs, and for raising the profile of Latvian music in not just the United States, but also worldwide. Kolibri made a number of appearances on American radio, articles about the ensemble appeared in the press, and it even performed at Carnegie Hall. Kolibri’s career, which included four albums, came to an end in the early 1990s.

The ensemble featured a number of distinguished Latvian-American composers. Some of the ensemble’s songs even became popular Latvian choir material. The best example is Anita Kuprisa’s arrangement of the folk song “Ģērbies saule, sudrabota,” which remains a staple of the Latvian choir music repertoire and frequently is heard in song festivals (and is a piece most all choir singers can sing by heart).

Other composers in the ensemble include brothers Mārtiņš and Pēteris Aldiņš, as well as Imants Mežaraups. The group also performed arrangements by noted composer Andrejs Jansons. A number of artists performed with the ensemble through its existence, including Līga Aldiņa, Juris Broks, Pamela Ambrose, Lalita Saliņa, Laura Padega-Zāmura, Pēteris Sils, Jānis Ozols and Ruta Dambis-Ruice.

What I particularly like about the arrangements on Kolibri atskatās / Kolibri Reminisces is that many of them are of folk songs that are heard less often, even obscure. Kolibri shines new light on these long-forgotten melodies. For example, the album opener, the Latgallian “Malni muni kumeleņi” (a song originally written down by composer Emils Melngailis), is a rousing tune with some beautiful kokles work arranged by Pēteris Aldiņš.

Kolibri’s use of flute and percussion give many of the songs an almost Renaissance music feel to them, such as on “Šūpļa dziesma” by Pēteris Aldiņš and “Tu māsiņa, es māsiņa” by Mežaraups.

It is also a treat to hear the original version of Kurprisa’s arrangement of “Ģērbies, saule, sudrabota.” The song also has a non-traditional beat—5/8—something not often encountered in Latvian folk songs!

Though most of the arrangements on this record are on the shorter side, there are a few “long form” works, for example the nearly 11-minute-long “Vedat mani dziedādami!,” which is actually an arrangement of multiple Latvian funeral songs.

The album closes with three different interpretations of the folk song “Sidrabiņa lietiņš lija,” by Pēteris Aldiņš, Kuprisa and Mārtiņš Aldiņš, respectively, with each composer offering their own unique interpretation of the winter solstice song.

In addition to the great music contained on the compact disc, there is also a wealth of information on the ensemble and the songs, in both Latvian and English. There are biographies of the group and its members, as well as some notes on each song, which are particularly interesting to read as they give an insight into the composition and arrangement process.

In the 1970s and 1980s, there was a rebirth of interest in Latvian folk song interpretations not just in Latvia, but also in the diaspora. One of the ensembles at the forefront of this movement was Kolibri. Kolibri atskatās is a particularly significant and enjoyable document of the period.

With the wealth of talent offered by members of the ensemble, it is actually not much of a surprise that they were able to make such great music together. Providing a fresh look at these ancient melodies, Kolibri made a name for itself as one of the definitive folk song interpreters in not just the United States, but worldwide. Taking its place among other Latvian folk song performers such as Iļģi and Skandinieki, Kolibri is one of the most important Latvian-American ensembles, and Kolibri atskatās is a particularly satisfying collection of the group’s arrangements, with many beautiful and memorable performances.


Kolibri atskatās / Kolibri Reminisces


Kultūras biedrība SPEKTRS,  2009

S 001

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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.

2 thoughts on “Retrospective CD provides satisfying overview of folk ensemble Kolibri

  1. I fondly remember the Kolibri performances in the 70s. To me Kolibri was as close to real Latvian folk music as I had heard. I immediately ordered the CD, great that it is available.

  2. These fine musicians did a great service not only for american latvians, but for latvians abroad as well! Good to know that these recordings have not been forgotten!

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