Skandinieki CD features wedding songs from the Sēlija region

The traditional Latvian folk ensemble Skandinieki has a long and rich history. Founded in 1976, for more than forty years the group has been playing and singing not just Latvian folk songs, but also Liv folk songs – the Stalts family, the core of Skandinieki for its entire existence, are of Liv descent. Today, Skandinieki is led by Julgī Stalte.

Their most recent recording is of wedding songs from the Selonia (Sēlija) region of Latvia (today, the eastern section of the Zemgale administrative district, around the city of Jēkabpils). Though the Selonian language may have died out, the songs have not, and, recognizing the cultural wealth from that area, Skandinieki released the album Kāzas sēļu zemēs in 2018. The songs on the album are arranged somewhat chronologically – from songs about the couples meeting, then the wedding itself, and then concluding with songs about the wedding night.

A lot of work was put into reproducing the Selonian dialect, and the group enlisted the help of linguist Maija Poiša to make the recordings as authentic as possible. There are some comments from Poiša in the CD booklet about this challenge. Reproducing Selonian was particularly difficult, as this comparatively rarely spoken dialect had, depending on which town you were in, different pronunciations for different words.

There is a touch of the mystical in the song ‘Àiz upeites’, a young girl’s song about her journey across a river – a symbolic travel that leaves her past on one side (her family remains crying on one side) and her future awaits on the other side. Accompanied by the kokle, the women of Skandinieki provide an enchanting performance of this song about a young girl coming of age. The men of Skandinieki follow that up with the lively ‘Ogri müni goíļi dziéd(i)’, a story of sailors travelling to Prussian lands to find brides.

An important part of any Latvian wedding is mičošana, or traditions and rituals performed late in the evening to celebrate the union of the pair. ‘Mi:čuošänas dziésma’ is about this ritual, and includes wisdom from the older, married women, and also mentions the symbolic change of the bride’s headwear – from the unmarried girl’s vainags (crown) to the married woman’s galvas rota (head ornament).

There are more mystical elements in the vigorous ‘Nätìšām(i) as ìegàju’, a prayer to the Latvian goddess Laima to bless the marriage and protect the newly married couple, and the album concludes with the quiet, single-voiced ‘Gulāt ìrbe, gulāt sluóka’, the song of the grandmother as she leads the newlyweds to their bed.

As with many releases from the Lauska record label, the CD booklet is full of information about the songs and the performers. Each song features notes for the melody, as well as a brief explanation of the song in Latvian and English. There are also Selonian folk beliefs, such as the belief from the town of Birzgale, where if the bride and groom have similar noses, they will be a good match for each other.

Besides being a well performed and enjoyable listen, Kāzas sēļu zemēs is also a valuable folklore document, as comparatively little from the Selonia region has been recorded or released. Though the region is small, it still has a great wealth of folklore and folk songs, and, on Kāzas sēļu zemēs, Skandinieki have provided authentic and engaging performances of these wedding songs.

For more information, please visit the Skandinieki Facebook page.

Kāzas sēļu zemēs

Skandinieki

Lauska, CD077, 2018

Track listing:

    1. Àiz upeites
    2. Ogri müni goíļi dziéd(i)
    3. So:rkonais duábùeliņč
    4. Ķìrveleíc
    5. Iétan mu:n goàjējam
    6. Ziéduošana
    7. Kùodeļa spreslìca
    8. Jaúnas mäítas
    9. Malni vērši, bòlti rogi
    10. Mi:čuošänas dziésma
    11. Nätìšām(i) as ìegàju
    12. Pùra dancs
    13. Gùoda dziésma
    14. Valberģu polka
    15. Sēlpils bukurags
    16. Àisskrējä vanädzìņč
    17. Treís mäítiņ’s doàrzā
    18. Gulāt ìrbe, gulāt sluóka

Egils Kaljo is an American-born Latvian from the New York area who lives in Rīga, Latvia. When not working in the information technology field, he sings in the Latvian Academy of Culture mixed choir Sõla, does occasional translation work, and has been known to sing and play guitar at the Folkklubs Ala Pagrabs in Old Rīga. 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.

“Mielavs un taurētāji” features new interpretations of Mielavs’ work

Singer and songwriter Ainars Mielavs, through his work with the band Jauns mēness, as well as through his solo career, has become one of the most recognisable talents in Latvia. For more than 30 years now his songs have been an integral part of Latvian popular music.

With this kind of experience, Mielavs has a certain amount of artistic freedom to pursue and investigate different aspects and interpretations of his songs. One recent, perhaps unusual, choice that he has made is to create new musical arrangements of his songs – this time backed by a brass band. Appropriately entitled Mielavs un taurētāji (Mielavs and the hornblowers), a play on the name of Mielavs’ solo group ‘Mielavs un pārcēlāji’, the ensemble released an album of these new interpretations in 2017. All of the songs were arranged by long time Mielavs collaborator, guitarist Gints Sola.

Joining Mielavs (vocals, harmonica) on the album are Jānis Porietis (trumpet), Raivis Māgurs (tuba), Artūrs Šults (French horn), Kaspars Majors (trombone) and Edgars Bārzdiņš (trumpet), as well as Juris Kroičs on percussion. The group first began performing together in 2016, and their first concerts were at the K.K. fon Stricka Villa in Riga.

One might think that these performances might be stereotypical ‘oom-pah-pah’ Oktoberfest versions, but that is not at all the case – Sola’s arrangements are both tasteful and respectful, and present these well-known songs in a different light. According to Mielavs, his interest in brass instruments has been with him since he was five years old, which is when he discovered his grandfather’s trumpet.

The brass arrangements are often intimate and tender, like in this new interpretation of the song ‘Reizēm’, where the horns create a light and slightly sentimental atmosphere for the song, particularly the trumpet harmonies. There is a similar effect on this new interpretation of one of Jauns mēness’ best known songs – ‘Piekūns skrien debesīs’ – the original, with its kokle was a more mystical performance, while this new version is more direct and personal, without losing the calm intensity of the original.

New facets are revealed in Mielavs’ ballads as well, for example the new version of one of Mielavs’ most popular solo songs – ‘Tu saviļņoji mani’. The brass band offers a finely woven background for this interpretation, at the same time adding a playful element to the music. Though many of the songs are slower and somber, there are lively moments, such as in the bouncy ‘Zem varavīksnes tilta’, particularly the energetic tuba performance.

Mielavs also included a few songs by other artists as well, such as ‘Bože hraņi poļarņikov’ by Russian songwriter Boris Grebenshchikov, and the album concludes with a combination of the popular Latvian song ‘Es zinu visi mani nievā’ and ‘Slava Aleluja’ (the Latvian version of the US Civil War anthem ‘Battle Hymn of the Republic’).

The album is quieter than one might have expected, and, like much of Mielavs’ solo work, quite reserved. Brass instruments can of course be quite loud and powerful, and it would have been interesting to hear an arrangement of a more up-tempo song like ‘Kad mēness jūrā krīt’ or ‘Pārcēlājs’. And, at just slightly more than thirty minutes, the collection is briefer than one might have hoped – considering the many dozens of songs Mielavs has recorded, the listener is left wanting a bit more.

Mielavs un taurētāji is a quite pleasantly surprising collection – though many of the songs are quite well known, these are new and fresh interpretations of them. These performances reconfirm Mielavs’ strengths as a songwriter and singer – even with this non-traditional accompaniment, the songs remain vital and captivating.

For further information, please visit the Mielavs un Pārcēlāji website.

Mielavs un taurētāji

Upe, MP004, 2017

Track listing:

    1. Varbūt
    2. Piekūns skrien debesīs
    3. Paņem mani
    4. Atpogā manu kreklu
    5. Reizēm
    6. Tu saviļņoji mani
    7. Bože hraņi poļarņikov
    8. I Love You
    9. Zem varavīksnes tilta
    10. Es zinu visi mani nievā/ Slava Aleluja

Egils Kaljo is an American-born Latvian from the New York area who lives in Rīga, Latvia. When not working in the information technology field, he sings in the Latvian Academy of Culture mixed choir Sõla, does occasional translation work, and has been known to sing and play guitar at the Folkklubs Ala Pagrabs in Old Rīga. 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.

Second album by Rikši features traditional Latgallian folk

Rikši, a post-folklore ensemble from the Latgale region of Latvia, have now been performing in their own inimitable, quirky style for more than five years. Humor is an essential aspect of their songs, along with creative and unusual approaches, and it has resulted in some of the most distinctive recordings in Latvian music. The group released their first album Pa pyrmam in 2014, and followed that up in 2016 with their second record, Sieju sovu.

Rikši, who are an offspring of the Rēzekne based folk group Vīteri (who are also known for their offbeat and humorous performances), counts five members, all of whom are vocalists. In addition to vocals, Ēriks Zeps provides accordion, Zane Dukaļska is on percussion, Madara Broliša plays the violin, Ivars Utāns performs the bass, and Mārcis Lipskis provides the guitar.

Though there are still many modern elements in their performances and arrangements, Rikši are still firmly based on traditional folk elements from Latgale, and almost all the songs on the record are in the Latgallian dialect. This is clear from the first song on the album, ‘Sieju rūtu, sieju mātru’, which features the women from the folklore group ‘Rūta’, based out of Rēzekne. In fact, the songs included on this album are all taken from Rūta’s repertoire.

As they have matured, Rikši’s arrangements have become more intricate and varied. The Roma influenced ‘As čyguona sīva beju’ has extensive a capella vocal harmonies in this vibrant rendition of the song of a gypsy’s wife. Additional harmonies, as well as interplay between the men’s and women’s voices can be found in ‘Oruojeņi, acātuoji’, a song about working in the fields.

Though many of their songs are lively and cheery, Sieju sovu does contain some slower, more serious numbers, such as the somber ‘Muote dieleņu auklieja’, with its limited, sparse arrangement, as well as the appropriately tender lullaby ‘Šyupļa dzīsme’, with its lilting mandolin and accordion accompaniment. The melancholy ‘Pa kam var pazeit’, about a boy going off to war, is tinged with sadness as the whole family prepares for the boy’s departure, and provides for a very moving performance.

A review of their Facebook page reveals the group’s versatility and activity – performances throughout Europe and in the United States, as well as many events and festivals within Latvia.

Rikši remain one of the most energetic and enthusiastic folk ensembles in Latvia today. With their creative and distinctive interpretations and arrangements, which they have continued and developed even further on Sieju sovu, the group has solidified their place in Latvian folk music. With both traditional and modern elements, as well as exuberant singing and playing, Rikši provide for both a lively and lighthearted listen.

For further information, please visit the Rikši Facebook page.

Sieju sovu

Rikši

Latgolys producentu grupa, 2016

Track listing:

    1. Sieju rūtu, sieju mātru
    2. As čyguona sīva beju
    3. Ai,ai, ai, tralalā
    4. Oruojeņi, acātuoji
    5. Pī kaimeņa
    6. Iesim, brāļi, mēs uz Rīgu
    7. Muote dieleņu auklieja
    8. Pa kam va pazeit
    9. Beja vīna buoba
    10. Šyupļa dzīsme

Egils Kaljo is an American-born Latvian from the New York area who lives in Rīga, Latvia. When not working in the information technology field, he sings in the Latvian Academy of Culture mixed choir Sõla, does occasional translation work, and has been known to sing and play guitar at the Folkklubs Ala Pagrabs in Old Rīga. 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.