Folk songs about war on album by Latvian folk group Rāva

Rāva, a band from Rīga, Latvia that came together in 2014, describe their style as ‘dark, experimental folk’. Using extensive sound effects and synthesizers, as well as traditional instruments, their interpretations of Latvian folk songs tend towards the solemn and weighty, and their live performances are also enhanced by performance art elements.

This approach to Latvian folk music, while unique, is perhaps not at all surprising, considering the nature of many Latvian folk songs. A significant number are sad, if not tragic, with their tales of death, war, orphans, as well as life’s difficulties.

The group released their self-titled debut album in 2018, and the songs are all almost entirely based on folk songs about war. The ensemble was founded by ethnomusicologist and vocalist Ilze Ceļmillere, and she is joined by guitarist and sound effects specialist Toms Ceļmillers, Emīls Zonne on vocals, mandolin and flute, as well as vocalist Eduards Plankājs and Viesturs Āboltiņš on vocals and bass. Initially, this collection of songs was gathered as Ceļmillere’s thesis work, and was presented as the performance art work ‘Vārna krāca ozolā’, and later the group recorded the songs to create this album.

The record begins with ‘Sniegi sniga’, a radically different interpretation of the folk song that inspired the popular song ‘Zibsnī zvaigznes aiz Daugavas’ (arranged by composer Jānis Lūsens and originally performed by singer Mirdza Zīvere in the mid-1980s). While Lūsēns’ version was a sweet and tender song, Rāva present it more as an ominous, fatalistic song about war approaching, with Ceļmillere intoning the words over sound effects and a slow bass line to enhance the feeling of dread.

As the songs on the album are about war, this may remind listeners of a similar album Dzelzīm dzimu by the ensemble Vilki, which also contained war songs. Both albums feature interpretations of the song ‘Vīri, vīri, nebūs labi’ (on the Rāva album it is called ‘Vārna krāca ozolā’). Rāva’s version of this song about preparing for war is melodic, with the band members providing harmonies over arpeggiated chords, with a bit of discordance at the end, provided by the flute and guitar.

The album moves more towards the area of sound and performance art with the track ‘In Memoriam’, which does not include any vocals, but is based around a recording of former Latvian Legion member Laimonis Ludzenieks (who passed away in 2017, and this song is dedicated to his memory). Against a backdrop of unsettling sound effects, Ludzenieks tells of his quite terrifying personal experiences in battle, as well as foreboding dreams and visions he had during the conflict, including one where his mother comes to him to warn him of the difficult day he will have.

Over a sparse accompaniment Rāva create a heartbreaking vision of the song ‘Uz kariņu’, a song that is also about departing for war, as the soldier turns around to see all his family members crying, and the finality and despondency of all those involved is expressed in Rāva’s performance.

On their debut album, Rāva, with their dark and experimental interpretations of Latvian folk songs about war, have woven together an engaging and thought provoking album. Using sounds effects and many dim and shadowy musical colors and textures, the group has created a record that, while truly dark and even bleak at times, is still quite affecting and moving. Of course, not everyone may enjoy this collection of songs due to their weighty nature and dark atmosphere. Many of the songs, with their slow, deliberate pace, may remind some of funeral dirges. Still, Rāva have indicated that this record concludes their exploration of war themes, and will explore other Latvian folk themes in the future. Rāva’s interpretations of folk songs about war will remind the listener of the tragic toll that war has taken on Latvia throughout the centuries, as well as the grim reality of conflict, and this is richly reflected in Rāva’s performances.

For further information, please visit the Rāva Facebook page.


NABA Music / Melo Records, 2018

Track listing:

  • Sniegi sniga
  • Vārna krāca ozolā
  • Bāliņš
  • In Memoriam
  • Uz kariņu
  • Tiderā
  • Projām jāiet
  • Baltaitiņa
  • Veratiesi vara vārti

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.

Latvian Voices album of Christmas music – with a touch of melancholy

The female vocal ensemble Latvian Voices have enjoyed much international success, achieving renown not just for their singing ability, but also for their varied, interesting repertoire and arrangements. Christmas music has also long been a part of their repertoire, but, up until recently, they usually performed outside of Latvia (mainly in Germany) in the Advent and Christmas seasons.

However, in 2016, the group performed its first Advent concerts in Latvia, and also recorded their performance in the Rīga Torņakalns Lutheran Church, and released a CD of this event, entitled Mazie, skumjie ziemas svētki at the end of 2017, a collection of Christmas and winter solstice songs, with both traditional songs and original compositions. This is actually their third album of Christmas music, the first being Seventh Heaven (2010), and the second was Zeit der Wunder, a collaboration with German vocal ensemble Viva Voce, which was released in 2014.

The members of the ensemble for this performance are group leader Laura Jēkabsone, as well as Zane Stafecka, Beāte Locika, Dita Belicka, Andra Zvejniece and Marta Lortkipanidze.

The group explains the meaning of the title of the album – Mazie, skumjie ziemas svētki (or – A Little Christmas Melancholia) – by saying ‘during the time before Christmas, many of us experience a kind of melancholia; we hear our inner voice a bit clearer and spend more time thinking about things that really and genuinely matter.’ That describes much of what is on the album – beautiful, deep, but with a touch of melancholy.

The atmosphere is set at the beginning with the concert, with a brief introduction that is a quiet, mystical interpretation of the Christmas song ‘Kas ir šis bērns’ (the Latvian version of ‘What Child is This?’, itself set to the famous English folk song melody of ‘Greensleeves’). This brief introduction then leads into the lively original work ‘Satikšanās’ by Jēkabsone.

Though there are certainly many elements of melancholy on the album, that is not to say there are no happier and more uplifting moments. For example, the joyous ‘Totari’, inspired by Latvian folklore, but with a new melody by Jēkabsone, is brought to vivid life by the soaring voices of the singers and percussion.

Alongside traditional Christmas songs like ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’ and ‘See, Amid the Winter’s Snow’ are also performances of Latvian folk songs with a winter solstice theme, such as ‘Sidrabiņa lietiņš lija’ and ‘Pūtiet guni’, as well as the Liv song ‘Zingi pringi’.

One of composer Raimonds Pauls’ most beloved melodies is his music for the song ‘Circenīša Ziemassvētki’, with lyrics by Aspazija. The song is about a poor mother and son who do not have enough money for bread, but she tells him a magical story of traveling to the moon and all the amazing things he will find there. Though a sad song, the mother’s tale provides for hope, and the singers present a truly tender and beautiful version of this song (arranged by Jēkabsone) as a fitting and memorable end to this slightly melancholic concert and season.

Often reserved and introspective, other times vivacious and rousing, Mazie, skumjie ziemas svētki is an ideal accompaniment for the Christmas and winter seasons. Combining interpretations of traditional Christmas songs, Latvian folk songs, as well as original works, Latvian Voices display again their many talents in singing and arranging. Tranquil and peaceful, Mazie skumjie ziemas svētki and the rich and sonorous voices of all the singers, with a small touch of melancholy, makes for wonderful listening for a calm Christmas evening.

For further information, please visit the Latvian voices website.

Mazie, skumjie ziemas svētki

Latvian Voices


Track listing:

  • Intro – Kas ir šis bērns?
  • Satikšanās
  • Coventry Carol
  • O Come, O Come Emmanuel
  • See, amid the Winter’s Snow
  • Pūtiet guni
  • Zingi pringi
  • Sidrabiņa lietiņš lija
  • Totari
  • Ave Maris Stella / Zvaigzne spožākā
  • Ziemas miers
  • Ziemas stāsts
  • Mazie, skumjie ziemas svētki
  • Circenīša Ziemassvētki

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.

CanZone’s debut album an energetic musical achievement

CanZone, a group that combines elements of rock, Latvian folk, and pop music, was formed in 2009 in the Grīziņkalns area of Rīga. The band name – ‘CanZone’ – is taken from the Italian word ‘canzone’ (or song), and the band has explained that this name was chosen almost at random, while looking through an Italian dictionary. They released their debut album High Time in 2018, and half of the album’s songs are in Latvian, the other half are in English.

The group is made up of Dagnija Millere-Balandīna on vocals, accordionist Rolands Zelčs, Oskars Krūklis on bass, Raivo Millers playing guitar, and drummer Artūrs Slaviks. The group’s sound may remind some listeners of 1970’s hard rock, particularly groups like Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, and at times even Black Sabbath.

The band puts the accordion front and center throughout its music, starting with the first track on the album – ‘Pirmssalnas dziesmiņa’, a song with lyrics by Māris Čaklais, and the song proves to be an appropriate introduction for the band and its sound. The song begins with Zelčs’ vigorous accordion, which is then joined by Slaviks’ thundering drums and Krūklis’ bass guitar, as well as Millere-Balandīna’s confident, throaty vocals and Millers’ brawny, distorted guitar. In fact, the singer revealed that she was once asked to leave a choir, as her singing style was considered to be too ‘different’.

Millere-Balandīna describes the song ‘Pašrūpe’ as a song about ‘opening one’s mind, and searches for one’s self’, and with its almost military beat, is a rousing, exuberant song about self-discovery and purifying one’s soul. Many of the songs on the album, including this one, have been partially inspired by her studies of philosophy. The song is also supplemented by the harmonies of the choir ‘Anima’.

The singer considers the song “Kliedz bez skaņas” to be the best representative of the whole of High Time. She notes the ‘fragility and power, wildness, emotionality, passion and dramatic nature’ of the song, and indeed Millere-Balandīna’s vocal performance and stylings reveal the tempestuous nature of this song, as well as other songs on the album.

The album concludes with the slightly sinister ‘It’s Time’, and with its deliberate and sharp cello introduction (provided by guest cellist Ieva Rijniece), as well as fuzzy guitars and, with the accordion sounding more like an organ, the song might fit in well with Sabbath Bloody Sabbath era Black Sabbath. It is perhaps appropriate that the album concludes with this song about starting a new beginning.

Combining disparate elements like accordion and rock guitar, and supplemented with the expressive, emotive vocals of Dagnija Millere-Balandīna, CanZone’s debut album High Time is an energetic and engrossing musical achievement. Though brief (the album is only thirty minutes long), in that half our CanZone confirm that they are able to create songs that are brief bursts of energy, but still containing thoughtful lyrics. With its distinctive sound and almost frenetic performances, High Time proves for a memorable debut for CanZone.

For further information, please visit the CanZone Facebook page.

High Time


Lauska, CD075, 2018

  • Pirmssalnas dziesmiņa
  • Pašrūpe
  • Kliedz bez skaņas
  • Sapņotājs
  • Tu
  • Fame
  • In the sand
  • Alright
  • Tomorrow
  • It’s Time

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.