Talented family of Latvian folklorists release debut album “Variācijas”

Latvian folk singer Asnate Rancāne has, in recent years, become one of the most prominent folk performers in Latvia. Though known best for her work for the ethno-music group Tautumeitas, she works with a wide variety of ensembles, lending her voice and talents to projects such as Op. 2 with double bass player Stanislav Yudin and the new recording of Uģis Prauliņš’ Pagānu gadagrāmata with the men’s choir Gaudeamus.

Perhaps it is no surprise at all that she should be so active in the Latvian folk music scene – she comes from a singularly talented family of folk performers. Gathering their copious knowledge of folk music, as well as musical and arrangement skills, the family came together to form the group Lata Donga and released their debut album Variācijas in 2018. The group’s name is formed from the Sanskrit word ‘lata’ (which can mean ‘flower’ or ‘girl’) and the Latgalian word ‘donga’ (meaning ‘corner of a room’), which is appropriate, considering the feminine nature of many of the songs on the album. Asnāte Rancānce is joined by sister Aurēlija Rancāne (also of Tautumeitas), as well as mother Aīda Rancānce and father Andris Kapusts.

The album title Variācijas (or ‘Variations’) is also quite appropriate, as the ensemble performs songs from many different regions of Latvia, as well as in a multitude of styles – presenting both traditional and modern arrangements. The result is a broad spectrum of Latvian folk music, performed authentically and with deep conviction, as befits a family that has been immersed in folk music and traditions for generations.

Traditional elements can be heard in songs like the vibrant ‘Cel vārtīnus’, with its lively kokle introduction, as well as ‘Lineņi’, which captivates with beautiful harmonies.

The album also includes midsummer songs, such as the powerful ‘Es leiguti’, an a capella arrangement that features vocals from all the family members, which is then followed by the meditative ‘Juoneits guoja’. The song, enhanced by the synthesizers of Uģis Vītiņš and double bass of Stanislav Yudin, is of a more mystical and spiritual nature, with an almost dreamlike quality.

‘Ganu dziesma’ is an immersive atmospheric sound landscape, meant to convey the songs of shepherds as they herd their flocks, calling to each other from a distance. The arrangement is supplemented by the eerie sounds of the zvanga, played by Tobias Illingworth as well as Yudin’s double bass.

World music influences, particularly Middle Eastern sounds, can be heard in the driving ‘Sastdiņ guoju’, an almost trance-like pastiche of various elements, and also includes traditional instruments, such as the darbuka, performed by Asnate Rancāne. In a similar vein is the song ‘Zaļā suodeņā’, which features the sarod, an Indian stringed instrument performed by Sergejs Ancupovs.

The album concludes with perhaps the most modern arrangement, that of the song ‘Tumša nakts’ (which is a variation of the well-known Latvian folk song ‘Tumša nakte’, but with slightly different melody and words), dramatically sung by Kapusts and Illingworth, with Kapusts also playing the bagpipes. Featuring extensive use of synthesizers (provided by keyboardist and arranger Uģis Vītiņš), this sweeping interpretation brings the album to an epic conclusion, with this song about travelling a dark night with one’s horse, but with broader themes of mortality and eternity.

Blending together the many different facets and aspects of Latvian folk songs with both modern and traditional instruments, as well as the occasional element of world music, Variācijas is not just a satisfying panorama of Latvian folk music, but also a virtuoso performance by one of the most talented families of musicians in Latvia. Displaying their versatility with songs of different styles and eras, Lata Donga excel in both traditional and modern performances, revealing the many possible variations of Latvian folk songs.

For further information, please visit the Lauska Lata Donga page.


Lata Donga

Lauska, CD079, 2018

Track listing:

  1. Cel vārtīnus
  2. Rūtoj bite
  3. Es leiguti
  4. Juoneits guoja
  5. Pupucīte
  6. Jānīt’s sēde
  7. Ganu dziesma
  8. Locīdama es dziedāju
  9. Ērkulītis
  10. Spieļoj pīci
  11. Vysi kūceņi
  12. Ar laiviņu
  13. Sastdiņ guoju
  14. Lineņi
  15. Zaļā suodeņā
  16. Tumša nakts

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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