After a visit from his grandparents, many sugary foods and being cooped up in the house for a long, rainy afternoon, our two-year-old was definitely overstimulated. He was having a tantrum just as I put this compact disc in to listen to for the first time. By the third or fourth song, he had quieted down and was playing and babbling by himself. I like to think it was this music that calmed him. And it really might have been. After all, these are lullabies, time-tested melodies that are specifically meant to calm a baby.
The first song on this newest album in the Latvian Folk Music Collection, Šūpuļdziesmas (Lullabies), is slow to develop. But, then, lullabies are supposed to put you to sleep, aren’t they? I don’t mean that as a criticism—actually, I think this is a beautiful recording! This album is produced by Ilga Reizniece and Māris Muktupāvels, both of the post-folklore group Iļģi. Although Iļģi have moved on to much more modern and upbeat renderings of Latvian folk tunes, this album reminds one of their earliest recordings. It is simple, traditional, meditative and, above all, very calming.
Šūpuļdziesmas sounds very “live”—it often seems like you’re right there on the bed next to the child being sung to. The singers sometimes repeat verses, improvise, hum—just as any mother does when her child has not yet fallen asleep by the end of the song.
Many of the songs are accompanied by only one instrument. A full third of them are sung a capella. A couple of the songs, for example “Aijā, Ancīt’, aijā,” are new arrangements, but most are just simple, straight-forward lullabies. It is, for the most part, not the typical lullaby repertoire that most Latvians in North America heard as young children, but they are all bona fide traditional Latvian melodies and texts. The liner notes tell of the hope that these lesser known lullabies will not take the place of our “old favorites,” but rather inspire us to learn new ones.
The lullabies on this album are sung and accompanied by well-known musicians in the the Latvian folk and folk/rock scene. My favorite is Biruta Ozoliņa, who has a whole album (Bolta eimu) devoted to her music in the Latvian Folk Music Collection. Her voice just seems so perfect for this. She sings, as usual, in the Latgalian dialect. I was happy to hear “Aijā, žūžu, lāča bērni” and “Pele brauc, rati čīkst” sung by men and fathers. When a child’s name is called for in certain lullabies, the singers name their own children, giving the songs a truly personal touch.
My only complaint about this album is the use of the synthesizer on a few of the tracks. It’s fairly inconspicuous on the first and last songs, but I really don’t like the trite New Age feeling of calmness that it is trying to evoke on “Velc, pelīte, bērnam miegu.” It’s a beautiful song, but the accompaniment kind of ruins it.
Interestingly, songs No.1 (”Čuči, guli, mazbērniņš”) and No. 12 (”Čuči, guli, mozi bērni”) are so similar that I had to compare them several times before figuring out that they are two different melodies. No. 1 is in fact a song that Iļģi recorded back in 1987 and 1989. The arrangement, though, has changed a bit. Those older Ilgi recordings of lullabies placed more emphasis on the instruments, and the vocals were more arranged. Their lullabies back then seemed to be arranged more for performance than the Šūpuļdziesmas album.
I tried playing this CD several days later when our son was again in a really irritable mood, this time specifically to see if the music would calm him. And it worked again! This time, about half way through the album, he even said, “Mamma, I want to be in that song.” Wow!
For you Latvians out there, this album will give you some simple, fresh ideas to expand your lullaby repertoire (in case you’re sick of “Aijā, žūžu”). Sing them to your child, your dog, yourself or your significant other.
For everyone else, put this CD in at the end of a long day and just enjoy the relaxing music!
Latviešu tautas mūzikas kolekcija
UPE Recording Co., 2000
UPE CD 018
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