The Latvian traditional folk group Vilcenes (female wolves) are the counterpart to the more widely known male singing group Vilki (wolves); the members of Vilcenes, in fact, are the wives of the Vilki. Vilki has always differentiated itself from other folk groups in that the repertoire consists solely of songs about soldiers and war. The group also brings alive the culture of the ancient Latvian warrior. In accordance, the members of Vilcenes sing the songs of the brides, wives and mothers of those warriors from long ago, awaiting their return from the fields of battle.
Vilki has released several albums over the years, and now Vilcenes has a debut compact disc, Karavīra līgaviņa (Bride of the Warrior).
It must be said that both Vilki and Vilcenes see their main mission as attempting to recreate the traditional way of life of the Latvian and Līv tribes of the 10th-13th centuries. They do this by celebrating the solstices, equinoxes and other agricultural festivals, including familial occasions such as weddings and baptisms, as reconstructed from historical and archaeological sources. In their enthusiasm, they have learned to weave cloth, braid sashes, tool leather and smith the jewelry and weaponry to construct the complete wardrobes of their ancestors 900 years ago.
Song has seemingly always been a part of the peoples living in the Baltics, and appropriately, Vilki and Vilcenes have given singing a large role in their attempts at reliving the past. Astoundingly, many folk songs, especially those about war, have survived the centuries relatively unchanged from their original form, thus giving an added authenticity to the endeavors of these unique folklorists.
This unprecedented authenticity, with a focus on warriors and ancient warcraft, sparked interest in the general Latvian public. What started out as a rather private group of families with a shared interest in ancient history has given rise to two premier Latvian folk groups, Vilki and Vilcenes, performing in public both at home and abroad.
Almost all of the 20 tracks on Karavīra līgaviņa deal with the unenviable position of either awaiting your loved one from war or readying your son for war. That said, the songs on this album are mostly quite melancholy, but never “wailing”—true to our stoic, northern sensibilities. One of my favorites is “Lempis,” in which a young woman rides to battle in the stead of five lazy brothers. The songs are sung either a capella or with a minimal accompaniment of drums, whistle, kokle or ģīga (a stringed instrument that usually plays a bass line). The production level is quite simple, which I assume is an attempt at keeping the sound authentic, rather than “mystical” or “new-agey.” One should also keep in mind that the women of Vilcenes are neither professional musicians nor singers, as they themselves are always quick to say.
The CD insert includes all texts to the songs in Latvian, a short description of each song in English, as well as a short narrative consisting of a grandmother telling her granddaughter about the trials of sending men to war (also translated into English). The graphic design of the CD is comprised of photographs of the Vilcenes and close-ups of the members’ beautiful hand-made costumes. I would recommend this CD to those with a keen interest in Latvian folklore, as many of the songs on the album cannot be heard anywhere else.
Where to buy
Purchase Karavīra līgaviņa from BalticMall.
Purchase Karavīra līgaviņa from BalticShop.
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