Vilki latest album features Latvian war and battle songs from different eras

With Latvia’s location between multiple major powers, it is no surprise that centuries of wars have left their impression on the nation. Uncountable armies and soldiers have marched over the territory of Latvia, and Latvians were regularly dragged into larger conflicts. Consequently, there are hundreds (if not thousands) of Latvian songs about war and battle.

The Latvian men’s vocal ensemble Vilki have made it their mission to gather and record as many of these songs as possible. Since their beginnings in the early 1990s, Vilki have been regularly performing and recording songs of war, and they released their latest album – Bunkurs 13 – in 2021. The title – Bunker 13 – is also appropriate considering that this is the group’s 13th album. The album gathers songs from throughout Latvia’s history – from ancient folk songs to modern military songs. The group performs songs with minimal instrumentation – songs are sung in unison, with the occasional harmonica, kokle, or accordion to assist.

Some listeners may be surprised to hear so many happy songs on the album. Notwithstanding Latvia’s tragic history, many of the songs here are about the preparation of going off to war, with a touch of bravado. The album includes some well-known songs like the World War I era Latvian Riflemen’s song ‘Mirdzot sķēpiem’, a song about a romance between a rifleman and a young maiden. Though this song does end on a mournful note (the maiden weeps at the rifleman’s grave). The dance-like ‘Jautrības brīžiem’ is about soldiers taking a break from battle to enjoy life, ‘Karavīram garlaicīgi’ is also a rousing song about what soldiers do in times of boredom.

Not all the songs are positive though – for example ‘Kurzemes pēdējie leģionāri’, about the last remaining Latvian Legionnaires in Kurzeme at the end of World War II. Uncertain of their future, the soldiers endeavor to remain hopeful in the face of certain destruction by Soviet forces, and Vilki’s performance of the song is poignant and heartbreaking. The song ‘Bunkurs 13’ is full of dark humor about the destruction of this particular bunker, but the men are determined to still fight for Latvia to the bloody end.

The modern era is represented by ‘Kājnieku dziesma’, a recently written soldiers’ marching song. Written by trainees at the National Defense Academy of Latvia, Vilki perform a full-throated interpretation of the song.

One does wish that the group had provided more information about the songs in the CD packaging (no booklet is included), especially considering the history of the songs. It would have been helpful to at least know which era the song was from, to provide some historical context.

The enthusiastic and authentic performances by Vilki on Bunkurs 13 breathe new life into these songs and help reveal the history of Latvia’s soldiers from throughout the centuries. Covering many different eras, with songs both joyous and bleak, the album reconfirms Vilki as premiere interpreters of Latvian war songs.

For more information, please visit the Vilki website

Bunkurs 13


Lauska 2022

Track listing:

  1. Es savai māmiņai
  2. Zviegtin zviedza
  3. Tumši bija, gaišis tapa
  4. Uz tēviju!
  5. Sakarnieku dziesma
  6. 19.divīzijas dziesmas
  7. Kurzemes pēdējie leģionāri
  8. Ložmetējnieku dziesma
  9. Artilēristu dziesma
  10. Ai, bāliņi
  11. Mirdzot šķēpiem
  12. Izlūki
  13. Jautrības brīžiem
  14. Aizjāja latviets
  15. Karavīram garlaicīgi
  16. Kad ar uzvaru
  17. Brīvības kareivji
  18. Paliec sveiks, mans mazais draugs
  19. Uz priekšu, latvieši!
  20. Ikkatru sestdien’s vakaru
  21. Bunkurs 13
  22. Kājnieku dziesma

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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