ZeMe’s album fuses sounds of traditional kokle with modern technologies

Kokle prodigy Laima Jansone has long been at the forefront of popularizing the ancient stringed Latvian instrument, and has performed on multiple albums, including her own solo releases. DJ Monsta (Uldis Cīrulis) is also a well-known name in Latvian folk circles, as he has brought his DJing talent and skill with technology together with many folk performers, such as folk singer Biruta Ozoliņa.

Jansone and Monsta have joined together in the group ZeMe, which fuses the traditional sounds of the kokle with modern sounds and technologies, and the ensemble released their first album – Visuma Vizošā Tumsa (or The Glimmering Universe) in 2019. The mostly instrumental album collects ten songs that include elements of Latvian folk songs and folklore, presenting these melodies in new arrangements that combine both traditional and modern elements and sounds.

The album begins, appropriately, with the song ‘Saullēkts’ (or ‘Sunrise’), which is based on the sad but hopeful Latvian folk song ‘Gauži raud saulīte’. Jansone’s kokle presents this beautiful melody, while DJ Monsta’s sound effects and electronic sounds give the performance an immersive feel, creating an authentic early morning atmosphere. The duo is also joined by contrabassist Toms Poišs, who provides another facet to the layered textures of the ensemble’s sound. Poišs is featured again on the atmospheric ‘Miglas vāli’, where his contrabass has a kind of dialogue with Jansone’s kokle, to create a flowing and engrossing picture of mist rolling across a field.

The group also uses archival recordings as part of their arrangements, and this is used to great effect on the energetic ‘Bumbulēt!’, which features a recording of folk singer Karlīne Puraviņa made in 1968. The joyful and playful combination of the recording with the modern sounds of DJ Monsta creates a memorable meld of various eras.

Much of the album is dreamy and has elements of the mystical, such as ‘Es gulu, gulu’ which again finds inspiration in a sad but beautiful folk song about a girl who dreams her beloved is departing. DJ Monsta adds percussive effects, perhaps to imply the sound of a horse’s hooves, while Jansone’s ethereal kokle performance adds a mysterious element to this performance.

Themes of light and darkness reoccur throughout the album, such as on the cosmic ‘Visuma vizošā tumsa’, which portrays the billions of glimmering stars that are visible in the otherwise dark universe. DJ Monsta’s sound effects generate the sense of a journey throughout the cosmos, while Jansone’s shimmering kokle sounds are like tiny points of light, representing the stars. Similar themes are presented in the final song on the album, ‘Saules grieži (aka Sidrabiņa lietiņš lija)’, based on a folk song about the winter solstice. The pulsating rhythm provided by both Monsta and Jansone creates an effective portrayal of the shortest day of the year.

The electronic sounds of DJ Monsta and the traditional sounds of the kokle performed by Laima Jansone unite to make a layered, textured sound on ZeMe’s debut album Visuma Vizošā Tumsa. With both modern and ancient elements, the performances, inspired by Latvian folk songs and themes both cosmic and universal, provide for an absorbing listen, revealing how the kokle and Latvian folk songs can seamlessly be joined with modern sounds.

For further information, please visit the ZeMe website and the ZeMe Facebook page.

Visuma Vizošā Tumsa


Lauska CD088, 2019

Track listing:

  1. Saullēkts / Sunrise
  2. Bumbulēt!
  3. Miglas vāli / The Rolling Mist
  4. Veļu dziesma / The Song of the Ancestors
  5. Es gulu, gulu / I Saw in My Dream…
  6. Ūsiņš
  7. Koku čuksti /The Whispers of the Trees
  8. Visuma vizošā tumsa / The Glimmering Universe
  9. Urbānās dzīres / Urban Feast
  10. Saules grieži (aka Sidrabiņa lietiņš lija) / Solstice (aka Silver Rain)

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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