Otaņķu etnogrāfiskais ansamblis
The fact that today we can hear the homophonic and drone polyphony characteristic of southern Kurzeme, performed by the inhabitants of local villages, is thanks to generations of singers from Nīca, Bārta and Otaņķi. These ensembles practise many different aspects of their traditional culture, including seasonal festivals, rites of passage, clothing and cuisine, but with a special focus on singing. The villages of southern Kurzeme, of which Otaņķi is one, is one of the few remaining islands of traditional polyphony in Latvia.
The formation of the Otaņķi ensemble is linked to the specific tradition of greeting and congratulating people on special occasions. According to the ensemble’s lore, its first performance (titled “Ancient Wedding in Nīca”, which it later performed quite widely, including on television) was originally prepared as a greeting for a local employees’ retirement event in 1964. Moreover, preparing the performance was not difficult, because the singers were already used to leading wedding events. They retained the same format for future programmes as well, for example, in honour of the summer solstice, Easter traditions, mummers, and naming ceremonies for newborns. The sisters Margrieta Otaņķe and Katrīna Radomišķe were long-standing members of the Otaņķi ensemble and noteworthy lead singers of the older generation.
The ensemble currently has members of various different ages, yet they are united by a desire to learn and practise local traditional culture, to teach and pass it on to the next generations, and to safeguard the rich and distinctive cultural space of southern Kurzeme. One of the ensemble’s unwritten rules is to begin each concert performance with the “long call” typical of southern Kurzeme. The rest of its repertoire – “leitis” songs, lullabies, teasing songs, driving songs, etc. – is of local origin (Nīca, Otaņķi) and learned directly from the older generations.
Lauma Bērza, 2022