Vilkači are a lifestyle folklore group founded in 2000 that focuses on reenactments of ancient battles and folklore. The group’s first artistic director was Dāvis Stalts, a member of the family that gave rise to the folklore movement in Latvia.
The sound of Vilkači is powerful, enthralling and with specific references to ancient history, yet it is also very personal. United by their interest in the Late Iron Age in the area of present-day Latvia, these young men have created an environment in which to share their knowledge, skills and enthusiasm. Initially, the Vilkači repertoire consisted mainly of war songs. The group’s first album, "Ko, kundziņi, Tu domāji?" (What Was On Your Mind, Master?), presents an already well-developed sound and vocal-instrumental arrangements featuring instruments made of natural materials (bagpipes, monochord, drums, voices) whose timbre, structure and materials create a warm, natural sound. The widespread popularity in Latvian society of the Vilkači song “Vai tādēļi nedziedāju?” (Is That Not Why I Sing?) is partly explained by its inclusion in mass choreographic performances. However, one cannot deny that Vilkači were also one of the most vibrant groups on the ethnic music scene at that time.
The male-only composition of Vilkači contextually points to a time when such a division was the result of a way of life in which religion was even more intertwined with everyday life than it is today. Through their songs, the members of the group embody the image of the Latvian soldier: vital, courageous and skillful. Each member’s garments and armour are handmade and based on artefacts dating from the 9th–13th centuries CE.
“By studying folk texts, singing songs, practising ancient crafts, and holding and wearing the armour and weapons of an ancient warrior, we strive to get closer and closer to ancient people, about whom we know only from historical sources and folklore as well as, of course, our own inner feelings and revelations,” says Vilkači’s current leader, Edgars Zilberts, about the deeper meaning and significance of the group’s activities.
Vilkači’s album "Jānis" features male-oriented Midsummer songs from different regions of Latvia, arranged in a historical-fantasy style. The zither-like kokle plays a prominent role on the album, as do the expressive and colourful vocal harmonies. The often symbolic content can be perceived even in the form and harmonic structure of the songs; with their original arrangements, the musicians also add their own feelings to traditional songs and present them to listeners. The song “Izkaptiņa” (Little Scythe), whose lyrics feature a string of verses that protect against evil forces, which are most active on Midsummer Night, is even accompanied by an animated video clip.
For Latvia’s centenary in 2018, Vilkači presented listeners with the album "Karavīru audzināj’" (I Raised A Soldier), which includes just a small part of the huge corpus of war songs in Latvian folklore. However, instead of bravado and bellicosity, these are wistful songs full of love for one’s home and closest people. A popular motif is the observation of various signs in nature that portend the outbreak of war and whether one is destined to return home.
Lauma Bērza. 2022