"Saucējas", the traditional singing ensemble of the Latvian Academy of Culture, has for more than 15 years studied and performed a variety of Latvian ethnographic singing styles and techniques, with particular attention to those local traditions involving multipart singing. Since 2017 the group has been interested in the natural acoustic environment and has been recording songs outdoors. Thus the hills, forests, marshes and lakes of Latvia have become their recording studio and the wind, birds, insects and other nature sounds unwitting participants in their performances. These recordings give the listener a fuller insight into the tradition of Latvian vocal music, which developed through the integration of the singer, natural acoustics and various sounds created by nature. “Ui, egle, egle” (Nierza, eastern Latvia) was recorded on a September evening in a hilly, sparse pine forest. “Ai, ganiņi, nedzeniet” (Jūrkalne, Alsunga, western Latvia), which combines individual cowherd calls and a traditional celebratory song sung by the whole group, was recorded on a May morning in the same pine forest, with the group and individual singers situated on separate hilltops at some distance from each other.
"ZeMe" (meaning ‘land’) is a duo consisting of kokle player Laima Jansone and DJ Monsta. Both musicians are experienced in a variety of genres and have collaborated with many different musicians. Therefore, as they began working on this project, they decided to do everything the way they wanted to. Improvisation is their strong point, and this permeates the ethno-groove sound of their album Visuma vizošā tumsa (The glimmering darkness of the universe). “This album tells about the link between two different worlds: between the contemporary and the traditional, between peace and rowdiness, between fragility and the imperturbable, between seriousness and playfulness, which is a poetic and also philosophical way of looking at life,” says Jansone. ZeMe has performed across the world, including in Japan, the United Arab Emirates, Italy, Finland and Kazakhstan.
The drum and bagpipe group "Auļi" has become something of a Latvian brand, performing at the largest cultural events in the country and composing and arranging music for the Latvian Song and Dance Festival, national celebrations and films. Voices of the Ancestors is the group’s new album and concert programme in collaboration with musicians from different parts of the world. Auļi have travelled far and wide to meet singers representing ancient and unusual singing traditions and techniques. This time the group has focused on powerful men’s voices that characterise specific geographic regions. Performances by these well-known singers merge with Auļi’s powerful instrumental sound produced by six bagpipers, three drummers and a double bass. The song “Orbina” (Orphan) was created together with Sami yoiker Kai Somby, and the accompanying video was filmed during a -30°C cold snap. The theme of war plays a central role in Auļi’s music and is also a significant theme of this new album, particularly in the music of Mongolian throat singer Batzorig Vaanchig. “Chinggis Khaan” (Genghis Khan) is one of the songs created in collaboration with Vaanchig.
"Iļģi" have been playing together since the 1980s, originally as a folklore group at a cultural centre in Riga. For the past thirty-eight years, Iļģi have been the best-known ethnic music group in Latvia. They have received the Latvian award for best contemporary folk music album six times, and have been at the top of the World Music Charts Europe a couple of times as well. But Iļģi still have things to say, and audiences are still listening. The title of the Tur Kur Mīti (2016) album is a play on words, meaning both “where the legends are” and “where you live”. In a similar vein, the songs refer to already familiar motifs, quoting themselves and playing with nuance. The music contains a certain lightness and freedom that comes naturally when a group of musicians has been playing together as long as Iļģi and has such a vast source of inspiration to draw from as Latvian folklore.
After three years of musical experimentation, "Tautumeitas" finally released their debut album in 2018, for which the group received the Annual Latvian Music Recording Industry Award for best folk/ethnic/world album of the year. Tautumeitas’ debut album is about self-awareness and contemplating one’s own form. It centres on the tautumeita (‘folk maiden’) herself and important events in her life, as reflected in songs such as “Ūgas” (Berries), “Pāde” (The Newborn), “Raudi, raudi” (Weep, Weep), “Bārainīte” (Orphan Girl), “Vainagu deja” (Dance of the Headdress), etc. “Dai citas meitas” is the song with which Tautumeitas first introduced themselves to a wider audience. It tells about a young woman who, in contrast to the stereotypical “good girl” image of a tautumeita, is lazy and boastful yet successful in life. The refrain of “Sadziedami” features traditional Latvian multipart singing, and in late 2018 the song was recognised by Latvijas Radio 3 as one of the most valuable songs of the year, alongside the best of homegrown Latvian pop music.
Sudden and sharp-tongued, loud and perhaps even coarse...were it not for the band’s female members. "Rahu The Fool" is a musical formation that performs music inspired by grandfathers’ stories of love and war, about the seas and meadows of our countryside as well as other things long forgotten. To label things fairly, the group’s music can be classified as folk music with sparkles of jazz, hip hop, avantgarde, bluegrass and world music. Tune in and polish yer shoes, folks! Best listened to while dancing. The song “Švilpastīte” comes from the debut double album Rahu the Fool, the first part of which (Rahu) consists of folk music and the second part (The Fool) of American blues and swing.
The ethno-jazz group "Bur Mani" unites professional musicians and friends Elza Rozentāle, Kaspars Kurdeko, Toms Poišs and Kaspars Vizulis. Together they create contemporary arrangements of Latvian folk songs, preserving the energy, meditative flow and symbolism so characteristic of this music. The group’s repertoire contains original compositions with Latvian folksong lyrics, but the musicians consciously avoid playing folk instruments, thus leaving more room for synthetic sounds and allowing the folk songs to speak in the language of modern instruments. Bur Mani has just released its debut album Tālu tālu (Far, far), and in concert the group offers listeners an unprecedented experience, namely, enjoying the live performance on a wireless headset with individual volume control, on which every nuance of the performance is distinctly heard.
Duet Stanislav Yudin and Asnate Rancāne, consisting of an experienced double bass player and ethno voice serves as a meeting point for two environments: improvisation and traditional music. Stanislav Yudin traces his roots to Abkhazia, and several years ago he made a pilgrimage to his ancestral homeland. Inspired by the power and beauty of nature there, he dedicated a composition to Abkhazia and invited Asnate Rancāne to perform it. While previously active in jazz and pop music as well as teaching music, Yudin had nevertheless felt a desire to delve deeper into the traditional music of Latvia and other cultures. The duet’s album expresses the musicians’ desire to explore their roots more closely, yet also embrace their own contemporary essence.
The ImantaDimanta band formed in 2014, when, after a few successful jam nights, this group of friends had the opportunity to perform live. While some of the band members are originally from Latvia, others grew up in Latvian diaspora communities, and this has resulted in a refreshing melange of musical styles and fusions. ImantaDimanta and Friends (draugi means ‘friends’ in Latvian) have since found their groove and have had the joy of playing with many friends at concerts in Latvia as well as in the United States and Germany for Latvian diaspora and locals alike. The ImantaDimanta and Friends’ concert repertoire is rooted in the Latvian folk music tradition but incorporates numerous elements from indie folk and bluegrass and employs a contemporary ensemble of instruments.
"Raxtu Raxti" is a group of musicians who on stage always succeed in conjuring a story about all that is Latvian, beautiful and strong. The group’s repertoire includes arrangements of folk songs as well as original songs by composer Imants Kalniņš (1941), including songs written for the theatre and based on folk motifs. Raxtu Raxti’s concerts are popular with Latvian audiences and often conclude with sing-along sessions together with the audience, the songs highlighting various regions of the country. Raxtu Raxti’s new album, recorded together with the drum and bagpipe group Auļi, grew out of a multimedia performance celebrating Latvia’s centenary. Vēstījums rakstos (Message in the Symbols) features music from the dance production of the same name, which was inspired by the meanings of Latvian folk symbols. The musical aspect of this event consisted of eighteen new, original Raxtu Raxti compositions with Latvian folksong lyrics. “Jānīšami maza sieva” (Dear Jānis Has a Small Wife) reflects the playful yet competitive musical exchange of insults and teasing that is an important part of several traditional Latvian celebrations.
A relatively new group, "Ducele" brings together four very experienced musicians and many more instruments: double bass, percussion, guitars, accordion, kokle, bagpipes, flutes, banjo, bouzouki and vocals. At the group’s core are Arnis Veisbārdis and Andris Alviķis, both former members of the progressive rock/folk group Vecās Mājas (Old Houses) and the army ensemble Zvaigznīte (Little Star), from which Ducele has inherited many folk songs. Ducele’s debut album Tā viš’i (That’s the Way It Is) includes thirteen new arrangements of Latvian folk songs. In the Suiti dialect of Latvian, a ducele is a light, versatile cart that moves quickly and can hold many belongings. The song “Nojāsim mēs uz Ķezbieriem” tells about heading to the tavern.
For 25 years already, "Laiksne" has been playing contemporary interpretations of folk music using traditional instruments such as kokles, wooden flutes, drums, accordion, violin, mandolin and monochord as well as bass guitar and percussion. Laiksne’s repertoire also includes dances and traditional a cappella singing, without which seasonal festival activities and family celebrations are unimaginable. With its interpretations of ethnic Latvian music in concerts and recordings as well as its educational work, Laiksne is an important participant in the Latvian folklore movement and continues delighting audiences with new songs. Laiksne learned the wedding song “Nepūta taures” (The trumpets did not blow) from traditional Suiti singer Lidija Jansone.
On November 18 last year, the anniversary of the declaration of Latvian independence, the Anima choir released its album Jūrd/Saknes/Roots, which features melodies and songs from the Finno-Ugric peoples who have historically lived in the area of present-day Latvia. The album contains arrangements of folk songs and original compositions performed by the Saulkrasti Mixed Choir “Anima” and an instrumental group led by composer Uģis Prauliņš. Precisely one hundred years have passed since the clear definition of the borders of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. Each of these countries is developing in its own way, but an interest in our common roots can help us to discover what has made us who we are today.
Lata Donga’s album Variācijas (Variations) celebrates an aspect of traditional music that has been very little documented, namely, variation. In the past, folklore collectors often recorded only one version of a folk melody; there are also few audio recordings of traditional singers distinctly varying a melody. However, slightly altering a melody to fit the changing rhythm of the lyrics was a significant element of traditional singing. Researcher and composer Jēkabs Graubiņš (1886–1961) indicated that “Even a single singer, repeating a melody with different lyrics [..], does not sing it exactly the same way every time. Instead, he varies it, and the more skilled the singer, the more [he varies it].” The name of Lata Donga’s album refers to various techniques of variation used in singing as well as the use of several different means of musical expression in the arrangement of folk songs. At the core of Lata Donga is a family who has been performing ethnic music for already three generations. In addition to singing, the group’s members also play several different folk instruments. Multi-instrumentalist Tobias Illingworth, double bass player Stanislav Yudin, Sergey Antsupov (sarod) and Uģis Vītiņš (saxophone, electronics and programming) are also heard on the album.
"Kanisaifa" is a world-music group from Riga. It developed from the creative environment of Nils Īle’s music studio, where people of various ages meet to discover the world of rhythm. Īle, a well-known percussionist, was one of the first people in Riga to play the djembe and conga drums; he also established the first ethno-percussion group in Latvia, Afroambient. Now, some of the Afroambient musicians who studied under Īle have come together with other musicians to form Kanisaifa. With a desire to broaden their creative horizons, they create sound paintings that reflect various parts of the world. The membranophones are supplemented with the sound of melodic instruments such as the futujara and Indian bansuri flutes, the African balafon and kalimba, the Western guitar and bass guitar and also the human voice.
FESTIVALS AND VENUES IN LATVIA
International Folklore Festival BALTICA
Organizer: Latvian National Centre for Culture
Contacts: Gita Lancere
International Folk Dance Festival SUDMALIŅAS
Organiser: Latvian National Centre for Culture
Festival Bureau Manager: Maruta Alpa
International Traditional Music Festival DZĪVĀ MŪZIKA
Organizer: Latvian National Centre for Culture
Contacts: Ilmārs Pumpurs
World Music Festival PORTA
Manager: Ilze Apsiņa
International DRONE FESTIVAL
Organiser: Suiti Ethnic Culture Centre
Director: Dace Martinova
Art, music and culture festival KOMĒTA
International music festival LABA DABA
Folk / pagan / metal festival ZOBENS UN LEMESS
Organiser: Valdis Bērzvads
Organiser: Daina Zalāne
Annual international festival featuring crafts and music, taking place in June
Music, art and local craft harvest festival ZEMLIKA
Organiser: Miks Magone
International Music Festival RĪGAS RITMI
Organiser: Contemporary Music Centre
Director: Diāna Briežkalne
Folk club ALA Pagrabs
Manager: Edgars Kārklis
Peldu str. 19, Riga
Culture center KAŅEPES KULTŪRAS CENTRS
Skolas str.15, Riga
Club MELNĀ PIEKTDIENA
Brivibas gatve 193c, Riga
+371 26 155 642
Merķeļa str. 13, Riga
Culture center WIKTORIJA
+371 20 227 498
Graudu str. 36/38, Liepaja
VALMIERMUIŽAS alus darītava / VALMIERMUIŽA Craft Brewery
Manager: Sabīne Vandāna
Music bar & club ARTILĒRIJAS PAGRABI
Rigas str. 22, Daugavpils
Cēsis Concert Hall
Raunas str. 12-1, Cēsis
+ 371 64119921
GORS, The Embassy of Latgale
Pils str. 4, Rēzekne
The Concert Hall LIELAIS DZINTARS
Radio str. 8, Liepāja
The Concert Hall LATVIJA
Lielais laukums 1, Ventspils
The Concert Hall VEF Kultūras pils
Ropažu str. 2, Riga
+371 26 596 971