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Written in fRoots issue 249, 2004

Kaza Kāpa Debesīs – A Goat Climbed Into The Sky

Upe CD 048 (2003)


Upe CD 047 (2003)

Since 1981, ten years before Latvia’s reasserted independence, folk group Ilgi has been working with traditional music. It was one of the prime movers in the renewed interest among some young Latvians in their own roots and a rejection of the airport-doll “colourful folkloric” spectacle that the Soviet regime fostered in an attempt to show what a happy tapestry of peoples it dominated.
      Slowly, partly as a result of association with the rock band Jauns Mēness and encouraged by the success of Nordic bands such as Hedningarna and increased experience in foreign gigging, particularly recently in the USA, Iļgi has developed a much heftier, rocky approach. These days founder-members Ilga Reiznice, on vocals and fiddle, and Māris Muktupāvels on kokles, Latvian bagpipe, whistle, jews harp and vocals, are joined by Gatis Gaujenieks on bass and the “trough-fiddle” gïga, guitarist Egons Kronbergs and drummer Vilnis Strods. Some material is new-written, but it’s still very much in the tradition of Latvian traditional songs, known as dainas, songs of life in the villages of the country’s taiga forests and Baltic coast, full of the imagery of nature and the sun and moon. The tentativeness of some of their early work has turned into a confident strength, making the material into the sort of thing a wider audience can pick up, portraying it big and meaty, without changing its essential Latvian-ness of melody, texture and rhythm.
      Also treating old songs in new ways, but focussing on the songs associated with the main Latvian calendar celebration, Midsummer night, is Līgo. Again, strong old imagery of the sun, the moon, fire, symbolic trees and plants. With six singers, including the selector of the songs Zane Šmite, and Upe boss, radio person and Jauns Mēness leader Ainars Mielavs. The minimalist instrumentation isn’t specifically Latvian traditional, having for example guitar and touches of duduk, but the result, as with Iļgi, is very distinctively Latvian. Veiled, breathy, grainy, with a prevailing sense of wistfulness, of celebration of the golden light before dark winter begins to creep back across the countryside.

© 2003 Andrew Cronshaw

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