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Written in fRoots issue 365, Nov 2013

Uliokim, Braliukai

Kuku SMF 053 (2013)

Rusu Liaudies Romansas

Own label, no number (2012)

Old Faith

Begantis Menulis BMCD-002 (2011)

Ethnosphere – A New Life of Traditions

Sutaras SMF DVD 003 (2013)

Here are three CDs and a DVD from a country not much written about here in fRoots: Lithuania. One of them, if given the right exposure, would probably pick up a lot of international interest.

     Rytis Ambrazevicius, leader of Lithuanian male vocal trio Intakas and a professor at Kaunas University of Technology and the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre, writes in the notes to their CD Uliokim, Braliukai:
     “From our vantage point in the recording studio we gaze from afar at the pure and genuine vitality of these songs with a pleasing nostalgia that is hard to explain. There and then, the faces start to fade, yet the eyes are surprisingly full of life and depth, making the stories inexhaustible and everlasting. Then the distance becomes personalised: the songs, like objects, belong to a particular ‘him’ or ‘her’”
     It’s an expression of the universal dilemma for those who love and want to sing the old songs but are no longer in the village.
     He continues, “Sometimes an even greater miracle occurs – when it is not we that sing, but they sing by making use of us. We remain on the sidelines, as spectators.”
     Of course, that’s one relationship, of singer to song, but there’s another: that of listener to CD. Are we drawn in, or just witnesses? How can one make a recording that reaches out to people?
     Intakas takes the straight, set-of-songs path, delivering 23 traditional Lithuanian war, wedding, haymaking, drinking and emigrants’ songs, their three resonant male voices in unaccompanied call-and-response and harmony.

Arinushka, a Russian folklore ensemble from Lithuania’s capital Vilnius, formed in 1998 and is connected with the School of Traditional Slavic Music. It takes the large-folklore-ensemble approach, the strong voices of up to fourteen men and women using the hard-edged ‘white voice’ in arranged Russian songs, sung with rough, rousing gusto, accompanied on some tracks by instruments including accordion, violin, guitar and balalaika.
     The rural-work-costumed stage presentation and probably audience of ensembles such as this hasn’t changed much since soviet times, but it’s a rather fine, stirring noise.

Arinushka does, however, get involved in collaborations. One is with Lithuanian producer and keyboardist Linas Rimsa, whose projects include crossovers between classical, jazz and ethnic music.
     His Old Faith is based on the traditional religious chants and lyrics of the Russian Old Believers. Rimsa combines Arinushka’s gutsy, wild ethnic vocals (which, as things get heftier, almost approach Pussy Riot shout-shriek) with his artful programming work and acoustic instruments: guitars, oboe, whistle, hurdy-gurdy and the traditional Russian single-reed horn pipe zhaleika, this last played by a prime animator in Russian roots music, Sergey Starostin. Much of the drumming sounds real too, though no drummer or percussionist is mentioned, and the overall feel is grainy, air-shifting and multi-faceted.
     There have been some brutal, uncomprehending attempts from third-rate remixers working with eastern and central European musics, but it seems to me that the collaboration of able and perceptive programmer-producers such as Rimsa, whose visions are wider and more subtle than the club dance-floor, is a promising way of getting the sounds and shapes of traditional music to today’s audience. (On record, that is; live, it can be hard to make a sampled-to-real balance that convinces, visually at least).
     Old Faith is likely to get international airplay and attention if sent to the right people, but that’s something the releasers of some other similarly impressive albums over the last few years from other Baltic and central European countries haven’t managed, or had the experience or contacts, to do. Music Export Lithuania, go for it!

The DVD is of a performance of Ethnosphere, a big concert-hall project combining folk music, classical and some jazz, directed by composer and conductor Andrey Doynikov for the Pokrovskiye Kolokola festival, featuring Arinuska and other Lithuanian and Russian folk vocal ensembles and individual musicians with the Chamber Orchestra of Lithuania.
     There’s very little other information on the pack or disc, but it turns out to be musically rich, melodic and powerful, including leads from Sergey Starostin singing and playing the gusli (Russia’s kantele-relative) and his ex-Farlanders colleague, Bio Trio’s whistles, zhaleika and bagpipe player Sergey Klevenskiy.
     But the concert sounds better than it looks, performed in flat, unflattering lighting in a formal concert hall, so it’s a pity that the music doesn’t seem to be available as a CD, which could be listened to easily and repeatedly and would leave more to the imagination.

© 2013 Andrew Cronshaw

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