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Written in fRoots issue 217, 2001

Seju Veju

Upe UPE CD 016 (2000)


Upe UPE CD 018 (2000)

Until recently, very few Latvian roots albums existed, and hardly any on Latvian labels. Indeed it was, and still is, hard for a record label of any kind to be economically viable in the countries formerly in the Soviet Union, because if a CD proves popular it’s bootlegged and sold on market stalls throughout the land for a quarter the legit price.

      But in Latvia there exists Ainars Mielavs’s Upe label, which despite all that has since 1997 released a string of well produced and beautifully packaged CDs, all distinctively Latvian and many of them with roots in or connections to traditional music. Mielavs is a radio broadcaster and the leader of popular rock band Jauns Meness, which has drawn unto itself members of folk band Ilgi, specifically multi-instrumentalist Maris Muktupavels and singer/fiddler Ilga Reizniece. In turn Ilgi has moved in an increasingly folk-rock direction.
      The rockification of a traditional music tends to move it closer to a sort of European folk-rock mainstream. What keeps it characterful is usually the shape of the tunes, the vocal sound and the presence of some of the particular country’s traditional instruments. In Ilgi, apart from Reizniece’s fiddle plus guitar, bass and drums, those defining sounds are of the Latvian bagpipes and kokles (the Latvian form of the Baltic zither closely akin to the Finnish kantele), both played by Muktupavels, who is, incidentally, the brother of leading Latvian ethnomusicologist, kokles and bagpipe player Valdis Muktupavels. And Seju Veju “tie [or sow] the wind”) is the band’s most confidently assertive work yet, lively folk-rock with echoes of other European revivals indeed but full of the character of Latvian traditional song.

      Šupuldziesmas is the work of Reizniece and Muktupavels too, together with Gints Sola and others, but this isn’t folk-rock, but something much more serene, since the title means “lullabies”. Those here come from the collection of Jekabs Vitolins, and they’re sung gently unaccompanied or to gentle accompaniment largely led by kokles with occasional touches of atmospherics. This isn’t intended as an exhibit of dead songs; the booklet notes say “our hope is not that our lullabies supplant yours, but that this collection will encourage and inspire you to learn some new ones. Your children don’t really care whether you learned to sing in a classy choir or among the bears; they will, in any case, think your singing to be the very best.”

© 2001 Andrew Cronshaw

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