As my last LATVIA?WHAAAT post was quite popular, I hope that now the „ – I’m from Latvia – Oh, cool, I’ve been to Vilnius, do you speak Russian?” situation is going to change to “-I’m from Latvia – Oh, cool, I read in that one blog that you have so many trees, that you’re drinking them. Maybe you’re carrying any tree sap with you?”
And referring to my last sentence of that post, looks like I’ve promised to buy a beer in year 2043 for almost 20.000 people. Hope I’ll be a billionaire by then.
First goal achieved, now many more to go, because I can’t leave my „What is Latvia?” guide just hanging there in the forests, there’s obviously so much more to know and explore.
So in this part, as I mentioned before like billion years ago, I’m going to tell some interesting stories about Latvian music and for me it’s quite complicated. Imagine your favorite thing in the world – let’s say it’s bacon (I know that’s what you all thought of) and one day you win a lottery and get a possibility to spend days in a city made of bacon, sleep under bacon blankets, eat bacon from bacon plates, swim in the sea of bacon and catch a tan from the bacon sun. That’s more or less how I feel like, when I get the possibility to talk about music. I love it so much and get so excited that I don’t even know where to begin and want to tell everyone about everything at the same time. I’ll try not to be so chaotic this time, but still – brace yourselves, winter loads of music is coming and if you’re not sitting in a comfortable position, please do that now and make sure that both of your hands are ready and all warmed up to push play on some YouTube videos for next few minutes. Oh, and if someone likes to use their feet to push play – I’m fine with that, no worries.
So – Latvian music.
First I want you to look at the picture below, where you can see few nice ladies, dressed up in our traditional costumes. These are “suitu sievas” – Latvian folklore singers that are well – known for having strong, loud voices and being able to hold their breath for a long time, while singing never-ending “eeeeeeeeeeeeee” “eeeeeeeeee” and sometimes they do “eeeeeee”, but mostly before “eeeeeeeee”.
And now, when you had a glimpse of how they look like, you should definitely hear how they sing. Here’s one wonderful example of Latvian folk singing, used as a background of band’s Enigma song Beyond the Invisible. To be accurate – these are not exactly “suitu sievas” singing in this video, but one of Latvia’s folklore groups Rasa singing Latvian song “Sajāja Bramaņi” , but the sound is pretty similar and gives and overall impression, how magic and hypnotic our traditional music can be.
So, push play and wait for 0:51 to hear some Latvian music. And isn’t it ironic that the music video of this song is with people ice skating in tree costumes – can it get more Latvian? (Hockey is kind of our national sport and trees, well, you know about the trees already).
In most of the popular songs nowadays we have these deep, philosophical lyrics – such as “na na na” “hey yeeey yeah yeah” or just “yo”. Latvians are more creative and in many of our traditional songs, instead of chorus, we have different variations of “ram tai ram tai” (no connection with rum or thai food, unfortunately) “tral lal lā” and in very special occasions it goes even as far as “Ai rillasā, ai rassasā, Ai džimlai rūdi rallallā, Ai tir vir vir vir bum bum bum, Ai trrr rassasā, Ai rillasā, ai rassasā, Ai džimlai rūdi rallallā”.
Of course, it doesn’t mean anything, but you’re more than welcome to download this lovely quote poster and put it as your Facebook cover photo.
(Spoiler alert: Emotional Boring Stuff in the next paragraph)
Music for Latvians can mean many things, but mostly it’s associated with Latvian Nationwide Song and Dance Celebration, which gathers Latvians from all over the world once in four years and is definitely the biggest cultural event in our country. It connects everything we love – music, dancing, traditions and history. I believe that this festival is one of the main things that keep our nation together and strengthens our identity, because nothing compares to the feeling, when you’re standing on the stage with 20 000 other people, singing your national songs and experiencing the strength and deep connection that you can feel only at that moment, forgetting all the political or economical issues and remembering why you are proud of being Latvian.
I couldn’t describe it better in English than it’s already done in this article so have a look at it to find out more – https://www.creativityjournal.net/index.php/contents/articles/item/175-the-latvian-song-and-dance-festival-a-strategic-role-for-culture
And some visual and audible example – here’s one fantastic video footage from The Song and Dance Festival this summer. It perfectly reflects everything – the nature, the music and the power.
Now, enough with the traditional music, l don’t want you to fall asleep on your keyboards and accidently leave comments in the Icelandic or elf language.
Yes, we do have wonderful traditional music, but our popular music scene is not that bad either. OK, it is pretty bad with country music or “šlāgeri” (weird cowboy style umpa paa umpa paaa music) still being in the top of the pops for many Latvians, but there are some bands and events to be proud of.
Ask any Latvian, what’s the biggest event every summer – and you’re going to hear the word “POSTIVUUUUUUUUUS!” in different excited intonations, probably accompanied by singing, jumping with the orange Jagermeister flower necklaces and hand clapping. I believe Positivus Festival is definitely the best and biggest music festival in the Baltic States, and you could find a great deal of people (like me) telling that it’s one of the best in the world.
Though the festival always has a wonderful line-up (during the festival’s existence such bands as Muse, Manic Street Preachers, Moby, The xx, Fatboy Slim, Peter Doherty, Keane, The Vaccines, Sigur Rós and many, many others have performed), but this time it’s not only about the music, it’s the atmosphere in the festival, which is absolutely unique, thanks to the:
- Location – Positivus is held on the seaside of Salacgriva, you have some stages on the seashore, hammocks to rest on between the pine trees, main stages on green fields and the tent city in the middle of a meadow. Music and nature goes hand by hand in this case.
- Audience – of course, as a two/three days long music festival it mainly gathers young people, but you can spot many families with children, elderly hippie couples, some “Buddy plays in a rock band” style festival dogs walking around on their own (it’s allowed to bring animals!!) and even some foreign celebrities – this summer the Estonian president Toomas Hendrik Ilves paid a visit
- Many other activities besides music – like gymnastics in the morning, cinema, stand – up comedy shows etc.
Overall – it’s a great music festival and definitely an event we can be proud of. Long live Positivus!
Now the time has come for you to get introduced to some of the best Latvian bands. Let’s start with a band called Prāta Vētra or Brainstorm. This band is the most popular in our country, and could be well known for some foreigners as well. Some of you may remember the lead singer Renārs Kaupers jumping around in white ABBA pants in the Eurovision Song Contest 2000. They are the first Latvian band to perform in the legendary Glastonbury Festival and everybody in Latvia loves them. No, really, everybody. I love them, my grandma loves them, our trees love them, I believe our president loves them and they love themselves. Doesn’t matter if you listen to hardcore rock music our Japanese Christian dubstep, if you’re Latvian, you love Brainstorm. Although, I would say that for me the Brainstorm magic works only in Latvian, I believe that they are still quite enjoyable in English too.
Another great band that should be mentioned is Instrumenti. With their unique, sophisticated music videos and live performances, they are definitely the finest contemporary musicians from Latvia. Ironically, I would say that their best charateristic is the fact that they don’t sound Latvian, they just sound really good and professional.In their live shows they cooperate with the best Latvian designers and artists, to create incredible and unforgettable live performances.
Some electronic story – ELVI/DUNIAN is probably the best (only) thing that has happened to Latvian electronical music scene which is pretty much non-existing. I’m still waiting for the moment, when they’ll be discovered by Kanye and will become the next TNGHT, but now I’m just proudly putting their songs on in all the international parties and yelling “HEY HEY THESE ARE LATVIANS, REALLY AWESOME, RIGHT, RIGHT????”
And to finally finish with, if I had to pick people to represent Latvia in the worldwide Music Hunger Games, I would choose the vocal group Latvian Voices. These seven ladies with their flawless performances and amazing arrangements of the Latvian traditional folksongs is the best business card Latvia could wish for.
Just realized Hunger Games is probably a bad comparison. No killing just singing.
Now – THE END finally, not going to promise you anything if you got this far, because I have hangover.
(Oh, and the Latvian success in the classical music, with world famous pianists and opera singers is yet another story to tell someday.)