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Contemporary Folk Music Concert, Riga,
April 1st 2004

      The force that has been quietly hiding all winter in the very core of the trees and deep below the ground - in the roots, has driven out unexpected and unanticipated shoots in me this spring. It is so nice to feel a breath of fresh air blow into the folk music world. With not much distance between them, two events very different in content - the performance by the traditional singing group and the contemporary folk music concert. Why do I mention the first event here? For two reasons: firstly because that particular concert really moved me - I am genuinely delighted about what Iveta Tāle and the other singers have achieved in such a short time. But the main thing is that when listening to the contemporary folk music concert I kept returning in my mind to the strength of the singing of Margarita Šakina and the Saucējas, conveyed to the listener without the use of amplifiers. I really hope that next spring a traditional singing concert will be organised where at least three groups of young people will participate. But I digress.
      Listeners assembled for the contemporary folk music concert on the evening of April 1st 2004 in the Small Hall of Riga Technical University. The groups Baļķi from Liepāja and Kala Jeng from Riga had responded to the invitation of the main organiser and leader of the group Visi vēji, Ieva Mūrniece. The group from Kurland opened the event.


      The first thing I would like to praise Baļķi (Logs) for is their costumes. Costumes are very important in that they convey an initial message about the group. Not even having heard Baļķi, we already get the impression that they will be performing stylised folk music, something which is confirmed the moment they begin. Also, costumes sewn in the same style convey a message of a communal goal and atmosphere in the group.
      The other thing I liked was the girls' voices - resonant and differing in tone, resulting in a rich joint sound. Unfortunately the disproportionately loud and monotone accompaniment was an obstacle to being able to savour the voices of the girls from Liepāja as I would have liked.
      The first song God was, God remain was followed by a string of songs about the sun. The songs were beautiful but this part of the repertoire lacked originality - it would be nice to hear more songs discovered and cherished by Baļķi themselves. The pot-pourri of spring exultation songs from Kurland was equivalent to toothache for me. These beautiful, slow songs were thrashed out at high speed and were lost under the noise of the drums and bass guitar. However, the song The sun rises at dawn was, in my opinion, the most successful - it was stinging and addressed the audience's heart's.
      Solveiga Pēterson's comments were sincere and her apprehension was charming but it's maybe not worth highlighting mistakes, as the audience doesn't know how it should sound. Even though Baļķi were in the unenviable position of having to open the concert they dealt with their nervousness very well and looked convincing. Some people involve the audience with jokes, others with virtuoso playing techniques, but the girls from Baļķi - with a smile.

Visi vēji

      Next on stage was Visi vēji (All the winds). I'd like to thank Ieva for having the idea for this concert and for having the initiative to organise it. Even though contemporary folk music concerts are in principle not an unknown phenomenon, they happen scarcely enough to merit a mention and commend the organisers. As we know, "ready-cooked chickens don't fall from the sky" and group leaders themselves are responsible for providing the opportunity to perform. Continue in the same manner!
      All groups have successful and not so successful performances. Even investing a lot of work is not always a guarantee of success. Very often the strength and enthusiasm needed for a concert have been used up in the preparation. This time Visi vēji sounded nervous and frightened.
      There have been changes in the line-up of the group, which in itself is characteristic of new groups - it takes time to work as a whole and to get used to each other and establish what everyone likes and works well. Visi vēji is still looking for harmony in its members, voices and instruments. At the moment they comprise seven members, which is quite a lot. The group had difficulty fitting onto the small stage so it didn't seem like a good choice to use a large number of musical instruments. Their attempts to quickly change from one instrument to another during the performance created a lot of unnecessary noise. It created the impression that the musicians couldn't handle what they themselves had brought onto the stage. There were two boys playing percussion instruments and bass guitar but the songs went at such a pace that the singers had difficulty in pronouncing the words. The girls' - Ieva and Inese - voices sounded pure but Kaspars had been afflicted by the croaks. I think that in such cases it's better to protect oneself and let the "healthier" members sing. The atmosphere was tense and the participants didn't provide support for each other or feel confident. As far as the audience was concerned there was no justification for the nervousness. We had all come to listen to a concert and would have been quite happy to wait ten minutes never mind three for the instruments to be tuned. The content of the repertoire itself deserves some praise. The group mainly sing about relationships between young people, which because of their age is appropriate. Folklore groups who choose the use of instruments as their main direction are catastrophically few in Latvia so we have to cross our fingers that Visi vēji will improve with time.

Kala jeng

      The last word was given to the group singing in the Livonian tongue - Kala Jeng, which in English would sound something like "fish soul" or "breath". The name is very beautiful and full of content with a wonderful reference to Finno-Ugrian mythology. For the sake of fairness it must be said that this performance was quite far removed from folk music - the group sang texts by Livonian poets to music composed by Julgī Stalte. We can only conclude that the fact that the members of Kala Jeng are all part of the folklore family was the defining motive for the inclusion of this performance in a contemporary folk music programme - they are one of us after all, whatever they might do. And we are really pleased with our folk. In terms of numbers Kala Jeng have become more laconic which means that each musician's contribution to the collective sound is much more clearly defined. It turns out you don't need a symphonic orchestra with two tympana sets to strike a rhythm and fill the room with sound. It was nice to hear intonation characteristic of Scandinavian music (as opposed to the generally popular Irish), which gave indisputable indications as to the cultural heritage of Kala Jeng. The group managed to successfully balance the voices of the singers with the instrumental accompaniment - so that both would be highlighted. Marija and Julgī sang with expression and enthusiasm. It was obvious from a distance that the group members felt good together. The initial confusion was quickly overcome and the performance, thanks to Julgī's chat, was light and cheerful. I don't even know if it's possible to learn something like that, I think Julgī has inherited this liveliness and dazzling smile from her mother - Helmī Stalte.
      What can we learn from all this? That we don't have to be perfect but "beautiful". And I'm not referring to some kind of stiff Barbie-doll beauty but an appeal belonging to someone who is natural and confident, laughing, singing and playing. Jokes can break the ice; even the most sullen listener will open up and be on your side if you manage to induce a smile from him. But let's not be small-minded - we are not usually born with the ability to address an audience without losing one's head in the glare of a hundred pair of eyes, that comes with practice. That's why those groups whose members haven't been on stage since an early age have to take every opportunity to perform.
      The contemporary folk music concert ended with words of thanks for all the good souls without whose support and understanding it wouldn't have been as much of a success and a joint song with the participation of the entire hall. I would also like to say "thank-you" to you reader!

      Article: Ieva Bērziņa, April 4th 2004
      Photos: Ieva Bērziņa
      Translation to English: Zinta Uskale

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03 September 2018

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