In today’s article I thought about introducing you some Latvian music. The surprising fact is that although the Baltic states are all very small they have a big music scene and Riga is the place of the Latvian Music Academy where many popular Baltic musicians started their career. And as I mentioned in my past article folk music played a big role for Latvia’s national identity and its independence from the former Soviet Union. And that’s why I recommend you to go to Riga this year to visit the Song Festival in Rigas Mežaparks this summer. Latvia’s neighbour Estonia is going to organize a similar song festival in Tallinn in summer 2019 called Laulupidu in Estonian. In its history all Baltic states had to resist against several foreign influences.
Resistance against German and Russian influences
The music is a clear example of resistance against German and Russian influences. The traditional Latvian music is inspired by the natural faith and the so-called rune songs which you will also find in Estonia and Finland. Just think of the famous Finnish national epic Kalevala. Being in Latvia and Estonia I realized a big religious difference between native Estonian and Latvian people and the Russian minority. While Russian inhabitants visit the Orthodox church Latvian and Estonian are mostly not very religious. Lithuanian are mostly Catholic as they have been christianized by Poland during their history. The traditional rune songs in Latvia and Estonia are based on this natural faith. In Latvia I heared a few of them in Livian language which is a Finno-Ugrian almost dead language related to Estonian. Although Lithuania is catholic you will you find a similar kind of music in Lithuania called sutartinės. During their performance women stand infront of each other and keep on singing syllables in a monotone way which for foreign ears might sound a little bit hypnotizing. By the way the region of Samogitia in the west of Lithuania was the last region in Europe to be christianized in the 15th century. The river Daugava which you will pass when going to Riga has also a religious meaning in a certain way. In the 12th and 13th century Latvia has been occupied by the Teutonic Order. German became the language of the elite and all Latvian were forced to being baptized and christianized. The Latvian didn’t want to accept Christianity as their new religion and cleaned themselves symbolically from Christianity and the baptism in Daugava river. At that time there was no press and literature in Latvian language so Latvian people who spoke German started collecting the so-called dainas which are traditional Latvian poems as old as the Latvian language. Some theories even claim that they have their origin in India. Latvia’s national hero about which I already wrote in one of my past articles is Krišjānis Barons who started collecting them from all over Latvia and which you can visit in a small library near Esplanāde Park in Riga.
In the late 1980s Krišjānis Barons also became an important national symbolic figure in Latvia’s attempts to get independent from the Soviet Union during the so-called Singing Revolution.
From traditional Latvian music to pop and electric music
Riga having a huge Music Academy near Esplanāde Park has also some great pop music. The countries most famous music band is Brainstorm or in Latvian Prāta Vētra. They became international attention when they represented Latvia in the Eurovision Song Contest 2000 in Stockholm. They are still the biggest stars in their country and they still publish songs in English, Latvian and Russian. In the past years electric music became very popular in Latvia and another famous singer which combines electric music with R’n’B is Aminata Savadogo. She has a Russian mother and an African father coming from Burkina Faso. That’s why she has black hair and a darker skin and you can hear some slight African influences in her voice and her songs. Another musician who combines traditional Latvian sounds with electric music is Andrejs Eigus who became famous under his name Selffish. He produces his music maping different sounds he gets to hear all over Riga.
One music clip – Many languages
If you are learning Latvian and also Lithuanian and Estonian for your trip through the Baltic states I can recommend you a music clip of Lauris Reiniks who is also a big star in Latvia. In 2010 he recorded his song Es skrienu which means I’m running. The song is about a girl he actually wants to date but never finds time for her. Watching this music clip you can get a first impression of Latvia’s landscapes and typical art nouveau houses. You will also find a Lithuanian version Aš bėgu, an Estonian version Ma jooksen and a Russian version Я бегу (Ya begu). It’s a good practice if you want to compare all these languages to eachother. I hope that you enjoyed my little brainstorm about Latvian music!