Ugis Praulins, et al,
Paganu Gadagramata
(Pagan Yearbook)

(UPE, 1999)

The title of this first entry in the Latvian Folk Music Collection means "Pagan Yearbook," although the liner notes suggest ties to religious holidays as well, especially Easter. The CD is a seasonal cycle of mostly traditional songs and instrumental pieces for which some of Latvia's most prominent folk musicians combine forces and the emphasis is on the natural progression of the year.

Ugis Praulins organized the project; he provides vocals as well as performs on kokle (a Latvian folk instrument resembling a zither), keyboards, kalimba (thumb piano), china flute -- presumably a bamboo flute from China, from the sound -- and recorder. He is joined by Ilga Reizniece on vocals and violin, Maris Muktupavels on vocals, bagpipes and accordion, Gints Sola on acoustic and electric guitars, Andris Alvikis on fretless, acoustic and double bass, and Nils Ile on djembe, cowbells, sleigh bells, bongos, balafon (an African instrument which resembles a xylophone but has gourds beneath the slats to amplify the sound) and small percussion.

The pieces flow seamlessly, one into the next, although the cycle is divided into five sections: "Atkusins (The Thaw)," "Pavasaris (Spring)," "Vasara (Summer)," "Rudens (Autumn)" and "Ziema (Winter)." The tracks within each section are related to the theme.

"Zala Zied Zalite (The Thaw/Green Blossoms of Grass)" begins with cowbells and the clear tones of the kalimba to represent the sounds of dripping water and breaking ice; the chanting melody in Reizniece's husky vibrant voice hint at the beginning of spring. The melody is gently carried into "Atiti Leldina (Easter Comes)" with the kokle, then evolves into its own melody. The song starts off slowly and melodiously, then picks up halfway through with a wild steady rhythm underscored by the djembe and guitars before settling back into the wistful and melancholy tone of the beginning.

None of the selections are particularly lively or dance-like, but the music is richly textured and engrossing. The melodies are expressive; for example, "Pirmais Perkons (The First Thunderstorm)" captures the clarity and anticipation in the air before a storm, and the sadness of "Es Gulu Gulu (I Sleep and Sleep)" is conveyed clearly. "Sauleite Lece (The Sun Rises)" is sheer stirring majesty, yet the story behind the song is simple, as a young girl is awakened early in the morning by the rising sun, and she wakes up her family. There are some surprises on the CD; the listener hardly expects electric guitars on a disc of traditional folk music, yet the sound works.

Although the lyrics are in Latvian and the liner notes don't give specific translations, there is a sense of cohesive story in the cycle and it concludes leaving the listener satisfied. If you want to stretch your listening boundaries, take a chance on Paganu Gadagramata.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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