It has been more than 20 years since Latvia freed itself from Russia and Communism; there’s a generation that’s grown up in the heady air, and the six women of Tautumeitas (evidently pronounced Tautu-MAY-tas to avoid an offensive word) are among them. They’re part of the second Latvian folk revival – the first was part of the 1970s cultural resistance against the Russians – and their debut is full of joy, eagerly grabbing the country’s tradition and pulling it into the 21st century.
Actually, it’s not quite their debut; they collaborated on Lai Māsina Rotājās with drum-and-bagpipe band Auli. Check out the video at the end of this review for the deliciously primal “Dzied’ papriekšu, brāļa māsa."
But this is where their own story properly begins.
They bring big arrangements and choruses to the tradition, but keep the multi-part polyphonic singing that’s at the heart of Latvian music (historically performed by women). Instrumentally, on top of their own violins and accordion, there’s jaw harp, bass, and some electronic programming that gives plenty of punch to the sound. Even before this CD appeared, the band was already known in their homeland through a track put together by producer Reinis Sējāns, which was used in a TV documentary on Latvian history.
“Pāde” comes from a Christening song, sweetly insistent, before bursting out in pleasure. Folklore, religion, and ritual form an important part of the repertoire; “Raganu nakts” tells of witches in Midsummer, for example. Yet there’s the intimacy of family and children on the lullaby “Pelīte,” which lulls with quiet, gentle beauty. Between artists in Estonia and Latvia, there’s a new folk sound emerging, one that’s aware and grounded in the past, but also pressing ahead and creating music that sparkles with excitement and pleasure. – Chris Nickson
Find the ensemble online