Auli’s Voices of the Ancestors (Senču Balsis)

cover artThere just aren’t enough albums that combine bagpipes and yodelling. If you don’t see yourself agreeing with that statement you can just stop reading now.

Okay, whoever’s still with me, meet the Latvian drum-and-bagpipe ensemble Auli. They’ve been making music together since 2003 and have released five or six albums since their first in 2005. Auli at this point comprises six bagpipes, three drum sets and a bassist, making glorious, somewhat martial music that puts a modern spin on traditional Latvian folk music. With their latest album Voices of the Ancestors they continue their recent branching out to work with vocalists from various traditions. Here on 12 tracks they work with four male singers: Mongolian throat singer Batzorig Vaanchig, Norwegian yoiker Kai Somby, Austrian yodeller Albin Paulus from Austria, and Latvian Edgars Lipors.

Of course my main sympathies are with the three numbers that feature Albin Paulus, who sings with a clear, pleasant tenor. Paulus’s three songs are each quite different from the others. Its whimsical melody and charming “whee-de-oh, whee-de-de” chorus of his “Almerlied Huidirdio” make it my favorite on the album. It’s a traditional Austrian folk song with delightful lyrics about the work of cowherds and dairy farmers, taking the cows to the mountains, making butter, and so on. “Auerhahnjodler” is another traditional tune but this one is purely yodeling of the melody with no lyrics. There’s something like a bridge verse played by a lead bagpiper that may even be Paulus, who is listed as singing and playing pipes on this one. And finally there’s “Maijodler,” a Paulus original that combines classical themes with folk and maybe even pop rhythms and motifs.

Latvian Lipors sings and plays a zither called the kokle on his gentle, pastoral traditional song called “My Father’s Bees” (“Tēva Bites”), which gets a dramatic boost from a couple soaring drum-and-pipe interludes. He also sings on a couple of numbers that also feature Batzorig Vaanchig.

The already heightened emotions of Kai Somby’s yoiks are pushed even higher by the drum and pipe accompaniment. The galloping rhythm and ringing tones of the pipes on the stately “Orbina” (“Orphan”) suggest to my ears a Spaghetti Western soundtrack relocated to the far North.

Vaanchig takes lead vocals and plays the morin khuur or horsehead fiddle on three tracks, singing in the Mongolian throat singing style called khoomei. Of particular interest is his tribute to the hero of his people, “Chinggis Khaan.” And “Hunnu Guren,” the album’s second track,” is a very stirring song, especially with the visuals offered by this video.

All of these musicians lend a hand to the others’ tracks, and the first and last tracks are Latvian folksongs contributed by Lipors but arranged as big ensemble numbers. To my ear the mix of this drum and pipe ensemble called Auli works best with Vaanchig’s songs, the thunderous hide drums and keening pipes perfectly evoking the vast Asian steppes.

This is an excellent production, with top-notch performances by everyone and excellent liner notes and photographs in the generous booklet. Released in Latvia in 2019 but just getting international distribution now, in 2019 it was named Best Folk and World Music Album at the Latvian Music Recording Awards.

(CPL-Music, 2020)

About Gary Whitehouse

Gary has been reviewing music, books and more at the Green Man Review since sometime in the previous Millennium. He lives in a mostly hipster-free part of Oregon, where he enjoys dogs, books, music, the outdoors, and craft beer, cider, and coffee.