This stirring album presents a studio version of music sung by the Tautumeitas ensemble at a concert that was founding member Asnate Rancāne’s project for a bachelor’s degree at the Jāzeps Vītols Latvian Academy of Music. Fortunately, it’s a lot simpler than that sentence, and the beauty of this vocal music is not academic at all.
This group, whose name means “folk maidens,” comprises six members, four of whom have studied ethnomusicology at the academy. Their focus is the musical tradition of Auleja, a village in the eastern region of Latgale, which has a rich folk tradition, particularly in multipart singing of graceful, melodic song. Rancāne’s study focused on the music of the Aulejas Sievas ensemble, three generations of which have helped preserve and broaden the understanding of the region’s music.
This is Tautumeitas’s second release on its own, and its collaboration with the drum-and-bagpipe group Auli won the Latvia Music Award for the Best Folk and Worldmusic Album in 2017. This all-vocal recording appears to be something of a departure for them, as videos from their previous release all feature instrumental accompaniment. They excel at both kinds of music. I couldn’t find any videos linked to this album, but here’s a dramatic performance from 2019.
A standout for me among the 16 fairly short tracks is the second, “Dīzgon borgais rudiņs nuoca,” which in addition to a dramatic harmonic arrangement has a melody that at times could pass for a heavy metal ballad. Other song styles range from the stately, like “Ūguos guoju, ūdzeņuosi Ūgu bolss” and “Kur, Jumeiti, tu gulieji” to the sprightly, like “Tymsā mani tautys vede.”
The sing-song style of the chorus in “Ūzals, ūzals, bārzsi, bārzsi” reminds me of the kind of repetitive children’s songs you find in many traditions worldwide. In contrast to the usual call-and-response style of one or two voices singing lead and the rest harmony, “Aiz azara” features three high and three low voices singing more or less in unison, with occasional dips into close harmony that are all the more effective for their infrequency. Perhaps most stirring is the uptempo “Klusit, bārni, vuornys krāc,” with a particularly rousing chorus.
You can find Tatumeitas on streaming platforms. And you can purchase CDs and LPs, and learn more at the CPL website.
(CPL Music, 2019)