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A cold winter day thoughts on a rainbow and a river


Taking a look from the outside: backstage talks with Arta Jēkabsone and Edgars Cīrulis about dreams, home and music as a statement about the fact we’re alive

Aleksandra Line

I’ve met a singer Arta Jēkabsone and pianist Edgars Cīrulis on a cold winter day at a local tea house. In the evening I was planning to visit their Tribute to Norma Winstone night together with Evilena Protektore, Jānis Rubiks and Krišjānis Bremšs, and I wanted to have a cosy talk, tune in, share a cup of tea before their performance. Always smiling, always sunny, the musicians wanted to meet to share some warm energy, because they had to return to their big life from holidays at home only in a couple of days.

Evilena Protektore

I, personally, have always associated you both with the sun, but which natural phenomenon could you associate yourselves with?

Edgars: A river. Everything flows and changes, never one and the same. I try not to limitate myself, let everything flow through me, not judging anything, only letting everything be. From time to time I’m seeing myself as a power for other things — music or whatever else.

Arta: A rainbow. It shows up right when it’s both sun and rain. Showing up as a surprise, it makes people feel better. In some old fairy tales, upon opening a book, there always was a drawing of a rainbow. More purple color there for me.

Which do you think are your most major recent achievements?

E: Something I’m extremely proud of is an album recording. At last I’ve made my voice sound to the world and made people notice that I exist and am doing things. The second achievement is going out of Latvia, carrying on the name of my country and my own name outside, and more people now know what Latvia is which I represent. The third achievement is that I’m right here, I make music, there are a lot of fantastic friends musicians around me, and I can participate in a lot of projects. I try to doing it as good as I can.

A: Similar to you, Edgar. The fact that I won Montreux opened up a lot of new possibilities for me: recording and launching a CD. Montreux jazz academy, where I met a lot of unbelievable musicians, same year laureates, work together with teachers like Marcus Miller and Kurt Rosenwinkel. That was one beautiful chapter in my book. The best present of my life is music. I’m grateful there is such a way to speak of myself, live and make friends with people. All friends in my life exist there because of music.

Arta, how does life change after winning a huge international contest?

A: It actually doesn’t. I didn’t think I would make my way out of semifinal, and this event was a huge test for me, because I went there without a voice. I had physical problems with it, and I kept thinking — may God help me at least sing those ten minutes. In a human meaning this doesn’t mean a lot, but I personally at last realised what I as a vocalist can do — tell a story. With this, one more period of my life has ended. True, good and unexpected feeling. This now is a stimulus to continue to be even more and deeper into music.

This time, before you came to Latvia to spend your holiday, you’ve told me you are waiting for returning. What does returning home mean to you? Why a home is a home, how can it be defined?

E: I won’t say anything new stating that in order to understand what a home is you need to go away. Home is not a physical thing, nor a feeling about a physical thing, not even actually about people — this is a whole phenomena. Home starts with a second you’re out of an airplane, ship or a car, when you cross the border with a sign saying “Latvia” — you think that air is yours, lighter, people smile more, bed is cosier, water and food — tastier. This is a very psychological thing. I like it when musicians, writers and other creative people always try to catch it — what is a home. I think this topic is huge — this is a thing that we always can cling to and resonate.

A: Yes, I’m with Edgars on this. And there’s language as well. When you’re away in a completely different environment, there’s some foreign culture, language, a totally different mix. Every day you’re in a different environment, and when you return, there’s the feeling of a well-known air and language. I remember my first time exiting the plane after quite a long time: you feel that air and realise — yes, this is Latvia, home. You appreciate an option to return here, spend some time. Everything at once becomes OK. it’s not bad out there, but it’s so well-known here. Everything’s alright, you’re home. It’s difficult to define. That is a beautiful feeling.

So you see those dreams in Latvian as well?

A: In the beginning I kept seeing dreams in Latvian, then at some point everything changed, I’ve started thinking and dreaming in English. And then when you meet people who talk your native language you’re back.

E: I personally was into English language and culture all the time, which comes from America and Great Britain. Being in Latvia as well, I often talk English, sometimes realise I’m thinking in English too. Although I always feel that central gravitation for my thoughts and feelings is in Latvian. You’re thinking about different tiny details in English, but the very moment things become important, you return to your native language. This is interesting.

A: I even write essays in a weird matter. When I just went away, it was a nightmare! I couldn’t properly structure sentences and punctuation marks. In Latvian I can write in a philosophic mode, use poetic words, but there I just cannot find those words! I’ve started with writing a bit simpler and more primitive. And then once my teacher said: stop writing like a Shakespeare! I replied — I actually write like Ziedonis. You may not know who he is, but I’ll show you. I liked when people were fascinated when seeing poetry of Imants Ziedonis (translated, of course), and thought — mindblowing! What is happening in your Latvia!

From Saulkrasti Jazz festival archive

Which is the best discovery you’ve made in the last half a year away from home?

A: I have many, but the brightest is very simple: you have to live in a moment, here and now. This is the direction where we, human beings, have to go. Where we are going, but the road is different for each of us, and you cannot know if we actually find it.

E: I liked some lines of an Estonian poet: “it’s easy to be hard, and it’s hard to be easy”. It’s so easy to give up and realise something’s wrong and lose motivation, but it’s hard to be easy, but it makes you a winner at the end. The ability to try hard to find some light and easiness in yourself and the things you do.

What, in your opinion, do you both have in common — as musicians and as persons?

A: An interesting question (laughs). I think that is communication that’s happening without any words, it’s just there. Everything becomes easier.

E: It’s important to mention reliance, trust. I don’t know Arta for as long as I know some other musicians whom I work with more often. Nevertheless if trust in others should be gained, this time it’s already there. Right at the sound of the first note you lose your grip and let everything flow and be, and get created. This all is beautiful, because it doesn’t happen often, it happens with only a few, and those few are difficult to find.

Speaking of collaborations…

A: Everything’s coming soon!

E: I’ve promised myself that the next work I’m releasing into the world — in the form of an album or recording — will feature Arta. I’ve promised it will be about me, and at the same time about all of us, about something that’s very dear to each and every one — our childhood. The thing I want to find together with Arta is a childhood light in music. This year we’ll collaborate, come to visit each other, write music and lyrics, and I’ll write a story on which this next thing will be based.

I want to hear that story so much!

Both simultaneously: Me too!

A: This is magic. Edgar, do you remember how we met? For the first time we’ve played with Artis Gāga, you gave me your song and asked to write lyrics. Last year I couldn’t think of anything, and this year, when we’ve just started working on our first duo concert, Edgars showed other compositions he’s written and I was listening to them — at the same time the lyrics were right there. I don’t even know how to explain that.

E: I was most of all surprised by the fact that the very night after our rehearsal at midnight Arta’s sent me the lyrics. If that’s not a sign for this collaboration to work out, I don’t know what else can it be!

Maybe there’s something in your music.

E: In 90% of the cases I, to admit, don’t know how I compose it. I think I understand the whole process, but right when I understand how’s the music created, I get stuck. Have to forget how to compose again. When I forget, I can continue. When there’s no light and magic, there’s no play, for music is a play. To me music means a lot of things, and one of the most powerful is that music is our joy and a manifestation of will of life. Music is our testament to being here, being alive and doing things.

A: In my opinion, the biggest problem for people is being too much within our head not within our heart. When that room’s closed, we can’t let anything in. When there’s no blood circulation, everything stops everywhere.

What, in your opinion, living outside Latvia, is happening to Latvian jazz industry? What becomes more clear?

A: There actually are great musicians in Latvia. At least with people whom I’ve worked with, I’ve never faced any problems. Speaking of America, there’s a different attitude. When you start talking to people, most of the cases there’s some stamp put on you for some unknown reasons. In Latvia jazz community is so small, everyone knows everyone, that stamp also is in there, but there sometimes you block somebody even without knowing him. Speaking of education, I was surprised how good the program there is. Nothing unnecessary: certain amount of hours, certain things that should be done, an opportunity to plan your own time. Each time I’m back here, I realise many things are becoming international: now there’s «Trompete», «Pashkevich Jazz Club» — that communication is more international, which is positive. This is also a way to speak loud of Latvia. All this international environment we’re a part of, going to «Jazzahead!», other conferences and events — everything gives. It’s awesome that we have a high level of criticism. You can lose your self esteem, but if you have criticism and can define borders, you know what’s good and bad for you. Interesting to compare mentalities and cultures.

E: I feel positive about the things that are going on here. It’s quite hard to compare it to Denmark, I live in one of the least jazz active Danish cities, a student town, where education means the most, and musical scene — way less, even if they try to improve it. Latvia is more receptive to new things, international events. Denmark prioritizes its local product, it’s more difficult to come in there as a foreigner. In Latvia, in my opinion, everything starts to grow now, the listeners also start to appreciate jazz music, and more than just jazz, good, wise music.

An advice for a jazz musician — staying in Latvia or going away?

A: Living with an open mind. If there’s a chance to go away, I definitely advise that: going somewhere you start to evaluate things in a different manner, see what you haven’t noticed before.

E: There’s an advice not just for a Latvian musician, for any human being on planet Earth — go somewhere. The more we mix, get to know other cultures, the more conscious we get, with more respect to one another and love the unity. We’re together on this wonderful planet, and we have to share it, be friendly neighbors. The more we see the outer world, the more we can appreciate one another’s traditions. Not only a Latvian jazz musician, a Kyrgyzstan’s street sweeper has to look beyond the horizon, that is healthy.

A: Many people can’t do crazy things because they’re afraid of changes. They think of how much they’ll lose, and don’t realise how much they’ll get. We get afraid, and that stops things.

Una Stade

Once you finish your studies, do you plan to return?

A: I’ve realised that living in a big city is cool, but that’s very individual. Right now I have no idea whether New York is a place where I would like to live, but I like being there, there’s a great motivation. No matter what’s going on, Latvia is always the place where you can return, where you’re at home.

E: In my ideal world I visualize Latvia as my base. Now, you know, in the 21st century, it seems that the world’s so small! This week on Tuesday 11 am I literally was in Aalborg, next day in Latvia, done everything I should have. It’s not so important where you are, even if it’s Antarctida — if you’ve got internet and an airport within your reach, no problem at all. The most important thing is to create a large wide contact network in the whole world and play your cards whichever way you like.

How does your ideal rest look like?

A: Nature. When there’s nothing around. Cell switched off, somewhere on a bookshelf, and you’re walking in the forest, by a river, away from people, streets, rush.

From music as well?

A: Music’s everywhere all the time. The nature breathes, and that’s a sound. There you can find peace and ideas. Then I return, sit by my piano, start to sing, get better, and something new begins.

E: It depends on the context a lot, but traveling is the best. Even traveling without a destination, just going somewhere, walking, getting to know people. In the best case — if there are mountains. I’m not a fan of extreme sports, but I like being by the nature and away from technology. Sheltering myself from all sorts of distraction.

Whom would you like to sing or play with most in your life — any dreams?

E: My dream is to once play together with Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter. Actually I’d like to play with them only to get a chance to chat about life with them at the backstage. Actually I’ve already met all those people, and one of them is sitting right in front of me right now — I’ve had a dream to do music with Arta for some time. One moment it seemed to me that this dream is unachievable, but it turned out to be much easier than I thought.

A: For me, the main thing in music is finding true people who would be ready to travel whichever direction. One of such people who seems an unachievable dream is Bobby McFerrin. While observing him, it seems that he can make anybody do music, be it a musician or not. I don’t know whether it’s an inspiration, energy, miracle, but that’s truly beautiful.

Has anyone ever told you that you can’t do it?

Both simultaneously: no!

A: I’m grateful for meeting people who have inspired me to move on, do things and not to be afraid. I’m grateful to my parents for not a single moment of not believing in me. In the beginning nobody knew I had a sense of pitch, my kindergarten tutor discovered that. She told my parents to bring me to a music school, and then I went there myself. Everything I did was done spontaneously, but all the time some key persons have been near, especially in the moments of blues when I thought I couldn’t make it. Sometimes I don’t believe in myself, but everything’s only in my own head.

E: The only person who could say so is me. Sometimes there’s a moment of eclipse when you lose faith for a second, and then there’s an infinite process when you discover yourself from the very beginning. Time for self criticism and development, looking back on what you’ve done, evaluating, and moments when this evaluating can become destructive and destroy you in a second. Some extraordinary will power of not breaking is the result of that. It’s not important whether I’m better than anyone else, it’s important that right now I do the best I can. I overcome that destructive criticism moment so often — of not being capable to do it, of not being able to call myself a composer or a pianist.

A: Sometimes that boundaries help to move forward. There are some obstacles that limit you, but you realise you have to move on.