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Six folk song sisters — each with its own character, but of one blood

Evilena Protektore

Lauris Amantovs and Rūta Dūduma-Ķirse in a conversation about their new album «To each their own folk song»

Evilena Protektore

Good news to those who actively follow Latvian jazz music — an album that has been announced a while ago is finally out! I’m talking about Lauris Amantovs and Rūta Dūduma-Ķirse’s newest collaboration — a double CD of Latvian folk songs «To each their own folk song”, where the listener will find… eight folk songs arranged in jazz, but that’s not all there is — six of the eight songs can be enjoyed in two different versions, both instrumental and vocal.
I have to admit that releasing a double CD nowadays is brave because such a product is more expensive in production and costs more for the listeners. Moreover, now people don’t necessarily have a place to listen to CDs at, maybe in their cars, so the overall percentage of CDs being bought today is significantly lower (digital music streaming platforms don’t help the cause as well). But maybe the fact that the CD is double could also help, because when you’re in a car and you have so many songs by one artist, or in this case — ensemble, you can just stick to what you enjoy without having to dig out multiple CDs and trying to change one while on the way. Also, considering how much time we now are spending in the said car, maybe it’s even better to have some variety in music that we usually listen to while driving, to have something intelligent and close to heart at the same time, because folk music is something we all know and hear since childhood.

So, one Sunday morning Rūta and Lauris agreed to share a cup of coffee with me and tell me more about the album that we all were waiting for so impatiently! Although, I have to admit that the first time I saw their CD was when we met and they gave me a copy as a present, so at the time of our conversation I haven’t had a chance to listen to the music yet. And I do have the chance to listen to CDs at home, so I did have the chance to enjoy their music right after our chat, and I do recommend everyone to do the same!

Let’s get straight to the chase then! But, first, tell me about your album!

Lauris: A couple of years ago we recorded an instrumental album with traditional Jazz music and some Latvian jazz tunes as well.

«Šūpuļdziesma Trombonam» (Lullaby for trombone)?

Lauris: Yes, and then I wanted to continue heading in the same direction. A true impulse was when everything stopped last year, everyone suddenly had a lot of free time and opportunities to do creative things! Viktors and I already had some arrangements ready, then we decided to do some more tunes, and then Rūta agreed to share her amazing vocals to us for a project.

Rūta: But I also haven’t been the first one to sing those songs with you.

Lauris: Yes, we have played concerts and toured Latvia with Kristīne Prauliņa, but then she decided to concentrate more on her music — to sing what she composed herself, that’s why I decided to get in touch with Rūta, and she said yes!

Rūta: I can balance my own music with other projects, so yes.

Lauris: Well, that’s a short version of how this album came to be. We had an idea of maybe making two albums to satisfy different tastes because maybe some like instrumental music more than vocal.

Rūta: I always vote for music with words in it because that’s what folk songs are — songs with words!

Lauris: Our intentions were a little selfish as well — we wanted to attract a wider audience because if you play just jazz, traditional jazz, the audience in Latvia to consume such a product isn’t that grand. But folk songs are known to everyone.

So it was a commercial decision?

Lauris: A little bit. [laughs]

Ok, so we now know that one CD is instrumental and another is vocal, correct?

Lauris: Exactly. The instrumental CD has two more tunes than the vocal one — «Stāvēju, dziedāju» and «Karavīri bēdājās» aren’t arranged for vocals, so there are eight instrumental tunes and six vocal compositions.

Rūta: But now we’ve managed to add two more compositions to our vocal list! After the release of the album, though. But that also means that there will be a continuation to the album!

So that is a long-lasting project. But that also isn’t a debut for your collaboration, right? Have you worked together before?

Lauris: Yes, we’ve met for other projects.

Rūta: But not that personally, closely. We had a couple of concerts with «Mirage Jazz Orchestra» — both with «Framest» ensemble and solo, but that was a while ago.

Lauris: Yes, but a tight collaboration is a first for us.

And how’d it go? [laughs]

Rūta: No incidents yet! I am happy and honored they chose me because Lauris and others — Viktors Ritovs, Andris Grunte, and Artis Orubs are excellent musicians, and I, in turn, have experience in folk music. So I’m happy they decided to rely on me, trust me! I think we complemented each other very well. Also, the recording process was fascinating — nobody bothered me, backing tracks were already recorded, so all I had to do was go into my small booth in the studio at home and record my part.

Evilena Protektore

At home!

Rūta: Yes! I have a studio in Engure, where we lived during the Covid times — my husband built it to record there. So I recorded a hundred takes, chose the one I liked, and sent it to Lauris to accept.

And Lauris trusted you to do this on your own? That’s a rare occasion for someone responsible for the music not to want to control the process.

Lauris: But I did trust Rūta, I knew from our previous projects that she’s reliable and will do a fantastic job. I think that all musicians care about what they do, especially if it will be recorded on a CD that will stay basically forever.

Rūta: And another thing is that there’s a difference when a producer says what he wants is one thing, but this kind of music requires your interpretation, your flow. The fact that it will be immortalized on a CD is the first step; then, you can develop it even further during live shows.

Lauris: And then the result is always different, each show is unique, you never know what will come out of it!

So how did you decide to choose Rūta?

Lauris: Because I like how Rūta sings! Really, and especially I like how she sings folk songs, she has this voice that flows, that’s light and clear.

Rūta: I, in turn, had listened to how Kristīne sings those songs, and I had my vision of how they should be sung, how they should sound — they don’t need to be complicated. We have left the folk song themes very close to the original, and then what comes next, after the theme, it can be changed, it’s another story. That way, this material is easier to digest. I think that we managed to do good with those folk songs — they sound melodic. You know, I don’t only have folk songs in my heart, and not only old popular tunes, something we call «Estrada”, but I also adore something modern. Hence, all this music lives inside me, and I might use different tools in my performance — sing a couple of traditional notes, then switch to something from abroad, then back again.

How did you choose the songs?

Lauris: We talked with Viktors, tried out different tunes, and figured out what would sound good on trombone. But also we tried choosing such folk songs that wouldn’t be utterly unknown to the audience. In the end, we chose what I liked, what Viktors wanted.

Rūta: And the latest tunes, ones not included in the album, we chose differently — I went to visit my husband’s grandmother, we sat in her kitchen and that moment I received an SMS from Viktors, asking me if there were some folk songs I wanted to add to the program, something energetic, not sad. So I turned to Jānis’s grandmother and asked her for advice, and she started singing different folk songs she knew! I wrote down the names of these tunes, sent them to Viktors, and that’s how the story goes…

That sounds like ethnomusicological work, research!

Rūta: Well, yes. But isn’t it always like that? When you start searching for something old and find something new.

Evilena Protektore

So tell me about the jazz in this album — what kind of jazz is it?

Lauris: Jazz as a thing is a very multifaceted thing, so there’s a different kind of jazz in each folk song!

Rūta: We don’t think of it that way, we mainly characterize it by saying whether it’s a joyful or sad kind of mood.

Lauris: Sometimes it’s melancholic, sometimes it’s very light and easy-listening.

Rūta: And we don’t have swing in it!

What!? [laughs]

Lauris: Now that I think of it — that’s true, not a single swing tune…

Ok, so once again, the songs are mostly the same on both CDs, but one CD is instrumental, and another one is vocal? So that the listener could choose how he wants to take his folk song — with lyrics or without?

Lauris: We would prefer that they listen to both! [laughs]

Rūta: Two birds with one stone!

And the musicians for this project are the same you usually play with?

Lauris: Yes, sometimes there’s a sub for someone, but that’s a rare occurrence.

So it wasn’t like you chose special people to play on this CD?

Rūta: They already are special!

Lauris: Yes, we’ve been playing together for a long time now.

But a double CD is a brave choice, I might say.

Lauris: I know, but we’ll do our best to make it available to everyone interested. Nowadays, there’s no point in trying to earn money by selling CDs, so that’s also not our goal. Since we had the support of the State Culture Capital Foundation, and we are incredibly grateful to have that, we can share the music with the audience. We received a lot of help from Kuldīga culture center, a special thank you should be addressed to Inta Burnevica, «Musica Baltica» Publishing house… Soon the album will be available on most music streaming platforms — «Spotify», «Apple Music», etc. It’s important to make music available to people.

Evilena Protektore

So then tell me, a person who hadn’t heard the CD yet, why should I choose to listen to it? What is so special about your album?

Rūta: First of all, because you live in Latvia, secondly — it’s our tradition, thirdly — this is still something we can relate to nowadays — how we know and preserve our ancient traditions and culture. But we also remember that we’re in the 21st century, and things change, meet up, break up (that was meant to be a musical metaphor…), and each one who listens to the CD will have his own picture in mind, some subjective opinion, a unique one. But you don’t have to listen to the CD with a critical ear; instead, do it in an easy mood.

Lauris: With a glass of wine.

Rūta: Or tea or coffee.

Lauris: Or in a car. The amount of time we spend on the road nowadays is long enough to manage to listen to both CDs! If you’re in traffic or going out of town, it will help to relax, not think about things outside of your control, forget about surroundings, and worry about things. Just listen to music. I like listening to folk music myself, it brings up some warm memories in me.

Rūta: Each folk song is remarkable; that’s also why the name of the album is what it is — «To each their own folk song», because when put together they form a big story of sorts, a story about us, about our ancestors. But in this case, it truly means that each person has their own song, a different one, and they all are interconnected, like sisters — six sisters, each with her own character but of one blood.