various artists,
Latviesu Danci (Latvian Dances)
(UPE, 1999)

There was some heavy sweating involved in the recording of this album.

Latviesu Danci (Latvian Dances) isn't a dry or scholarly attempt to preserve a dying art. This is the real stuff, lively traditional dance music and it's still performed to this day. If you doubt the veracity of the music, just listen closely -- you can often hear the sounds of dancers vigorously plying their craft in the background.

Even without knowing the slightest bit about Latvian dance styles, it's hard not to respond to these evocative tunes by tapping a foot at the very least. (And I do mean "least" -- I suspect you'll find yourself rocking vigorously in your chair to some of this stuff. Tracks 7, "Dzisme," and 12, "Ziga," are particularly hard to resist.)

Latviesu Danci is the second in the Latvian Folk Music Collection from UPE, and it draws upon the musical talents of various traditional performers. The liner notes, which are unfortunately almost entirely in Latvian, list the following musicians: Andris Alvikis, Mikus Cavarts, Lauma Garkalne, Kristine Karele, Ilmars Mezs, Ingrida Mezs, Janta Mezs, Maris Muktupavels (who is also the producer), Ilga Reizniece, Vineta Romane, Gints Sola, Aigars Voitiskis and Ilvars Zalitis. They supply some great singing voices as well as traditional instrumentation, which includes fiddles, pipes, whistles, accordions and percussion.

There are also, apparently, descriptions of the individual dances by Sniedze Grinberga, but unfortunately those portions are entirely in Latvian. There is a useful introduction by ethnomusicologist Valdis Muktupavels, which notes that the revival of these dances by folklorists of the 1970s and '80s was exceeded by a natural revival in Latvia's dance clubs, pubs and seasonal rural festivals.

Despite having little foreknowledge of Latvian folk music before popping this CD in the player, I quickly found myself thoroughly enjoying the music. This is a real pleasure to hear while working; it makes even laborious chores seem light, since it's hard to feel tired or bored when you're stomping your feet, bopping your head and swaying in time to every joyful note.

[ by Tom Knapp ]