Monday, February 23, 2015

Dissident Folk: Iļģi and "Ai Māte, Ai Māte"

Today's song is by Latvian band Iļģi, which calls itself the most famous world music band from Latvia. Iļģi was formed in 1981, during the days of the Soviet regime in Latvia, and their focus was on the folk music of Latvia. They traveled around the country looking for folk songs that had never been recorded. In looking for these folk songs, they also uncovered tradition and history that the Soviet government found dangerous because delving into folklore was seeing as an act of dissidence. Their concerts, in which they wore traditional costumes and played traditional Latvian instruments such as the kokle (stringed instrument) and the dūdas (a type of bagpipe) had to be approved by government officials and any perceived non-compliance from regulations could result in a canceled concert or a ban. For a while, their name and that of other folklorists was forbidden to be mentioned in the media. Thus, the band and their work and music were hidden from much of the public for years.

The collapse of the Soviet system freed Iļģi from all restrictions, and also probably freed them from strict adherence to folk music. Musicians being musicians, Iļģi wanted to explore what they were capable of musically and they began to transition from a pure folk band to a post-folk band, where the music became infused with other influences besides Latvian folk. Iļģi still remains true to the traditions - the member of the band who has been with them longest teaches Latvian folk traditions to school children, for example. However, they continue to find their way as a post-folk band. For awhile they went to completely electric instruments, but a new generation of music lovers in Latvia have been demanding to hear more of the traditional music, and Iļģi has been going back to the old instruments. Their music has been described as reflective and meditative in some songs, and upbeat and full of vitality in others. They've been honored many times both in Latvia and abroad. This song, Ai Māte, Ai Māte (Mother Oh Mother), is from their 2006 award winning album Ne Uz Vienu Dienu, a collection of wedding songs.