Despite its compact size, the independent Baltic Republic of Latvia is another reminder that no country, whatever its size, has a simple history or music legacy. Latvia’s distinct geographic regions likely produced localized song traditions. Until the mid-1800s, serfdom was still practiced, so the agricultural calendar and life-cycle events (birth, marriage, death) permeated Latvian songs. A stable linguistic history has preserved songs that are quite old, yet later influences by Roman Catholic and Lutheran religious practices inevitably affected folk and popular song. Independent after WWI, Latvia came under Soviet control following WWII, a time during which folk songs were within the ambit of nationalistic ideology and political doctrine. Today we find free-spirited and eclectic indie Latvian artists like Rolands Cibulskis who include rap and electronic elements in what is labelled as Latvian Trip Tribal Music.
Rolands Cibulskis has released a string of singles in recent months, including “IMEI”, “Tu Mana Meitene” and “Zinadina” which have been fascinating listeners. Cibulskis’ work seems crafted with optimism in mind.
The man has a wry and unusual sense of humor – which comes through in the music, as I obviously cannot understand the language – coupled with a playful tendency that suggests he doesn’t take himself too seriously.
I especially picked up this sensation on “Tu Mana Meitene”. It might make sense to infer that he is purposing sounds for different responses in the listener, making the tapestries woven in his songs seem both odd and inviting at the same time.
In “Zinadina” the percussive background is muted; steady and frugal, it exists more as an accompaniment to Rolands Cibulskis tribal chant styled rapping. The percussion is tangible but decidedly in the background, leaving the voices upfront to dominate the mix.
The track shuffles with an acute physicality, controlled and surefooted. The rhythmic stabs are subtle yet deliberate, and the pulse is consistent. The rap chant grows, thrives, and then suddenly succumbs.
I realize the irony in the fact that my analysis of what this track may mean, could inherently contradict the real meaning itself. But that’s okay: not being of the Latvian language I have to analyze my perceptions on pure instinct and I perceive a sharp wit and work here.
This is far removed from the streetwise Hip-hop and gangster rap we’re usually accustomed to. This is a whole new ballgame from Rolands Cibulskis who puts his own personal twist and stamp on the genre, adding in his Latvian Tribal Folk influences. As with all thing new, you need an open mind to even begin to appreciate the musical alchemy at work here.