Good things come from the roots. Interview with Goran Gora

Good things come from the roots. Interview with Goran Gora
Mārtiņš Otto, Rīga 2014
28-08-2013 A+ A-
„Terribly busy summer, a good way,” this is how Goran Gora (Jānis Holšteins-Upmanis) replies to a how-are-you part. Then he lists: have to go to the airport to meet a wife (Māra Holšteine-Upmane is a leader of Latvian band „Astro’n’out”), last week they recorded the new album with Imants Ziedonis’ „Viegli” Foundation, several concerts in the end of summer 2013, his new album, and more..On 30 August, Goran Gora and his band will perform at „Rīga 2014” culture summer house, so the public might hope to hear some of his new songs with the lyrics by Knuts Skujenieks.

Goran Gora previously has said that he should speak when he has something to tell, not just by inertia. But now he speaks with pleasure. Last year he took a break, so he could save people’s interest and his emotions, knowledge and experience he shares with the listener.

Goran Gora started his musician career while playing in the indie/experimental band „Rydgal” that existed for a short time. As a singer-songwriter Goran Gora started with a splendid and ambitious plans in order to „take the world”. Still, instead of playing sold-out gigs in Europe, he had the choice to explore poetry by Imants Ziedonis, take part at „Viegli” Foundation and had the option to compose music for Latvian theatre performances including plays by Rūdolfs Blaumanis directed by Elmārs Seņkovs and to speak in one language with Knuts Skujenieks, a dissident poet who was judged for his anti-Soviet propaganda activities, but now he has gained a Latvian Literature award for his lifelong input.


Do you feel welcomed in Riga as The European Capital of Culture?

Of course! I really am looking forward to next year’s events, just as about Song and Dance Celebration. When this great European culture carousel starts to roll, it’s clear for me that we are gonna be a small part of it. Every European Capital of Culture event will have this additional value including all activities that are not selected for the official programme.

How will your new record you write in Latvian will fit in this carousel?

The Latvian part from it is the poetry by Knuts Skujenieks, but the musical side is not traditionally Latvian-ish with ethnographic elements and so. This new record will likely to be a contemporary alternative folk/songwriter musical piece with strong relation to world trends. This is why such kind of music would be interesting to foreign listeners.

Does this mean that the English version is not gonna be recorded?

Definitely not. Actually, I am against lyrics translation, because I think that a song is not a product. It has to live in a language it was written. I find it important to save the former language code in music.

Your wife Māra told in an interview with „Rīga 2014” something completely different about this issue. Do you argue about it?

Yes, I know her position. No, we don’t have an argument about it, I even helped translate some lyrics from „Lauvas”. I am not so categoric. There are musicians and bands who translate their music into other languages, they need to do this and they are successful in it, but I it is not for me.



You previously wrote songs in English. Songs in Latvian language came in your repertoire as soon as you got related to Imants Ziedonis’ „Viegli” Foundation. How did you get to a poetry by Knuts Skujenieks?

Completely by accident, I don’t know..I mean, really! As soon as we recorded „Viegli” album with Ziedonis’ lyrics, I was fond of the idea to write songs in Latvian, but I am not very good at writting texts in this language.

I accidentaly run into works of Skujenieks quite soon. I don’t know where I found his poetry book, I have not selected his best works on purpose, it just clicked together in a mystical way.

They say that by using other author’s text, the song itself is not a 100 percent your art piece.

Yes, indeed..(Smiling.) It’s a compromise art, in a way. We just had an event where I met Skujenieks. He read his poetry including those pieces I took for my album. I realized that our interpretations differ, though I never went against his work. I just make it musically larger as well as I am able to. Certainly, I treat his work with great respect.

Has Knuts Skujenieks heard some of your new songs?

Yes, a couple of them. He just smiles and says: continue, write some more. He is very interesting and respectful man. He explained me how he writes, but I told him how I create music, we came to a conclusion that we do things similarly. He said that it is because his texts „sit” well in my music.

Ziedonis, Skujenieks, Blaumanis. Do you feel the passage from being a world conqueror to becoming a modern Latvian sense explorer?

Absolutely not. It came automatically. By the way, it happens sharply in Latvian culture right now. Look at fashion design, for example. The Latvian code has practically exploded. All the ethnographic motives and red-and-white ribbon on a hand, it’s an inner state. In music and art we are searching something nice by reflecting about our own culture, the roots. We realize that we can speak in a modern way by not declining our classics and mentality.

We get away from all that’s odd and artificial, and hit towards the roots with all our power. All good things come from there.



„Tautas grāmatplaukts” („People’s bookshelf”) campaign is going on right now at „Esplanāde” and in libraries around Latvia soon after. What would be your book to put on a shelf?

I would put „Ardievu, Atlantīda!” („Farewell, Atlantīda!”), a book by Valentīna Freimane. It has made a deep impact on me for the reason that it is not a fiction. It’s real life that is described so beautifully, lightly despite the hard themes brought on a book. It has been the most impressive literary adventure that allows me to look at my life, to recognize my own problems that are basically nothing when compared to this story.

You grew up in Baldone. What are your first memories about Riga?

There, I have to correct my biography a bit. I was born and raised in Riga for the first thirteen years, then I lived ten years in Baldone. Those are the years I evolved as a personality, so I call myself Baldone inhabitant. I am a man of countryside in my heart. Can’t bear the crowd for a very long time.

I like being in Riga, but not for long. I find Riga too fast for me, though I realize it sounds a bit funny. I compare it with blood pressure. If it’s high, you can bear it for a while, but then you got headaches and starting to feel sick. Then I need to lower my blood pressure and go back to Baldone or countryside, or anywhere outside the city. To have a few day holidays and get back to the city rhythm.

My first memories about Riga are courtyards of Purvciems. I am from the generation where children grew up without mobile phones and computers, so we played „Kvadrāti” with guys, „shot” each other with tubes.

Saddest moment for me was that I put my tube in a house courtyard under the tree, but it was gone the next day. I was sad for a long time thinking who might have took it. Later, I remember computer game spots in Riga, especially one game room. A guy had bought lots of SEGA computers, so you had to find this room and house, but inside, there are a bunch of gamers who madly play „Mortal Combat”.


You are a musician who can play at big venues as well as in clubs or outdoors. What creative space or place are you still missing?

Partly it’s Spīķeri Quarter for now, but, yes, I can say that I missed a well arranged cultural district where you don’t see McDonald or a supermarket between the creative places. Early it was Andrejsala. It was cleaned from all the commercial stuff and extras. Plainly pure art. When this place was active, you could feel a light, friendly atmosphere in there.

One of my favourites is „I Love You” bar. I can’t help it, it’s in my blood [Goran Gora used to work in bar some time ago- edit.]. Definitely it’s Kalnciems Quarter, as well. I like Miera Street and I hope Maskava District will be something similar soon. I can easily visualise that some creative actions might happen next to The Latvian Academy of Culture. If we are speaking about outside Riga, I would suggest Rothko  Museum in Daugavpils. The exposition is splendid as well as the surrounding area.

Your wife Māra already has a song about Maskava District. What would be your district?

 [Thinking for a long time- edit.]..most likely about Āgenskalns. It has a sense of a countryside, the same with Maskava District. I like it there.

Goran Gora will play at „Esplanāde 2014” on 30 August at 21.00. Entrance is free of charge.


Comments open for registered users only!