Unfolded Latvian sense. Talking with Biruta Ozoliņa and DJ Monsta

Unfolded Latvian sense. Talking with Biruta Ozoliņa and DJ Monsta
Mārtiņš Otto, Rīga 2014 . Biruta Ozoliņa and DJ Monsta
09-06-2013 A+ A-
Biruta Ozoliņa, who is a lute player and folklorist, together with DJ Monsta (aka Uldis Cīrulis) have just released a new debut record. That is, in fact, a bit surprising. I have always felt their harmonious friendship between folk and electronic music has lasted for ages as if they already released a bunch of records. But the facts don’t lie. On 10 June, both musicians came up with their debut record „Sauli sēju” after working together for three years.

They have found a lively clue in folk music that allows to evolve the tradition by keeping the authentic self where folk blends naturally with electronic beats.

Twelve folk songs from Latgale and Kurzeme regions open up new horizons of folk music arrangements. Therefore, folk and electronica take out the uniqueness of both genres rather than expressing just one of them.

DJ Monsta: The idea of the record actually appeared two years ago. We have worked carefully all this time while collaborating together for three years. 

Biruta Ozoliņa: ...and folk songs were created even before that.(Laughing.)
You created a concert programme „Nebeidzams gabaliņš dzīves”(„Eternal piece of life”) a couple of years ago. Is this record some kind of a follow-up of this programme only in a CD form?
DJ Monsta: No, this is something different. We did not think of it while working on „Nebeidzams gabaliņš dzīves”. So the concept is to highlight the folk song itself.
You have said in previous interviews that Biruta has opened up Latvian sense in you.
DJ Monsta: It is most likely a feeling when you realise the attachment to your country. More like an inner condition. I have a keen interest in folk music now. We call each other quite often to talk about music, history and folk music instruments.
Have you played any instrument yourself?
DJ Monsta: Yesterday I played lute with my children.
What kind of an instrument is it?
DK Monsta: Very Latvian and easeful. I often have stressful working days, so lute helps me relaxe. It’s a meditation.
Biruta Ozoliņa: Yes, you can easily get children to sleep with it.


There was a compare in social networks about Laima Jansone as „Jimmy Hendrix playing lute”. So, I suppose, it is not as meditative and calm instrument as we might think.
DJ Monsta: Well, the sound of lute is quite and balanced. When a Latvian listens to it, he creates a link with who he is, as we tend to say nowadays.
Biruta Ozoliņa: Speaking of style, Laima is in a place of her life right now where her intense temper erupts in any possible way. It’s wonderful, the way she shows her personality. At the same time, she can be very fragile and delicate. 

In general, lutes are so different. It depends on a craftsman who makes them. In Latvia we have to types of lutes coming either from Latgale or Kurzeme. 

They vary from the structure. Latgale lute has a bigger, extended body, so called wing. Therefore, the sound is more hollow and richer. Comparing to that, Kurzeme lute is much tinier, even a miniature. Donāts Vucins made my first lute. He passed away, unfortunately. Eduards Klints created a brand new lute I play for the last year.

Does the sound of lute change when the instrument gets older?
Biruta Ozoliņa: It depends on who and how many times uses the instrument. Personally, I feel that lute does not „speak” to me in case I leave it unused for some time. You have to be friends with it, to be able to play it. It’s a mystery. 


Why should folk music become modern and, therefore, not so tied to its roots?
DJ Monsta: We have discussed that quite a lot. I think, there were limited possibilities in using instruments by the time folk songs originally were created. By now, we have more ways to express ourselves. Also a folk song is not as authentic now as it used to be in, say, 9 or 11 century. It has transformed and improved through ages. We add some details matching our time, as well.

Has Biruta ever said to you- sorry, this is too contemporary?

DJ Monsta:  Biruta, have you?

Biruta Ozoliņa: We have a well balanced process. We have similar feelings on that and also understand each other without saying. When it’s too much, we react likewise.
DJ Monsta: I don’t intend to concentrate on it. We create a new environment for a folk song, that’s it.
Can you name more successful examples where folk music gets along with electronica naturally?
DJ Monsta: I can hardly name someone from Latvia. „Hidden Orchestra” is great if speaking of foreign artists. They are two drummers, a cellist and a man playing synthesizers. They play something between jazz, folk music and electronica. Some themes are ethno-Scottish, but the others are just jazz.
How do you choose folk songs to to perform and record?
Biruta Ozoliņa: I choose by my own inner filter. It tells me which songs are gonna work. I might even like the song or even pick a material for the future play. But if it does not work, it doesn’t.
Have you ever recommended a song for Biruta?
DJ Monsta: No, I completely rely on her.
Biruta Ozoliņa: Don’t worry, soon he will sing and play. (Laughing).


Līgo (Midsummer’s Eve) and Jāņi will come soon. Do you keep any traditions during these days?
Biruta Ozoliņa: I try to celebrate Jāņi on 21 June, the real Midsummer’s Eve before all the party goes on. Last year, I celebrated in Turaida. It was an event organised by „Māras loks”(„The circle of Māra” – folklorists, a Neopagan religious movement). There were thousands of people who did not desire for a drink to be happy. That was nice. They try to reconstruct the elements of this folklorist movement. Though, they did not sing folk songs which was a bit strange for me. Still, I liked it all. This year, I will manage to be in a place where Midsummer’s Eve activities will go on. I don’t like to host such an event. I’d rather connect with other people.
DJ Monsta: I often get to work these days. If not, me and my family go to the country, make a bonfire and have some time together until sunrise.
Can you catch the sense of Latvian only in the country?
Biruta Ozoliņa: I usually come to Riga by bus, walk through the tunnel..all this backgroung I can’t accept..I can hardly describe Riga as a whole place. I can only think of it as a place where my friends live, where I feel good. These are parts of Riga where I spent my studying days. Still, I can’t tell Riga is Latvian city.
DJ Monsta: Yes, I agree. Riga is a multicultural city. There are, of course, some Latvian elements, several events. If you spend Jāņi, the day after Misummer’s Eve, in Riga, you should visit Dzegužkalns.
Where would you take your friends from overseas?
DJ Monsta: „Lido” restaurant, probably, where we could catch the sense of Latvian for a bit.
Biruta Ozoliņa: The Latvian National Opera, definitely. It’s a place where I feel good. The Freedom Monument, Warriors’ Cemetery. These are classy, but well-known places with its own uniqueness.
How do you understand the meaning of a European Capital of Culture?
DJ Monsta: It’s our chance to show all the good things we have. When Tallinn was the European Capital of Culture, me and Nick Gotham (both musicians had a project called „NiMo”) lectured in one of the programme events. I have to say, they had an attention in every culture sphere. Estonians worked with confidence thinking: we are the best country in Baltics.
Biruta Ozoliņa: It means focusing on one specific cultural environment for a while. Therefore, you can evaluate those good and bad things yourself. It’s rather a chance to realize what we do or don’t have, I would say.
Participants of „Sauli sēju” are: Toms Poišs (contrabass), Mikus Čavarts(percussion), Laima Jansone (lute), Jānis Pauls (cello), Zane Estere Gruntmane (violin). Sound engineering – Sergejs Laletins, producing – DJ Monsta. Recorded at The Castle of The Livonian Order and „Sound Division” studio, Riga. Mastering – „Soundimensions”, Switzerland. Album design by artist and restorer Agnija Ozola and artist Jānis Burmeistars. Released by „LikeISaid Agency”.
Listen to “Kur tu īsi buoleleņi” from the album „Sauli sēju”!



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