Lietava – A beautifully innovative album brings ancient Lithuanian folk instruments back to life

This year marks 100 years since the restoration of Lithuania’s independence, but Lithuanian culture has been around for a lot longer than that. Producer Domas Strupinskas & multi-instrumentalist Saulius Petreikis are keeping their national culture alive with their latest collaboration Lietava, reinventing and exploring the forgotten sounds and rare instruments of traditional Lithuanian folk music.

It all started when they noticed a lack of high-quality recordings of the less-known traditional instruments. First they tried to make an app where the public could see photos, videos and descriptions of various instruments, but later they realised that a full album would be the best format to show their whole journey and the depth of the culture they were rediscovering. Lietava is the album that they made.

Domas Strupinskas during the recording sessions of Lietava

Lietava consists of 16 compositions, each written for a different instrument. The album is made to be accessible to all, so there’s a written guide to each instrument enabling listeners to learn more about the strange new sounds they are hearing.

Photo from Lietava book

The instruments that were used on the record.

At first, the album strikes you unexpectedly with its radical minimalism: there are no electric guitars, beats or similar flourishes which are expected in a contemporary folk record. The composers challenge folk orthodoxy with an approach that they call ‘shifting folk’, meaning that traditional music is forever changing and should be interpreted in new ways, rather than kept frozen and untouched.

“The current folk music we are accustomed to is often over-produced: recorded with an orchestra, pop-style or carelessly fused with some other genre like dubstep or drum’n’bass. We thought that the most important thing should be to record and document every unique instrument playing solo, emphasizing the timbre, texture and characteristics of each one,” says Domas.

In 2016 the pair made a demo and brought it to Vilnius Book Fair. Domas remembers how it was discovered by MXF: “Music Export Fund’s director Mark came up to the stand and took an interest in the project, he said ‘this is pretty cool, give me a copy and I’ll show it to some of my contacts’. A few months passed and then we got an email from The state51 conspiracy saying they are interested in releasing the album.”

Mark adds – “I already knew Domas as a talented producer of contemporary styles, so seeing him selling a folk album was a surprise. Then when I found out how unique the project is, I realised it would be a great way to spread Lithuanian traditions and creativity around the world. I wanted foreigners to hear it as soon as possible, so I sent it straight to London!”

Since the London-based label’s policy is to select their releases for high cultural significance and musical proficiency, the beautifully recorded Lietava fit in perfectly. Along with the digital album, The state51 conspiracy decided to release vinyl, CD, and an accompanying book documenting the recording process.

Different formats of Lietava

The label also suggested that the artwork would be designed by a Lithuanian artist, and they chose Lauryna Narkevičiūtė. The cover art was inspired by geometric patterns of Lithuanian heritage called Sodnai, and also by family trees, visualized as wood textures with fingerprints and symbolizing the culture which is constantly being transformed by people.

To celebrate the release of the LP, the label organized a UK tour with limited of run of shows, including highlight shows in Union Chapel in London and Cecilia’s Hall in Edinburgh. “We got a lot of support during the tour,” Domas told MXF. “They liked our stripped down, minimal and organic approach which doesn’t bend to current trends. To be honest, we got more attention in the UK than we do in our home country”.

Domas Strupinskas & Saulius Petreikis at the Union Chapel

During the tour Saulius Petreikis & Domas Strupinskas were even noticed by The Wire magazine and an interview with the duo was published in 2017’s last issue.

The interview in The Wire magazine

The story of Lietava is a great example of global music export. It shows that you don’t necessarily need to follow the latest trends to get noticed: these days the most sought-after qualities are originality and authenticity. Saulius Petreikis & Domas Strupinskas achieved this by making a high-quality niche product which will stay relevant as years go by and will serve as a permanent monument to Lithuania’s music heritage.

MXF is always looking for interesting projects to export to foreign lands, so if have something unique – let us know!

Lietava on Facebook:

Buy the album:

Or hear it here: