Nav vēl viena izdziedāta, jau deviņas sacerētas
"I haven't finished singing one, already I've composed nine:" Latvian, use of traditional musical contest in values negotiation and fitness display.
Being asked to give a talk on carnevalesque musical contests for Independence celebration may seem to reflect a perception of Latvia noted by Anatol Lieven:
"Latvia is an indeterminate nation, neither fish nor fowl, ambling unsteadily between its two more decisive neighbors. Latvians like to think of themselves as dreamers with a practical streak and they are regarded by the other Balts as having the rare capacity to believe two contradictory things at the same time. It brings to mind a character in a Latvian satirical novel who comes to a crossroads, 'and after giving the matter careful consideration, goes in both directions.'"
Actually it all can be made to make sense. The song war apdziedaashanaas is the challenge or confrontation aspect of a more inclusive musical celebratory approach to the world "singing to/about" apdziedana. It is a highly personal direct, dialogic I - Thou relationship of the singer to whatever or whoever she addresses. It is a development of an older animistic, magical, wondrous, or synthetic world-view. Apdziedaashanaas (song war) can be viewed as a symbolic transformative mechanism of war to play, "us vs. them" confrontation into alliance.
Composing nine while singing one suggests creative improvisation. The agonistic contest version boasts that while the singer is improvising nine, her opponent is still chomping on one.
Latvia is a relatively rare case of national identity being strongly based on a female genre of folklore, the daina-song. Women have been the primary composers and performers of the daina. In north Europe women have formal functions as peace-makers. Also, a woman is desirable because of her quick wit, and singing is a form of courtship fitness display.
Apdziedaashanaas offers one of few ethnomusicologic cases of an aggressive responsorial musical challenge or contest genre performed in public being dominated by women and not just as a special case of inverse carnival practice:
The maple leaf was boasting to carry a man across the Daugava River. The boy was boasting to beat a girl in song. Are you crazy, maple leaf? Can you carry a man? How can you, a mere boy, best a girl in song?
The game or play aspect also does not exclude some serious contest, values negotiation, or direct aggressive display using non-normative language that some may class as "masculine." However, it is a form of bringing out in the open in a controlled fashion to counter the far more destructive tendency to gossip:
Dziesmin' mana kaa dziedaata, Taa man kauna nedarja; Shaada taada valodinja, Taa man dara lielu kaunu. (The song is as I sing it. It does not shame me. Gossip words here and there, they shame me.)
Introduction to the singing tradition may be by an older sister, mother, or grandmother, but the improvisatory and creative aspect is underlined with the ultimate source of song being nature and the goddess Laima:
Tell me songs, forest girl. You know many songs. The nightingale taught you sitting in the bush.
Five men, six horses couldn't budge a dowry chest full of songs, easily moved by grandmothers.
Most examples of contest boasting and abuse songs are male genres. North Europe, similar to Homeric Greece, has male heroic flytings, anticipating real combat and appropriation of loser resources, even to life, following ritual boasting. Winner takes all, as in the Meso-American traditional ball game. The "dozens" are another example of an originally male Afro-American genre, which could easily pass to real blows.
There are also antiphonal contest songs such as Eskimo nith songs, which settle disputes. The Latvian "song war" may be compared to the regional Chinese communal singing model, which seeks the reduction of tensions and the creation of co-operation between two discrete groups.
Apdziedaashanaas is a way of adjusting norms and values through the indirect means of humor between egalitarian groups. Men-folk might too easily come to physical blows, so meaningful space of social negotiations is left to women: songs of co-operation and life, opposed to songs of war and death. Beating weapons into ploughshares; transforming war to peace. In contrast to the zero-sum contest in which men predominantly engage, women were concerned with the win - win for both sides ritual. The closing ritual song emphasizes sadert - adjust. The formula includes: "I sing the song as it was made by the elder people." "For the sake of a song, good people, let us not hold enmity."
Boasting and insult songs is verbal aggression, invective, even to obscenities. Latvian women were not restricted to amatory ludic flytings or shaming warriors into fighting as in more advanced patriarchies. Apdziedaashanaas was a central social event, performed at rites of passage (weddings), calendar holidays (Midsummer), and work parties among neighbors. While playful and humorous, the song leaders took their contest roles seriously as defending the group's honor and negotiating norms. Foucault in his classic The History of Sexuality elaborated changes in values starting with Aristotle's classical Greeks and continuing with Judeo-Christian church influence at odds with dominant values among rural societies of pre-17th century Europe. In the songs deemed obscene and condemned by the church old connection to magic, especially fertility magic, is transparent.
Alfred Kurlents in his dissertation (1962), Satire and Humor in the Estonian Epic Folksongs and in the Russian Bylinas showed how cruel and sadistic humor was used as a psychological weapon in the bylinas. Kurlents shows how the Estonian epic folksong is already less harsh, and the humor of the Latvian song wars tends to be even more playful. Even so,"The purpose of satire in old times was to destroy whatever was overblown, faded and dull, and clear the soil for a new sowing." (Kurlents: 53) and this function to some degree survives within performances that are primarily enterntainment, but may also contain social commentary, such as on some virtual wars on the internet.
Contest songs are context dependent - addressed to a particular person and about a concrete situation, thus largely improvised. Recently there has been interest among law students in areas of custom, indigenous and customary law and non-state mediation. A study of historical layers comes up with alternative and multiple ways of looking at the world and gives new meaning to language etymology
Apdziedaashanaas may use double language, blunting some of the directness of open aggression as well as allowing for multiple meanings. Almost any song can become apdziedaashanaas, just as there are common metaphorical animal double entendres. Thus, a children's song about the rooster waking up in the morning can take on erotic content, or a mythological daina about washing one's horse in the lake acquire a double meaning. Other songs make historical sense only as texts are read as contexts for themselves. Thus in some dainas a girl likened to a pig while derogatory in contemporary code, may have had reference to fertility in the past, as preserved in the term ccene (lucky break - female pig). Creative expression depends on multiple meanings and carnival upon the play of normative and non-normative to ensure life and viability. Chaos is seemingly so as it is ever pregnant with order, just as death and life are interrelated and the function of ritual is relational and transformative.
Of similarities to the type of singing, the closest of Baltic neighbors seem to be the Setu whose polyphonic drone singing is interesting to compare with western Latvian Suitu performances. Otherwise, there are interesting parallels in Balkan women's musical traditions (areas like southern European ganja singing could be explored) and areas of Russia with a Baltic substratum.
Joking relationships have a sting in that they need to be between roughly equivalent contestants or good friends to not be abusive. Joking is contextual if it is a weapon, a tool, or a means of bonding and affirmation of trust. And joking does have unstated rules, which are based on differing values. In Catholic countries cursing and abuse is connected with religious blasphemy, while in Protestant countries it has traditionally been connected with sexuality. The oldest layer of Latvian cursing has to do with magic (may the wolf, bear, thunder, devils take you) or with elimination (go shit) but not with sexuality, similar to Welsh or Japanese traditional cultures.
Rather than citing classical examples, which are published and generally available, here are some examples of a virtual Midsummer "song war, announced as a contest on the Delfi portal and composed on-line June 23 - 24, 2001:
Ne es dzeru, sieru alu Ligo svetku vakara! Interneta guni kuru Desas cepu diskete. I didn't drink or eat cheese On Midsummer eve. I lit a fire on the internet. Cooked sausages on my disk.
Kas tur kvieca, kas tur breeca, Pasa Ligo vakara? Janits ugunskura leca. Velns zin kada sakara. Who was squeeling, who was braying On Midsummer night? Ynis was jumping over the bonfire - Who the hell knows why.
Sieru, sieru, alu, alu. Janu mate nedirsies. Kad mes beidzot busim divi, tad tu baigi norausies. Cheese, cheese, Mother of Yaanji/ Midsummer. Don't mess around. When the two of us are finally alone, you will really get it.
Meitin sniedz man roku savu Kamer man ir kaut kas stavus. Kopa mezina mes iesim Papardziedus pameklesim. Velak busu pilns ka lops.
Girl, give me a hand while something of me is still standing. We will go to the forest to look for fern blossoms. Later I'm going to be drunk as a skunk.
Gauzi raud tautu meita, Papardziedu redzedama. Ka tai bija neraudat, Pirsings zieda galina. The neighbor girl was crying Seeing the fern blossom. Why should she not cry? There's a piercing at the end of the blossom.
Krivu Krivs ar Staiguloti Pa DELFIEM mengjejas, Es aiz stura noskatju, Pasacinu sacereju. Pagan high priest was messing with Walk-about woman on Delfi portal. I saw it behind a corner and made up a story.
Radas, Dievins cuskas meli sitai tautu meitai devis, Lai vel deva gaisu pratu Citiem launu nerunat. God gave this girl a snake's tongue. May he give her brightness of mind to not spread evil words.
Ne tik vien tas vainas mums: Delfos Janu sastregums; Puisi, meitas vaid un kauc, Kur lai slapjos Janos brauc?? Don't take offense at us. In the Delfi portal there's a traffic jam. Boys and girls moan and howl. Where can you go on a wet Midsummer?
Labak blenu dziesmu dziedu, Ne ka blenu valodinu; Blenu dziesma nedar' kaunu, Ka dar' blenu valodia. Better I sing silly songs, Than say nasty words. Silly songs don't shame as do shameful words.
The last is similar to a daina published by Rainis and compares apdziedaashanaas to aprunaashanaas (gossip) as forms of social ordering.
Aija Veldre Beldava