hidden europe 25

Latvia: song is power - dance is power

by Toby Screech

Picture above: Huge choirs performing at the Latvian Festival of Song and Dance 2008 (photo © Kalvis Kalsers / dreamstime.com).


Guest author Toby Screech was in Riga in Latvia last summer and chanced upon a remarkable cultural event. In the Baltic region, song and dance festivals are an important medium for asserting national identity. Toby reports for hidden europe on the Latvian Festival of Song and Dance.

In an article published in hidden europe 14 (May 2007), we highlighted how there are two kinds of festivals - those which are hyped in the international media as milestones in the global festival calendar, and those which remain essentially hidden within the cultures and societies that sponsor them.
Toby Screech, a first time contributor to hidden europe, reports from Riga in Latvia on an occasional summer festival that makes little attempt to appeal to a wider international audience. It is a festival put on by Latvians for Latvians.

Music and song are key elements in the story of Latvian identity. And nowhere is that more evident than in the Latvian Festival of Song and Dance that regularly dominates the Riga summer. Not every year. The event was founded in 1873 and is generally held every five years. Even in times of war and occupation, Latvians have come together, using the power of song to proclaim their identity.

For ten days last summer, Riga was host to a packed programme of amateur performances of the highest standard. There was music and song in the public parks, the cathedral cloister, the main square, the stadium, the conference centre, the open-air museum, even the railway museum. This is first and foremost a Latvian event. Latvia had characteristically assumed that foreigners would simply not be interested.