Majors and Minors: Lithuanian pop, sutartinės and ‘Three Million’

This week, I spoke with Žygimantas Jievaltas (known as Zygi), a first-year from Vilnius, Lithuania. He’s thinking of majoring in quantitative economics and has lived in five different countries. Zygi gives his take on pop music in Lithuania, influences of traditional music and the history behind a common song in Lithuania.

Haruka (H): What’s pop music in Lithuania like? What genre, and which artist, is most popular right now?

Zygi (Z): A lot of pop was inspired by early rock from the late ’80s and early ’90s, the time Lithuania was gaining independence. The communist government condemned rock music as corrupting the work ethics of the people, and that became what rock music stood for. Bands like Antis played a major role in the independence movement and has inspired a lot of pop artists later on. Better known names in popular music today are Andrius Mamontovas and Jurga.

Marijonas Mikutavicius is famous because he composes basketball anthems — we call basketball our second religion — and he has these unifying songs that are happy and uplifting. Many children in Lithuania play basketball and, considering the fact that Lithuania has a population of only three million, our ranking internationally is pretty good.

H: What’s traditional Lithuanian music like?

Z: In general, though we are a Catholic nation, folk music is associated with pagan faith. A lot of folk music is connected to some sort of ritual.

“Sutartines” is distinctive to Lithuania.  Wikipedia describes Sutartines as an “ancient form of two and three voice polyphony, based on the oldest principles of multi-voiced vocal music: heterophony, parallelism, canon and free imitation.” Apparently, melodies of these songs are symmetrical, not that difficult and consist of just two to five pitches. It’s been designated as one of UNESCO’s Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

Another component of our music is work songs — they were sung when people worked in the fields; they helped time go by. These aren’t complex songs and they’re usually positive and uplifting. These songs are classified by purpose — herding songs and haymaking songs, for instance. People would create songs for whatever work they were doing, so lyrics were associated with that activity.

H: Is there a tune that everyone knows in Lithuania?

Z: Mikutavicius wrote Trys Milijonai (“Three Million”) which is primarily a basketball anthem, so people tend to know that.

There’s another song everyone knows called “Bunda Jau Baltija.”

One of the peaceful movements against the Soviet government was called the Baltic Way, which happened August 21, 1989. That’s when the longest human chain to date was formed. It’s approximated that 2 million people connected a human chain for 400 miles from the capital of Lithuania to the capital of Estonia, to show the unity of the Baltic people in resistance against the Soviet Union.

In the case of “Bunda Jau Baltija,” which translates to “The Baltics are Awakening,” music was first composed and then and lyrics were added in Latvian, Lithuanian and Estonian separately. This way, the same song could be sung in the three Baltic languages.

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