In 2014, Latvia's capital Riga has been elected as European Capital of Culture (www.riga2014.org) along with the university town Umeå in northern Sweden (www.umea2014.se).
Riga is the capital and largest city of Latvia, indeed the largest city of the Baltic states at all. It is an important seaport and a major commercial and cultural centre of the region. Riga's city centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, renowned for its Art Nouveau/Jugendstil and 19th century wooden architecture.
From the 17th century onwards, European music flourished in Riga. Two musical traditions existed side by side - German art music and traditional Latvian folk song.
In 1993, the first national song and dance festival in independent Latvia was held in Riga, gathering thousands of singers and dancers from all over the country. However, the tradition of these festivals is very old, singing being a fundamental part of the Latvian identity for ages.
Coinciding with Riga being European Capital of Culture, Riga will host the World Choir Games from 9th to 19th July 2014. This event, originally know as Choir Olympics, takes place at various host cities every two years and regularly sees over 300 choirs from over 60 nations compete with each other.
The Swedish city Umeå is the second European Capital of Culture in 2014, and both Riga and Umeå support mutual cultural exchange. On 5th July, Jorgen Stenberg will perform at the Esplanāde 2014 area. Jorgen Stenberg is a Sami (the indigenous Finno-Ugric people) from a small village near Umeå, performing joiks (traditional chant) with a bit of a contemporary shade.
While visiting Riga, don't hesitate to step into Folkklubs Ala Pagrabs (Folk Club Basement), a traditional Latvian tavern in the heart of the historic city centre. It is the foremost musical bar in Riga, where you can enjoy traditional Latvian food, listen to live music from both local and overseas artists, participate on open-mike nights and dance traditional Latvian dances.
Last but not least, tune in on Radio Oira, Latvia’s only folk radio!
Photo Credits: (1) Riga 2014 Logo, (2) Europe, (3) Latvian Flag, (4) Forshpil, (5) Festival Baltica, (6) Ilya Shneyveys, (7) Laima Jansone, (8) Auļi (unknown/from website).