Today we are going on a journey to the southwest of Latvia. More precisely, to the Latgale region: It is the only Latvian region that has its own language, which is still actively spoken. Additionally, it owes its name to the fact that it is also called the “Land of Blue Lakes“ aka “Latgale”.
Wondering why we are giving you this little geographical and cultural crash course? Well, we would like to dedicate today’s portrait to the rap princess of Latgale Ūga – a title we did not come up with ourselves for 27-year-old Daiga Barkāne, but which the local press also likes to give her. Rightly so, we think!
In fact, Latvia is not exactly one of the countries whose hip-hop/rap scene first appears on our radar. However, the story of Ūga, her crew and label Ausmeņa Records proves one thing even more: Far away from all the artists who are currently celebrating commercial success with rap music in the mainstream, there are people all over the world whose hearts beat fully for old-school hip-hop culture and who try to preserve this spirit. In this respect, it was also more than a matter of course for Ūga to name her first record “LG ir HH”, meaning “HipHop in Latgale”.
But let us go back a few years … roughly to the year 2003/2004, when Ūga was around nine or ten years old and regularly sat in front of the radio with her sister to listen to a show called “European Black Top 40”: During the show, rap music from all over the world was played again and again, which the sisters then recorded with their cassette recorder – in retrospect, not only very old-school, but also very much in line with hip-hop’s mentality. It was in this context that Ūga first heard Eminem’s “Just lose it” and was immediately hooked. Within no time, she memorized the song and was rapping along with Slim Shady in the comfort of her own nursery.
Although Ūga grew up in an extremely musical family, as she revealed in an interview with 365 Female MCs, she lacked the financial means to attend music school and take music lessons. Out of necessity, Ūga focused on what was available to her even without money: her voice. She practiced her singing from home and was active in various choirs and ensembles. However, her love for rap music persisted over the years and around 2016 it came as it had to: At a hip-hop party she met DJ Valns, one of the founding members of the Ausmeņa Records collective. Only a short time later, they were already working together on the track „Aust“, on which Ūga rapped her first parts. The young rapper convinced in all lines and became a permanent member of the crew.
Founded in 2012 by two dudes who mainly freestyled out of their cars, shot videos and then published them online, Ausmeņa Records developed over the years into a collective of MCs, breakdancers, graffiti artists and DJs. In addition to their love for hip-hop culture, the members of this family are united above all by the bond to their Latgalian homeland. This is expressed, among other things, in the fact that all MCs rap in Latgallic, which is the regional language of Latvia. Ūga herself in an interview with 365 Female MCs:
Ausmeņa in Latgalian is a diminutive for the word “dawn”. It is our local epicentre of hip hop, where we also maintain our roots and Latgalian language. […] I speak Latgalian since childhood, I feel more confident and comfortable speaking Latgalian rather than any other language. Of course, as the main part of Latvians speak Latvian, I do too during interviews, and feel OK about that too. I have one song also in Latvian called „Zapte“ [engl. “jam”]. But to me, Latgalian language is more juicy and sometimes more harsh, so it is better for writing rap rather than Latvian.”Interview with 365 Female* MCs
Even though Ūga was the only female rapper in Ausmeņa Records, she felt comfortable and accepted alongside her male colleagues from the very beginning. Over the years, the crew played at jams and numerous concerts, spent tens of hours together in the studio, and worked with Ūga on their aforementioned debut album „LG ir HH”, which was released in January 2020.
With its eleven tracks, the record pays a worthy tribute not only to the old-school era with the classic BoomBap sound from the hands of Ausmeņa Record beatmakers Nikita Grapp, Jezups and DJ Valns and the numerous classic samples. It is above all Ūga rap parts that, despite the existing language barrier, give each track its own stamp and encourage you to bounce your head along from the intro to the outro. For example, Ūga raps the following lines in the track “LG ir HH” to give the mainstream rap scene a musical middle finger:
Latgalī ir arī Hip-hops, veceit, pazaklaus / Jī izbūla acss i prosa: „Kas tur meiča mauc”? / Nu da, itei nu Riezeknis, jū par Ūgu sauc / Jū audzei, laista, pacālušs saulī poši Ausmeņa Records.“Refrain of “LG ir HH”
(„The hip-hop is here, in Latgale too, dude listen to me / They fade their eyes and say “Is that really a girl, who hits this beat?” / Well yes, this one’s from Rezekne, Berry is her name / She has been raised by Ausmeņa records, and by them driven to fame.“)
Considering the fact that the Latvian rap scene (far from mainstream) indeed does not seem to be producing too many female MCs at the moment – big shout-out at this point to Krisy, VIŅA and Ūga – we are even more happy to see so many hip-hop vibes in Latgallen and imploringly hope that stories like this will inspire.Not least because Ūga unexpectedly picked up two awards in quick succession for her debut album lately: We want more hip-hop girl power like this from Latvia!