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Music in Lithuania: bands, genres, radio stations, festivals

Lithuanian music scene is quite neatly divided into so-called "popmusic" and "altenative music". The earlier is more popular, but mocked by the fans of the latter for its lame lyrics, little musical value and recorded performances. Typically the run-off-a-mill bands of pretty blonde girls, made famous by various reality TV shows or proffessional producing companies, are ones made fun of the most.

Nevertheless, these ephemeral bands never lasting more than some 6 years are only one side of Lithuania's popmusic. On the other side are well known singers with their decades-spanning careers. Among them there is Stasys Povilaitis, Edmudas Kučinskas (both loved by older people). The most famous popmusic singer is probably Marijus Mikutavičius who somehow always manages to unite the nation with his anthems for basketball, hapiness and other positive things. The divides between followers of various genres sometimes disappear while listening to his "Trys milijonai" song created for 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, but as popular today as it was a decade ago.

The radio stations play primarilly popmusic. The best radio stations to hear Lithuanian popmusic are "Pūkas" and "Lietus" (the first programs solely this genre whereas the later also plays foreign music). Additionally, Lithuanian popmusic may be heard in live performances at various gigs and cafes in Palanga resort.

While there are various local music awards Eurovision song contest is the true centerpoint of Lithuaian popmusic year and generates the most publicity. Many musicians enter the qualification stage for public relations alone. The contest itself has a sport-like following where the Lithuanian band is supported like some national team. Lithuanians never won the contest however (unlike Latvians and Estonians). The expansion of the contest makes it harder for nations without strong emigrant communities to win.

The Lithuanian alternative music may be listened in numerous summer festivals. These festivals are usually dedicated to particular genres, e.g. metal, gothic, rock or electronic, and include both local and foreign music of these genres. They take place either in cities or certain country areas. Some famous annual festivals: “Mėnuo juodaragis“ (neo-folk / neo-pagan), “Galapagai“ (rock), “Visagino kantri” (country music, always held in Visaginas), “Tamsta muzika“ (various genres, primarily alternative), "Yaga" (raggae, dub, electric), "Akacijų alėja" (sung poetry).

A significant portion of Lithuania’s alternative musicians follow the so-called sung poetry (dainuojamoji poezija) genre. This usually involves a single musician singing solo with a single instrument. As in poetry it is the lyrics that are most important rather than the melody (therefore sung poetry is difficult to understand for someone who does not speak Lithuanian).

Another style peculiar to Lithuania is the neo-folk that combines centuries-old songs with modern musical motives (rock, metal, etc.).

Real folk music may also be listened, especially at the UNSESCO-recognised state-funded festivals Dainų šventė (Song holiday), "Ant rubežiaus" (Šiauliai), "Skamba skamba kankliai" (Vilnius). It is in a way detached from both popmusic and alternative music and is more commonly enjoyed by older people. Before 20th century every folk song was meant to be sung doing a different task, polyphonic "sutartinės" being the most famous. Classical music and opera, another separate category, is also preffered primarilly by mature population and is found in opera theaters, philharmonias and musical theaters, usually performed in the original language.

A band in national clothes performs in Vilnius during the traditional Skamba skamba kankliai folk music festival in late May. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

While the above mentioned two radio stations ("Pūkas" and "Lietus") play Lithuanian music, this is rather an exception than a rule. Most radio stations (e.g. "Radiocentras", "M-1") play solely or primarilly English music. These are the same hits you would hear anywhere in the Western world. Since late 1990s world-famous bands visit Lithuania on their world tours. Many Lithuanians do not listen to Lithuanian music altogether, opting for the Western one instead.

The third category of music popular in Lithuania is also non-local, but neither it is music you would hear in the West. This is Russian music. It is mostly listened by ethnic Russians, but also enjoyed by a part of non-Russian working class. Less impressively it continues to be popular among criminals and thugs. You are much more likely to hear a Russian song in Vilnius public transport eagerly listened by the drivers than either Lithuanian or Western one. Entire radio stations are dedicated to them. "Russkoe Radio" plays solely Russian popmusic (their hosts also speak Russian) whereas "A2" plays a mix of Russian and Lithuanian popmusic and employs Lithuanian-speaking hosts. Most of the Russian music is imported from Russia rather than locally created.

See also: Popular Lithuanian songs: old and new

Article written by Augustinas Žemaitis

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  1. Both grand parents on mothers side were from Lithuania.Listen to my folk songs @

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