Lithuanian alternative music | True Lithuania
True Lithuania

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

Lithuanian music scene is quite neatly divided into so-called "pop music" and "alternative music".

Lithuanian pop music

Popmusic is the more popular one, but mocked by the fans of alternative 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 professional producing companies or, are ones made fun of the most.

Nevertheless, these ephemeral bands often not lasting any more than some 6 years are only one side of Lithuania's pop music. On the other side are well-known singers with their decades-spanning careers. Called "estrada singers", the top veteran stars are the late Stasys Povilaitis and Edmundas Kučinskas (both loved by older people). When deceased, the top estrada singers may even have monuments built for them.

There is also a "middle ground" of singers who augment their pop music careers by acting in musicals or performing more serious songs. Arguably the most famous such performer is Marijus Mikutavičius who somehow always manages to unite the nation with his anthems for basketball, happiness, 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.

Marijus Mikutavičius (center), Mantas Jankavičius and Mia in a Eurobasket 2011 anthem videoclip.

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

While there are various local music awards Eurovision song contest is the true centerpoint of Lithuanian pop music 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 millions-strong diaspora communities to win.

Lithuania has a constant stream of its own popular musical TV contests,however, eagerly joined by most pop singers to boost their careers.

While the top Lithuanian music performers may sometimes give grandiose gigs in the sold-out arenas, usually the Lithuanian market is too small for that. Therefore, anybody outside the top-of-the-top plays in smaller venues with just several hundred fans attending. Another opportunity to see the Lithuanian stars are various city and town festivals or the official celebrations of "modern" public holidays (e.g. the independence day) that often include free gigs by some celebrities in the main squares.

Vaidas Baumila, one of the stars made famous by reality TV, performs during the key evening gig of the annual Klaipėda city festival (Sea Festival). ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Lithuanian "alternative music"

The Lithuanian alternative music covers many genres. A fan usually follows one or more genres, although (s)he may still prefer other genres over pop music. As its audience is smaller and more divided, "Alternative music" gigs generally take place in smaller venues than those of the leading pop music.

One exception is the immensely popular summer festivals, each taking up a weekend somewhere far from the cities. 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).

Pagan metal band Obtest performs for a small audience in Vilnius Book Fair. Like a part of alternative bands, it combines ethnic heritage ideas with Western genres. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

A significant portion of Lithuania’s alternative musicians follows 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).

A sculpture of Vytautas Kernagis (1951-2008) in Nida. He is sometimes credited as the founder of the sung poetry popularity by using it in the 1980s to record songs mildly satirizing the Soviet regime. His own popularity is comparable to that of key estrada singers. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Another style enjoying greater popularity in Lithuania than elsewhere is the neo-folk that combines centuries-old songs with modern musical motives (rock, metal, etc.).

Mėnuo Juodaragis summer festival, dedicated to neo-folk and the related genres. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Folk and classical music

Real folk music is seen to be a major part of Lithuanian culture, kept alive by mostly amateur bands and choirs. Quadriennial UNESCO-inscribed state-funded festivals Dainų šventė (Song festival) are the ultimate folksong choir experience, but annual "Ant rubežiaus" (Šiauliai), "Skamba skamba kankliai" (Vilnius) are more frequent and varied alternatives. Folk music is in a way detached from both pop music 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.

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

Classical music and opera, another separate category, is also preferred primarily by mature population and is found in opera theaters, philharmonias, and musical theaters, usually performed in the original language. Regarded as "the most intellectual music", classical music bands are commonly largely funded by the state.

Foreign music in Lithuania

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 primarily 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 to by ethnic Russians, but also enjoyed by a part of the 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 pop music (their hosts also speak Russian) whereas "A2" plays a mix of Russian and Lithuanian pop music 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

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

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