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  Queen of songs 

Veronika Povilionienė is among those Lithuanian folk singers that are called queens of songs by the folklorists. With singers like that you are bound to spend several days, for their chest of songs in unlimited – for them the song acts as a conduit for their milieu, their entire life. Having written down all the songs one realises that the queen of songs knows several hundreds of them! Be it joy or sorrow Veronika sings equally lovely; she finds the right song for everyone – old and young, villager and town dweller. So, how many hundred songs does she know? No folklorist has logged her repertoire yet; it has not been kept in the folklore archive. Her creative output is documented in her recordings from different periods; here one can hear her solo singing and teaming up with other singers, trace her steps towards contemporary music and register her glance at the old tradition.

Veronika is today’s foremost folk singer. Her voice can be heard in diverse venues: schools, emigrant youth camps, folklore festivals, sold-out concert halls in Europe and the US. She has appeared in the Smithsonian Institution and Thalia Theatre in New York, performed folk singer’s parts written for her in works by Bronius Kutavičius and Vidmantas Bartulis, experimented and recorded with jazz musicians such as saxophonist Petras Vyšniauskas and pianist Dainius Pulauskas, appeared in feature films Imu jūsų duoną (I Am Partaking of Your Bread), Vakar ir visados (Yesterday and Forever) and Verkiu ir dainuoju (I Am Singing and Crying). In 1993, she was awarded Jonas Basanavičius Prize for her masterly performance of folk songs, and in 2008, was honoured with the Lithuanian National Prize for her singing to Lithuania and the world.
The singer was born in Kareivonys village, Lazdijai district, Dzūkija – a region of songs in Southern Lithuania in 1946. She attended the secondary school in Kapčiamiestis. In 1976, she graduated from the Vilnius University, where she studied Lithuanian language and literature. While still a student, Veronika joined the ethnographic movement and with her colleagues wishing to discover places of historical importance to Lithuania and visit the most beautiful regions of their native country started travelling throughout Lithuania. Having acquainted herself with the enlightened of the village community, Veronika was able to learn from them more than her allies. She was in close relationship with authentic Lithuanian folk singers Mikas Matkevičius, Petras Zalanskas, Anelė Čepukienė and Rožė Sabaliauskienė among others whose singing and storytelling she remembers to this day. A beautiful song for her was never just another record into the ethnographic research book, but rather a big gift, which she knew how to cherish and give to others as a treasure. In 1974–1986, she sang in the Lithuanian Folklore Theatre Company. Latter on, she started devising original solo programs; in other words, folk music became her style of life and her profession.

When narrating about herself, Veronika has repeatedly mentioned, that it was not books she adopted the singing tradition from, but the people around her: “To begin with, I learnt songs from my father who was a villager at his root: a storyteller, singer and an incarnation of true composure, goodness and sincerity. Later, I took from many an old village singer.” Gradually, Veronika developed into an exceptional figure of Lithuanian folklore movement, whose experience, rich repertoire and unique voice drew many followers. When asked about tradition, the singer said: ”We all draw on from the same spring, the same water, which for me is very delicious. I want to let everyone know, how delicious it is.”

Good-voiced singer earned wider recognition in 1983 when Vilnius Record Studio released her vinyl LP Veronika Janulevičiūtė. Lietuvių liaudies dainos (Veronika Janulevičiūtė. Lithuanian Folk Songs). It was a very special record; it prompted the revivable wave of folklore movement in Lithuania. In the LP’s liner notes Donatas Sauka, the renowned folklorist, wrote that Veronika Janulevičiūtė-Povilionienė’s record introduces a mature singer, whose folk-song performance becomes an exemplary guide for younger generation. “She best reveals her nature in dark register, deep voice which gradually builds up power and expands space with a reverberating resonance that requires some other space not a walled hall. /…/ When Veronika sings a lullaby, her words caress as silk, and when she sings a lament – we recoil and shrink within.”
1986 saw the release of her second record Dzūkų dainos (Dzūkian Songs) – another garland of deeply felt and subtly performed songs. Today the whole Lithuania is familiar with Veronika’s deep and rich voice, her personality draws people of diverse walks, she has many aficionados who are also charmed by her open dialogue with listeners.

Compiled from her first records, this CD features Dzūkian songs in her unique rendition, which, nevertheless, does not depart from a tradition. These are archaic harvest songs, wedding songs, calendar songs, rounds and lullabies. Revisiting these recordings after several decades we get engulfed by strong feelings again: when listening to harvest songs we feel as if opening a window to a rye field glimmering in the sun, while in calendar songs our imagination finds us sitting at the table bedecked with a white tablecloth. However, the climax of this album is of lyric, not dramatic nature. When Veronika sings to children she does not boast with her resounding and colour-rich voice, but humming softly addresses her listeners with diminutive and affectionate words. At the singer’s request, revealing the abundance of tenderness and love in our ancient songs, this album is her voice-over dedicated to children, grandchildren, mothers and grandmothers.

Austė Nakienė

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