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Kujeliai debut music album - Andrius Vaicenavicius

"We see ourselves not as a band, but as a group of young people -

a movement that remembers our heritage and interprets it in a

way that is meaningful to us."

Photo contributed by Kujeliai

Kujeliai, a Lithuanian band known for their catchy folk music with a modern twist, released their first album this month. All of the Kujeliai songs are original and incorporate a range of traditional folk instruments – including whistles, harmonicas, mandolins, spoons and the ‘kankle,’ a traditional Lithuanian stringed instrument.

Following their concert tour around Lithuania (September 23 - October 4), we spoke with band member Andrius Vaicenavicius, a musician and scientist who hails from Vilnius. Off stage, Andrius can be found in the UK working on his PhD in Theoretical Computer Science at the University of Oxford.

Baltic Bridge: How did Kujeliai come to be? What do you see for the group’s future?

Andrius: With Kujeliai we want to bring back the spirit and ideas of folk to young people – both musical and communal ideas. In the folk genre, the musicians and listeners are the same people. We want to channel this kind of intimacy with our audience. We want to be as close as possible to our listeners, and we want our listeners to be as close as possible to us.

Kūjeliai formed in 2012, while I was in my second year as an undergraduate at Oxford. One day I sat down and wrote the song called 'Už tūkstančio durų' (translation: Over a thousand doors), which is our most popular song now. Then with a friend we organized a music festival to commemorate the national independence day of Lithuania. Around this same time, my brother Julius and I decided we should form a band that plays music in the spirit of folk music. All this happened very quickly without much thinking.

Living abroad in the UK, I found that I wanted to come closer to Lithuania and reconnect culturally. But I was surprised to find that people living in Lithuania also wanted to come closer to Lithuania. I think that our ability to help provide this kind of connection contributes to a lot of the support that we’ve received.

We see ourselves not as a band, but as a group of young people, a movement that remembers our heritage and interprets it in a way that is meaningful for us. This allows us to move beyond expected limits. I think the future can be very interesting for our band because we are not only a musical group, but also a sort of community. We will continue to do the things that we believe in and get all the people that are moved by these ideas on board with the band. Interesting things can happen.

BB: What inspires your songwriting? What kind of environment do you prefer when writing songs?

Andrius: The main inspiration for the songs is usually my personal experiences and thoughts. I think you can connect with people effectively only by being honest and natural. With Kūjeliai we really want to create a close community and encourage other people to join in the creation. Our honesty and in some way vulnerability invites people to join us!

I mainly write songs in Oxford. I really love that environment. Being away from Lithuania, I find a lot of time to see everything from a distance and to reflect carefully. I always play music in my room. Playing for me is a sort of meditation and the ideas and the inspiration for songs for me come from somewhere deep within me. It feels that I am writing songs about questions and ideas that I think a lot about subconsciously.

Photo contributed by Kujeliai

BB: You spent a few years in Oxford studying mathematics for your college undergraduate degree. How did your time away affect the group dynamics? How has your time in England generally affected your music or performance style?

Andrius: I love Oxford – it is a very stimulating environment. I take in a lot of ideas from Oxford, and I believe the band benefits a lot from these ideas. In academia we always try to push the boundaries and try out new things. At Oxford I understood that we can apply the same principles to Kūjeliai. It was on campus that I came to truly realize that with Kūjeliai we can make great things happen if we create an environment where ideas can be shared and realized. Although not every idea is accepted, we still listen to everyone and come to the best one through discussion. That’s why it is very exciting to be a part of Kūjeliai.

BB: Music has always played a key role in Lithuanian culture, especially during the Singing Revolution between 1987 and 1991. Music was an integral part of the country’s nonviolent resistance movement. The power of song encouraged the human drive for self-determination and freedom that helped re-establish Lithuania’s independence. How does Lithuania’s history and traditions influence your music?

We respect and remember our history and traditions. We feel that our generation needs something similar. We don’t really have bands in our generation at the moment that could unite everyone. Maybe it is a bit too ambitious but we would like to be such a band one day.

BB: What do you think of the current music scene in Lithuania? What do you hope audience members will take away from Kujeliai?

Andrius: There are some very good bands in Lithuania. We feel that the musicians’ community could be closer; musicians could organize more concerts together, they could share more ideas with each other and in that way inspire each other. We organize festivals where we invite many famous and not-so-famous Lithuanian musicians to play together, to share ideas. Everyone is very willing to participate. We try to contribute to Lithuanian music scene by bringing the bands closer to each other.

One should know that Lithuanian music that draws inspiration from Lithuanian folk can be a lot of fun, very moving and very deep. Kūjeliai appreciates these elements and we are trying to play such music.

Photo contributed by Kujeliai

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