An obscure instrument in Latvia, a two-stringed box zither known as a giga or "trough fiddle" ... that by all accounts represents an authentic folk tradition that evolved out of use of the Swedish psalmodikon by Lutheran pastors in that Baltic nation. Scattered references on the Internet ...
For the basics, as always, I consulted Wikipedia. As follows, in its entirety: "The ģīga is a two-stringed bowed zither found in Latvia. / The instrument is descended from the psalmodicon, a bowed monochord developed in Sweden in 1829 for liturgical singing. From there it filtered down to the Latvian peasantry who added a second string for harmony.
Picture at right shows traditional Latvian instruments depicted on a Soviet-era postage stamp. The ģīga will be the second instrument from the top on the righthand side of the stamp. Instrument at bottom right is a kokle, an iconic Latvian box zither related to the Finnish kantele. (Photo Wikimedia Commons).
** UPDATE ** MONDAY MARCH 18 - Baltic ensemble in Indianapolis --
Here is a promotional video for the Hedgehogs Baltic Folk Ensemble (Ezisi, in Latvian, or Siilikesed, in Estonian) of Indianapolis. Closeup of a giga being plucked at 0:46-0:47 and the entire ensemble playing from 0:48 to 1:14. The player stands it on a chair.
The band's website at http://www.indiana.edu/~bafsa/hedgehogs/ezisi.html has 30-second clips from their CDs plus a 57-minute podcast of a noon-hour concert at the Hoagy Carmichael center at Indiana University Bloomington. You can hear the giga, described as "kind of like a cello ... a bowed instrument," beginning at 36:50. It plays chords in a sustained, dronal style.
Says Daina Gross for the Latvians Online website, reviewing a CD of the hedgehogs' music:
Ezīši (also known as Siilikesed in Estonian and Hedgehogs in English) is a group of musically talented individuals from Indianapolis, Ind. Most of the members are U.S.-born and only some have Baltic roots. Their common trait is a passion for folk music. They even made some of their instruments themselves and, according to the CD liner notes, their “goals are to help preserve and to spread awareness of the folk music of the immigrant communities from the Eastern Baltic area…our specialty is the presentation of medleys of similar or at least compatible tunes from different nationalities of northeastern Europe.”Hedgehogs' webpage at http://www.indiana.edu/~bafsa/hedgehogs/ezisi.html has audio files, contact information.
Link here to IU's podcast page: http://www.indiana.edu/~iaunrc/content/hedgehogs-%E2%80%93-traditional-baltic-music.
** END UPDATE **
Also, based in Riga, the Latvian "post-folk" band band Ilgi includes a giga among its rather varied instrumentation - seems to add a bass drone to the band's folk-rock-Europop-jazz-ish sound. According to the blurb on the CD Baby online music store's website, Igli was founded in the 1980s by Ilga Reizniece, "a classically trained violinist," and Maris Muktupavels, on kokle, bagpipes and accordion. After independence from the former Soviet Union, the band has morphed into a folk-rock-jazz ensemble. "Over the years Reizniece and Muktupavels have been joined in ILGI by some of the best Latvian musicians. In addition to Gatis Gaujenieks on electric bass and ancient giga, they recruited Egons Kronbergs, an accomplished rock guitarist (The Hobos), in 2001. Martins Linde, a successful jazz drummer and percussionist (Time After Time), completes the current roster."
ANOTHER GIGA (?) YouTube clip below of an unidentified group of musicians - maybe a pickup band? - at a "Cuckoo Festival" in Lithuania shows a woman, on the left, playing an unidentified bowed instrument that corresponds to the description of a giga. It sounds like she's playing a drone accompaniment to the melody.
Latvian folk music. Uploaded by YouTube user haribo348 on May 10, 2010. Cuckoo Festival, Lithuania. No comments, no further info. User is in Lithuania.A brief description on the Folklora.lv website of the giga with pix (fuzzy, but with an interesting, apparently handmade bow) at http://folklora.lv/muzikas/giga/en.shtml:
The monochord has been created in Sweden in 1829 for accompaniment of spiritual singing. Probably through the Lutheran parochial schools, monochord has got to the Latvian peasants, and they have begun to play on it, to make it and to improve it (the same instrument, but with two strings has been developed). [pix] "Monochord consists of a long, rectangular body, stuck or hammered together from wooden plates. In the upper plate the sound holes are cut and a stepped rod (neck) is attached, on which a string (or two) is put.More information on a British website devoted to all kinds of fiddle music worldwide, with maybe a couple of good leads for futher information, at fiddlingaround.co.uk homepage. The page on the giga reads:
A horsehair or bow is used to play the monochord. The height of sounding is changed, pressing the string to the neck.
One of the most interesting aspects of fiddling in Latvia is the use of the giga or trough fiddle, a large rectangular box-like instrument played like a cello with one or two strings. Due to the shape of the body it is sometimes referred to as a trough-fiddle. In Ilgi, the giga is played by Gatis Gaujenieks. Indianapolis-based band the Hedgehogs also use the giga, alongside other Latvian and baltic instruments such as the kokle (a type of zither, and perhaps the best-known Latvian folk instrument), the bagpipe and the Novgorod lyre.