Alina Orlova

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“I’m searching for two things,” explains Alina Orlova. “What is around you and what is inside you. When they come together, it is usually a conflict. It can be good. Later, it becomes a song.”

It’s this conflict, this search that’s heard in Alina’s music. Her second album, Mutabor (Changeable), is emotive and poignant, affecting and intimate. It doesn’t matter that she is Lithuanian or that all but three of Mutabor’s 14 songs aren’t in English, the mood created is universal. As Alina says, “music is always international, everybody understands the language of music.”

Mutabor builds on the Alina’s debut album Laukinis Suo Dingo (Wild Dingo Dog) and takes her music to a more dynamic place, with more peaks and troughs. Less acoustic than Laukinis Suo Dingo, Mutabor has subtle electronic touches that bring extra colour. The change between the albums? “Time happened,” says Alina.

Despite using the violin and drawing from the rhythms of the region, Alina’s music isn’t folk. It’s baroque, almost carnivalesque, but tempered with a palpable sadness. As much about texture as melody, Mutabor is also about mood.

For Alina, the journey towards her music being heard began in 2003 when, at age 15, she started writing songs. A couple of years later, she began putting them on the internet. In 2006 her song “Nesvarbru” led to her being voted breakthrough artist of the year by the Lithuanian magazine Pravada. In 2009 her debut album, Laukinis Suo Dingo was issued by the French label Fargo.

The international recognition was unprecedented for a Lithuanian artist. For Alina it was even more extraordinary as she isn’t from capital city Vilnius, but from Visaginas, a north-eastern town close to the borders with Belarus and Latvia. With a population of 30,000, Visaginas was previously known for its – now-decommissioned – nuclear power plant.

When at school, Alina hadn’t consciously thought of writing her own songs. “It happened very suddenly,” she recalls. “I was at music school, played the piano, playing what the teachers told me. When I was a teenager I was very sensitive, emotional. I lived in my own world because I did not have so many things to do. I had a lot of things inside, I was writing poetry and then I wrote songs. It just happened.”

Once writing, she wanted her songs to be heard. After they appeared on the internet, Alina recalls that “soon some people asked me to come play a small concert. My friends from my home town liked what I was doing, they said ‘when you sing, it’s like you cry.’”

Alina writes melodies and lyrics separately. “I have a lot of melodies, words, lyrics, poetry. Somewhere the melody finds the lyrics. It is not often, you have a lot of wanderings, trying.”

Asked about the source of the emotions her songs expose, Alina says it’s partly to do with being Lithuanian. When the emotions comes out, they’re big. “You can get something Lithuanian from my music,” she reflects. “You get the drama, the emotion, the sadness. People control their emotions, keep them inside. But they become so big when the you keep them inside.”

“But I can’t really see myself,” she laughs.

Inevitably, the shadow cast over Lithuania by Russia is felt by the people and Alina’s music. “I was born in ‘88, it was two years before the ending. I don’t remember that, but for my parents, my grandparents, all the values have changed. We had the Soviet Union, then in one, two generations the minds had very different feelings. After the Soviet Union there was hyper-capitalism in Lithuania, too much. We did not have a tradition of capitalism and then we tried to deal with it very fast, it was crazy.”

Ultimately, Alina wants her music to be heard. “I feel part of Europe,” she explains. “I’m half Russian, half Polish. All these nationalities are going away now. I have thought about if I should sing in English more. Here and in Russia, there are people who make music, one of the worst things they can do is sing in English. It could be good if they knew English, but it is good for people in other countries that they hear this strange language.”

Whatever language they are in, the songs on Mutabor express themes about place and identity that are universal. “’Čia’ a very heavy song,” she says. “It means ‘here’. It’s very emotional and dark. The man thing in ‘Čia’ is you’re here: the space you are in, the place, the country and you will never get out from here, you will never get out from yourself. Probably people feel this all the time.”

“‘Amerika’ means the place that needs to be discovered,” she continues, explaining another of Mutabor’s highlights. “I’m singing about my land, that it’s not discovered, its like a wild land. Like what Columbus and Magellan discovered, my land can become your land. The place can be your place, your country, but can be you as well.”

As for her home country, Alina says that success for Mutabor “would mean a lot to Lithuania. I love this country. You can feel here in Lithuania that people want this place to be known.” Mutabor will ensure it won’t be long before more is known about Lithuania. And Alina Orlova.
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