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DakhaBrakha brings global revolutionary vibe to folk-modern mash-up

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DakhaBrakha, 6 and 8 p.m. Aug. 24, Mayne Stage, 1328 W. Morse. $25-$40. Visit maynestage.com

Updated: August 21, 2014 12:00PM



Earlier this summer the Ukrainian folk quartet DakhaBrakha got a warm welcome at the Bonnaroo music festival in Tennessee. It was their first performance in front of a large American audience not filled solely with world music fans. Safe to say it was a thrilling moment.

“People were so open and friendly,” said band member Marko Halanevych. “The support was massive from the first notes. We will remember this gig for a long time.”

DakhaBrakha’s vibe is nothing if not revolutionary. Their music is rooted in Ukrainian folk melodies but with added modern beats that jettison it into a realm all its own. Halanevych plays accordion while Olena Tsybulska, Iryna Kovalenko and Nina Garenetska take up a variety of instruments including piano, cello and percussion. Their vocals are enhanced by nontraditional rhythms — beats from Senegal and Brazil, hints of R&B and rap, and, in one song, even birdcalls. They refer to their music as “ethno-chaos.”

“We invented that definition because we are open to the world and have no boundaries,” Halanevych said in an email interview while on tour in Mexico. “We play with the music like children play with toys. The only thing we never change is the lyrics. Most are thousands of years old and contain the soul of our nation. We can unite several songs, change the harmony, rhythms, arrangements but not the words.”

DakhaBrakha (which means give-take in old Ukrainian) was born out of the underground theater scene in Kiev. Vladyslav Troitskyi, an adventuresome director at Theatre DAKH, was creating a piece called “Ukraine Mystical,” a stylistic interpretation of Shakespeare via Ukrainian folklore, and needed musicians interested in experimentation. He paired Tsybulska, Kovalenko and Garenetska, who had been singing together for many years, with Halanevych, an actor in the company. The women, who wear what look like white wedding dresses and tall black lambs wool hats (a look leftover from the theater piece) studied Ukrainian folklore in college and are ethnomusicologists with a deep knowledge of the music. Their voices blend together beautifully.

“Vlad taught us to use theater’s dramatic rules and to feel the music in a new way,” Halanevych recalled. “We were also encouraged to listen to music from different countries, from Arabian traditions to Japanese taiko and different styles from classical minimalism to trip-hop. All of this continues to be reflected in our music.”

Since its inception, DakhaBrakha has gone on to develop a fondness for the music of Mali and the Afro-Jazz of the ’70s as well as the work of modern classical composers Philip Glass, Steve Reich and Valentin Silvestrov. “We try to combine our roots with our contemporary mind and way of life,” Halanevych noted.

The world music genre has gained in popularity over the past decade but Ukrainian music has continued to exist in relative obscurity. But it is the wealth and depth of this roots music that allows DakhaBrakha to reinvent it via a refreshingly new vision. They allow the music to remain intimately tied to their homeland yet open it up for international audiences in startling and accessible new ways.

But as DakhaBrakha travels the world, it’s not just music that’s on their minds. Disturbing headlines about the war in Ukraine greet them wherever they go. Halanevych said the situation “is not only a Ukraine problem, it’s a world problem.”

“We got our independence 20 years ago, but now we have to struggle to keep it. But Ukrainians are united as never before. [For our part], we want to share our music, culture and roots with Western audiences to show the depth and beauty of Ukraine. We want people everywhere to know about our corner of the world.”



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