By The Lincoln Center
The pounding of drums and the murmur of a cello morphs into an anthem, an invocation, a wild mixture of sounds. Crimson beads and towering black lambs-wool hats serve as a striking backdrop for an unexpected, refreshingly novel vision of Eastern European roots music. This is the sound of the self-proclaimed “ethno-chaos” band DakhaBrakha, a group that feels both intimately tied to their homeland of Ukraine and instantly accessible to audiences worldwide—including those who are lucky enough to see them live in Fort Collins at The Lincoln Center on September 21, 2022.
“We just want people to know our culture exists,” muses Marko Halanevych of DakhaBrakha. “We want people to know as much as possible about our corner of the world.”
The quartet does far more than introduce Ukrainian music or prove it is alive and well. They craft stunning new sonic worlds for traditional songs, reinventing their heritage with a keen ear for contemporary sounds. With one foot in the urban avant-garde theater scene and one foot in the richness of Ukraine’s rural cultural past, DakhaBrakha shows the full fury and sensuality of some of Eastern Europe’s most breathtaking folklore.
Ukrainian music has languished in relative obscurity, though it is diverse and sophisticated involving complex polyphonic singing, instrumental virtuosity, Asian influences and Western harmonies.
DakhaBrakha’s three female vocalists have spent many summers traveling around Ukraine’s villages collecting songs and learning from elder women in remote areas. Like these village tradition-bearers, they have spent years singing together—a fact that resonates in the beautifully close, effortlessly blended sound of their voices. Marko also grew up steeped in village life and draws on his rural upbringing when contributing to the group.
As young musicians and actors, the members of DakhaBrakha were determined to break away from purist recreations and from the stale, sentimental, post-Soviet remnants of an ideology-driven folk aesthetic. Urged on by Vladyslav Troitsky, an adventuresome theater director at the DAKH Center for Contemporary Art, a cornerstone of the Kyiv arts underground, the group resolved to create something radically different. They wanted to experiment, discover and put Ukrainian material in a worldly context, without divorcing it from its profound connection to land and people.
“The beginning was pretty primitive,” recalls Halanevych. “We tried to find rhythms to match the melodies. We tried to shift the emphasis of these songs. We know our own material, our native music well, yet we wanted to get to know other cultures and music well. We started with the Indian tabla, then started to try other percussion instruments. But we didn’t incorporate them directly; we found our own sounds that helped us craft music.”
Through this experimentation and repurposing of instruments from other cultures to serve DakhaBrakha’s own sound, the band was guided by restraint, an elemental approach that owed a debt to the emotionally charged minimalism of Phillip Glass and Steve Reich. “At the same time as we explored ethnic music, we got interested in minimalism, though never in a way that was literal or obvious,” Halanevych explains. “The methods of minimalism seemed to us to be very productive in our approach to folk. The atmospheric and dramatic pieces that started our work together were created by following that method.”
This mix of contemporary, cosmopolitan savvy and intimacy with local traditions and meanings cuts to the heart of DakhaBrakha’s bigger mission: To make the world aware of the new country but ancient nation that is Ukraine. “It’s important to show the world Ukraine and to show Ukrainians that we don’t need to have an inferiority complex. That we’re not backward hicks, but progressive artists. There are a lot of wonderful, creative people here, people who are now striving for freedom, for a more civilized way of life, and are ready to stand up for it.”
Experience DakhaBrakha’s unique and culturally impactful sound in a rare Northern Colorado appearance on September 21, 2022, at the Fort Collins Lincoln Center. Seats start at $15 and are available at LCtix.com.