In tall, furry black hats and long white dresses, with yelps, chirps, whistles and a pounding drumbeat, Ukraine's punk-folk musical sensation DakhaBrakha showed LA last night that we haven't seen everything yet. Here and there, audience members waved blue and yellow Ukrainian flags. When someone shouted "Slava Ukrayini!" after one song, the woman in front of us responded with "Heroyam slava!"
"Glory to Ukraine!" she turned to translate for us. "Glory to the heroes!" It's a call-and-response dating back to the early 20th century Ukrainian War of Independence that has taken on new relevance. Our neighbor in the seats handed out flyers for a fundraiser coming up at a Ukrainian church in LA, then spent the set alternating between shooting video on her phone and waving her small flag, and sometimes doing both simultaneously.
We gave DakhaBrakha a well-deserved standing ovation even before they'd finished their last song. There was an encore, then the next. We would have brought them back for another if local regulations didn't force Grand Performances to shut down promptly by 10 p.m.
Here's a video of the group in an earlier performance of their knockout opening song, "Tatar":
DakhaBrakha is Iryna Kovalenko, Marko Halanevych, Nina Garenetska and Olena Tsibulska. The story is that the group was founded by an underground theatre troupe. The three women and one man bring a mix of backgrounds in folk and classical music plus professional theatre training. They utilize a variety of musical traditions and instruments from Eastern Europe and beyond, including accordion and garmoshka, tabla and darbuka, piano, cello and big bass drums.
In their long white dresses (and those hats!), their cello and drums painted with traditional Ukrainian folk motifs, DakhaBrakha has combined theatricality and musicality in a way that sometimes sits at the edge of kitsch, but never crosses the line. One song used birdcalls and other forest sounds. Another began with an eerie wolf's howl. Yet it all is authentic and integral to the performance. You'll sometimes catch a knowing wink or nod from one of the musicians, letting you in on the joke. Only, it's not a joke at all. It's just damn good music.
A small Ukrainian flag fluttered at the edge of the stage all night. After the last song, Halanevych softly said something in Ukrainian into the mic, then said in English: "Victory or death." Kovalenko and Tsibulska pulled out a larger flag and stood center stage while Halanevych and Garenetska each held up hand lettered signs. One read "Stop Putin" and the other read "No War." The moment felt as melancholy and yet hopeful as their music.
After performing together for ten years, DakhaBrakha is "suddenly" taking the world music scene by storm. Here, just watch the video for their song "Vesna" and you'll see why:
Lately I've been making zines. For a limited time, you can see my first zine on exhibit at the Irvine Fine Arts Center. Read more.