“Well, that sounds interesting…”
That’s how I ended up with a seat at the Rio Theatre for one of the best and most creative musical shows I’ve seen – Ukrainian folk/ethno-chaos band DakhaBrakha.
Vancouver’s Ukrainian soul band Zeellia opened the show with several acapella pieces before the rest of their musicians joined in. I was puzzled by the musicians going on and off the stage. It seemed like it would be easier for them to stay on stage when they weren’t performing – just give them chairs and tell them not to fidget.
Their music was good and it’s great to see a band with such a wide age diversity within its members. I preferred the music with the entire ensemble – the vocal pieces were beautiful, but the group seemed to have more energy when they were all playing. They also get bonus points for having a hurdy gurdy.
Ethno-chaos band Dakhabrakha have been performing together for ten years now, and have their roots in both theatre and traditional folk music. The musicians are Iryna Kovalenko (djembe, bass drums, accordion, percussion, bugay, zgaleyka, piano), Marko Halanevych (darbuka, tabla, didjeridoo, accordion, trombone), Nina Garenetska (cello, bass drum), and Olena Tsybulska (bass drums, percussion, garmoshka).
DakhaBrakha had the most unique approach I’ve seen to Vancouver theatre audience punctuality. They were set up and ready to go while folks were still milling about in the aisles chatting… so, they dove straight in with the pounding drums of their first song. Afterwards, Marko introduced them – “Hello, everybody. We are DakhaBrakha, from free Ukraine,” and the crowd erupted in applause and cheers.
Their songs ranged from primal rhythms and ululation to soaring, heartfelt pop numbers sung in falsetto, taking a sharp turn into hip hop and metal overtones. The range of the vocals is amazing. Bird sounds, calls, hands making the noise of fluttering wings, and a screaming cello. While the arrangements are completely and utterly unique, many of the songs are still traditionally Ukrainian.
Musically, the band was both brilliant and creative. I loved the drum being played with one brush and one mallet simultaneously; it made for a lot of depth from that single drum. Nina did things to that cello that I’ve never seen done anywhere, and it went from beautifully light and wistful to shouting like it was in pain. The voices of the three women in particular were gorgeous, hitting the harmonies and rhythms precisely, while Marko’s range went from shouting to a lovely falsetto.
The audience was appreciative, and by the end, there was a line of dancers down the aisle on house right. I really wished they had gone up to dance by the stage, but they were having a great time nonetheless.
This show was mindblowing. The music was amazing…and it’s hard to find something that’s so different from anything I’ve heard before. DakhaBrakha is a band that I want to see at festivals, at night under the stars. Their music is so organic and evocative that I want to hear it as it soars into the night sky.
Written by Leilah Thiel