DakhaBrakha – Feature Article

Hailing from Kyiv, Ukraine, World music outfit DakhaBrakha see themselves as ambassadors for their culture, which influences everything from their name (“Give/Take” in Ukrainian) to their outfits. They aim to keep Ukrainian musical and storytelling tradition alive by making it more accessible to a younger, international audience. The result – a musical melting pot described as “ethno-chaos” – bursts at the seams with rhythms, instruments and stylistic effects from across the globe. The question is, have they forsaken their goal in pursuit of this international sound?

Ukraine, as a country, hasn’t had the easiest time of it. Formed in 1917 at the tail end of the First World War, it sits next to Russia amidst constantly changing borders and turbulent shifts of power. Despite gaining independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 the nation remains divided, with a largely western faction relishing independence while many in the east yearn to rejoin the USSR.

Ukrainian’s culture remains largely off the map. Once the musical heartland of the Soviet empire, its contribution to music remains somewhat unacknowledged and even within the country folk songs are sometimes eschewed by traditional ensembles. Many within Ukraine see their cultural identity as being under threat, a situation not helped by Russian attitudes towards their independence.

“We thank God and all the generations of people who have fought for our independence and took part in keeping of our songs, language and our traditions.”

DakhaBrakha

While DakhaBrakha choose to stay away from overtly political themes, their simple goal of having Ukraine’s voice be heard could be considered rebellious by certain countries. ‘Considering that Ukraine has a big neighbour which thinks that even the existence of our country is a historical misunderstanding‘ collaborator Marko Galanevych says, ‘every one of our concerts abroad can be regarded as a political act in itself.’ DakhaBrakha certainly make a statement with their appearance, donning striking head-to-toe outfits based on various ethnic cultures.

“For over three hundred years Ukraine didn’t exist on the political world map… The task we set ahead of us now is to reveal Ukraine to the world and more im­portantly to ourselves – Ukrainians.”

DakhaBrakha

The theatrical aspect of DakhaBrakha comes from their origin. They formed in 2004 under the mentorship of theatre director Vladyslav Troitskyi and were initially just the house band at the avant-garde Dakh theatre in Kyiv, an experience to which they attribute to the darkly theatrical tone of their first two albums. Since then they’ve toured the globe but still regard the Brakh theatre as their spiritual home and primary rehearsal space.

Despite incorporating an international plethora of instruments from African drums to the Didjeridoo, DakhaBrakha remain firmly rooted in the sound of Ukraine, featuring instruments like the harmonica, Garmoshka (an accordion typical of the surrounding areas) and Zhaelika, (a single-reed horn instrument that sounds not unlike the bagpipes). They also incorporate the Ukrainian vocal style known as “white voice”, a singing style that utilises the tight register at the top of the chest with an open throat to create a uniquely resonant tone.

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The Los Angeles music scene, famed for its slick studio bands and hit factories, has a reputation for perfection rather than experimentation. Diaspora Kid subverts the expectations of its origin with a genuinely fresh fusion of jazz and Karnatic (South Indian classical) traditions. Aditya Parkash is an LA native with deep roots in Chennai. As a teenager the vocalist joined the legendary Ravi Shankar’s touring band. Since Ravi popularized the pathway of East-West cultural exchange it has become well trodden and frequently passé. Aditya Prakash’s ensemble of LA jazz musicians and Chennai classical masters revitalize the familiar formula. Opener ‘Greenwood’ builds a polyrhythmic bol (rhythmic vocalization) into a galloping jazz groove. The lush string arrangements on ‘Irish Song’ conjure pastoral scenes worthy of Aaron Copland, which are lent a Celtic lilt by the lithe flute playing of Hitomi Oba. LA has recently hosted a jazz renaissance led by Kamasi Washington, a saxophonist known for collaborating with hip-hop superstar and Compton native Kendrick Lamar. Aditya builds on this energy, delivering a record not quite straight outta Chennai but all the richer for having absorbed the diaspora experience.

LIAM IZOD

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I am sorry to inform everyone that Paris Combo’s charismatic vocalist Belle du Berry died yesterday, August 11, 2020. We had worked with Belle and Paris Combo for more that 20 years. She was a wonderful vocalist, center-stage attraction, mother, spouse, and an irreplaceable friend. My most sincere condolences to her family.

Bill Smith

 

Here is the report from today’s Le Monde:

Belle du Berry, chanteuse de Paris Combo, est morte

Belle du Berry avait également travaillé en 1992 avec le chorégraphe Philippe Découflé sur les ballets des cérémonies des Jeux olympiques d’Albertville.

Publié aujourd’hui à 11h26, mis à jour à 14h19

La chanteuse Belle du Berry, voix du groupe Paris Combo qui avait connu un joli succès dans les années 2000, enchaînant les scènes en France et à l’étranger, s’est éteinte dans la nuit de lundi à mardi, « emportée de façon subite par un cancer », a annoncé mercredi 12 août le groupe.

La chanteuse, qui était également autrice-compositrice, venait juste de terminer, à 54 ans, l’enregistrement d’un nouvel album de Paris Combo, a ajouté le groupe.

Disque d’or

Belle du Berry, de son vrai nom Bénédicte Grimault, s’était produite dans les années 1990 en duo dans de petites salles parisiennes, tendance cabaret, avec le musicien David Lewis. Leur rencontre avec d’autres musiciens de divers horizons donnera ensuite naissance en 1995 à Paris Combo, mélange d’influence jazz et de swing manouche.

Avec son deuxième album Living-Room sorti en 1999, le groupe deviendra disque d’or avec plus de 500 000 exemplaires vendus, avec en prime une nomination dans la catégorie révélation aux Victoires de la musique. Accro à la scène, le groupe enchaîne alors les concerts, en France, mais aussi à l’étranger, de l’Australie au Brésil, en passant par les Etats-Unis où il acquiert très vite une belle réputation.

En 2011, après une pause de cinq ans, Paris Combo s’était reformé à l’occasion d’une invitation à se produire au Hollywood Bowl, à Los Angeles, puis avait repris le chemin des studios d’enregistrement et des tournées. Leur dernier album en date, Tako Tsubo du nom du syndrome du « cœur brisé » –, est sorti en 2017.

Belle du Berry avait également travaillé en 1992 avec le chorégraphe Philippe Découflé sur les ballets des cérémonies des Jeux olympiques d’Albertville.

From Corrèze to the World

Mark Sampson chats to the dynamic French vocal sextet San Salvador during a brief moment at home in south-west France following a whirlwind 18 months of international touring.

From the tiny hamlet in which this group of childhood friends rehearse, you look across verdant, rolling pastures to the Monédière hills on the horizon. This is San Salvador’s territory: a part of the Corrèze, the ‘green country’ of La France Profonde, that’s virtually unknown to tourists. On my way here, I take a detour to look at the village of Saint-Salvadour, where the six members of the exciting polyphonic vocal group grew up together. By minor road from there to the rehearsal space they built together behind the house of Gabriel Durif, the group’s lead voice, you pass nothing but a few sombre looking farms and an occasional timber lorry….

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