Posted on December 5, 2020
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.”
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.”
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.