Distinctive, bright, unconventional and passionate, Ukrainian folk band DakhaBrakha is set to bring their unique talents to Ann Arbor this Wednesday, March 29 at the Michigan Theater.
Bill Smith, founder of Riot Artists and DakhaBrakha’s North American agent, discovered the quartet at a concert in Greece about five years ago.
“Everybody in the audience was mesmerized,” Smith said.
Formed in 2004 at the Kyiv Center of Contemporary Art in Ukraine by Vladislav Troitskyi, an avant-garde theater director, DakhaBrakha combines the simple tenacity of their voices with hints of varied artistic influences to create an original performance experience.
In spite of the group’s limited English, their artistry transcends typical language barriers. They’re influenced by sounds from around the world, at once both familiar and authentically foreign. Their name stems from old Ukrainian, meaning “give / take,” and that’s exactly what their music does.
“I would rely on what they call an ‘ethno-chaos,’” Smith said. “It is quite a mixture of genres. It’s based on long-forgotten Ukrainian folk songs that they have revived … they have re-arranged them with a multitude of other influences, whether it’s rap, jazz (or) classical, while retaining the basic folkloric music. It’s clearly recognizable, but they changed it in a way that absolutely inspires the public.”
A small and powerful force, DakhaBrakha consists of musicians Marko Halanevych (vocals, darbuka, tabla, didjeridoo, accordion, trombone), Iryna Kovalenko (vocals, djembe, bass drums, accordion, percussion, bugay, zgaleyka, piano), Olena Tsybulska (vocals, bass drums, percussion, garmoshka) and Nina Garenetska (vocals, cello, bass drum).
“They start off very dramatically, and the tempo changes throughout,” Smith said. “I can’t say that I have a favorite part of their concerts because it’s all so well put-together … so many presenters have told me that they’re the highlight of their entire season, and a few of them have said (they’re) the highlight of their careers.”
Their music has a quiet, incomparable force to it; it’s inherently captivating.
“It’s fundamentally Ukrainian, Eastern European folkloric music. It’s so accessible that people in Mexico described a show there as a ‘rave.’ Other people see it differently,” Smith said. “It takes maybe five or ten minutes into the concert for the public to grasp it if they’ve never seen the group, and then they simply embrace it and go wild. It’s amazing how they stir the public.”
Somewhat ethereal in nature, their vocals are accompanied by layers of beads and tall, woolen hats, allowing DakhaBrakha to craft a visually stunning concert that’s difficult to look away from.
Some of their pieces are slower, sharply contrasting with the intensity of others and lending a depth to their performances. One of their more popular tracks, “Baby,” from their 2014 album Light, sits comfortably at about seven minutes long. Seemingly narrating a story through unfiltered emotion, it’s hopeful when it needs to be and dangerous when it so desires.
The song embodies the evolutionary feel of DakhaBrakha’s music: The band is able to communicate a story that reaches all audiences no matter the langauge differences. Riding on the strength of their sound, the group uses their performances to universally attach themselves to those around — watching, listening, feeling.
Strange, thoughtful and, at times, other-worldly, DakhaBrakha’s performance is sure to be memorable. With an artistic vision as idiosyncratic as theirs and gripping vocals to match, it’s best to approach the night with open hearts and minds. Resting atop the foundation of pure love imbued in DakhaBrakha’s concerts, this Ukrainian quartet is set to share their joy with Ann Arbor this Wednesday.