DakhaBrakha weaves compelling sonic visions rooted in Ukrainian music. Info
The Ukrainian group DakhaBrakha, slated to play two sets at this Central Park Sessions show, induced about 10 minutes of mild wonderment in its 2015 video for NPR's Tiny Desk Concert series. I don't know for sure why this outfit makes such a strong impression on me, but I have three hunches. One is the Ukrainian style of singing which, like the music of Bulgarian women's choirs, has a particular harmonic and polyphonic texture and permits a distinctive, ringing tone of voice. Another is DahkaBrakha's smart repackaging of folk songs in varied and exciting structures, to say nothing of their incorporation of elements of western pop and folk music of other cultures. Take the song "Sho Z-Pod Duba": it features a call-and-response introduction that's not a far cry from '50s rock tunes like "Tutti Frutti" or "Jailhouse Rock," an a capella breakdown, and a climactic ending that gives the familiar intro a boost of vigorous drumming. But most of all, I would like to think the secret is that the musicians are self-possessed, mature performers who can match the dramatic range of the music they've constructed.
The political context of DakhaBrakha only makes the music more urgent and vital—remember when Russia forcibly took the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine several years ago? DakhaBrakha's music is not overtly political, although it sounds as though some of the group's members were present at the "Euromaidan" protests in Kiev (their hometown) that preceded this takeover, and they are sisters of a more aggressive project called Dakh Daughters. I suspect they realize that they've found a music that has its own power. In one 2014 interview, one of DakhaBrakha's goals is to "create new myths for a new generation of Ukrainians." That is, this hybrid of old and new is not just for outsiders, but also to give Ukraine itself a glimpse of what its future could be. —Abe Sorber