NY TIMES: DakhaBrakha, a Band From Kyiv, Saw a War Coming

“We can’t make any music,” the singer and cellist Nina Garenetska said. “This is our life now: An air raid siren goes off.”

For years, the Ukrainian band DakhaBrakha has ended its shows chanting, “Stop Putin! No war!” What they had protested has now come to pass.

DakhaBrakha, based in Kyiv, has long served as ambassadors for Ukrainian music and culture, at once preserving and transforming them. The group gives the polyphonic harmonies of Ukrainian traditional songs a contemporary, internationalist makeover, using African, Australian, Arabic, Indian and Russian instrumentation alongside punk, scatting, hip-hop, trance and dance influences. Their appearance has always been equally striking, especially for the three women in the quartet: towering fur hats, long matching dresses and wildly colorful Iris Apfel-style jewelry.

“DhakhaBrakha often sings about love, heartbreak or the seasons, but as stand-in for bigger things — sometimes political things — and how they do it expands upon Ukrainian traditional music that uses metaphor in this way,” said Maria Sonevytsky, an associate professor of anthropology and music at Bard College, in New York, who devoted a chapter in a recent book to DakhaBrakha and gave a public lecture Wednesday on “Understanding the War on Ukraine Through Its Musical Culture.”

The singer and cellist Nina Garenetska, the singer and multi-instrumentalist Marko Halanevych, the singer and multi-instrumentalist Iryna Kovalenko, and the singer and percussionist Olena Tsybulska came together in 2004 as a house band for the experimental theater company Dakh in Kyiv. The three women had studied as ethnomusicologists, and they had delved into Ukraine’s varied regional styles. About eight years ago, the band’s concerts began integrating videos of the violence near Kyiv’s Maidan Nezalezhnosti (“Independence Square”), when paramilitary police in Kyiv cracked down on people protesting after then-President Viktor Yanukovych broke a promise to sign political and free-trade agreements with the European Union, tilting his nation toward Russia instead. The Yanukovych government was ousted; later in 2014, Russia annexed Crimea.

In the years since, as DakhaBrakha has gone on to tour the world many times over, the band has turned up the volume on its political messaging and activism.

DakhaBrakha first performed in North America in 2013, in Toronto. It came to the United States a few months later, and has since performed at Globalfest in New York, Bonnaroo in Tennessee and twice as part of NPR’s Tiny Desk concert series. On Friday and Saturday, the San Francisco Jazz Festival will offer two free online broadcasts of the DakhaBrakha concert that was filmed at the SFJazz Center on July 18, 2018, and is encouraging viewers to donate to a fund to support the band.

In a video chat on Tuesday, Halanevych and Garenetska spoke with The New York Times through translators alongside their longtime artistic manager, Iryna Gorban, about their last shows before the war began and their hopes for the future. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

“The risk is that Ukrainians will disappear as a nation and that the Ukrainian culture will disappear,” the singer and multi-instrumentalist Marko Halanevych said.

Marko, I can see you are pulled over by the side of the road. Have you left Kyiv?

HALANEVYCH Yes. It’s a total mess on the Ukrainian roads. I have with me my wife, also a musician, for Dakh Daughters, and two beautiful girls, 4 and 12. I am trying to save their lives by moving to a safer place near my relatives in the west — far from the border with Russia and Belarus. Not necessarily safe. My parents decided to stay. They said they would defend our house. [Laughs] I couldn’t persuade them. And I haven’t told my family yet, but I will be going back to Kyiv, to offer my help anywhere where it is needed, maybe in local defense.

And you, Nina?

GARENETSKA I am in our apartment with my son, who is a year and 10 months old, my husband and my mother, in Kyiv.

How has it been, staying in Kyiv?

GARENETSKA We can’t make any music. Because this is our life now: An air raid siren goes off — you go downstairs, you wait, you go back up. And this is nonstop. When it is too dangerous, we will run to the bomb shelter.

Tell me about your last concert.

GARENETSKA During our last concert, I was tearing up all the time with a weird mix: fear, love, but also hope and faith that everything will be OK. We had a small tour of five or six concerts in Europe — Ukraine, Slovenia, Prague, Oslo. From Oslo we flew to Zaporizhzhya [in southeastern Ukraine], and we came back to Kyiv literally for the day. The next day, we were going to continue touring, but we didn’t go because at 5 a.m. Thursday, the war started.

And since then, what has DakhaBrakha heard from your fan base in Ukraine?

GORBAN To share their emotions, many people here are posting on social media the last picture or video they took just before the war started. And we saw that many are from DakhaBrakha’s last concerts, where, as usual, DakhaBrakha says “Stop Putin!” and “No War!” and “Free Ukraine!” — and of course people are really in solidarity with this.

How and when did DakhaBrakha decide to bring more overt statements about the conflict with Russia to your concerts?

HALANEVYCH At a certain moment, we understood that this threat needed to be talked about more to send a stronger message to the world. And we started speaking out about how Ukraine had decided once and for all to leave Russia’s orbit and separate absolutely. We began saying “Stop Putin!” We showed the videos of the events at Maidan, we had posters, and since then, we say those mottos at every concert. But we were not heard.

Musically, have your concerts addressed this conflict about Ukrainian sovereignty?

GORBAN DakhaBrakha has produced songs from many different regions of Ukraine, and we tried to unite our country in this way, through music. At our concerts, during the last year, we played at each concert a song for people who defend our freedom. It is a very special moment for people; it makes them stand up and feel brave and confident. It makes you believe in our nation. We also have a special requiem devoted to those who gave their lives in this struggle. We almost never play this live, only very special occasions.

What is at risk if this war lasts, culturally speaking?

HALANEVYCH The risk is that Ukrainians will disappear as a nation and that the Ukrainian culture will disappear. For 300 years, Russia did everything for Ukrainian culture to disappear. Also, in recent years, the last 30 and especially the last eight, we Ukrainians feel what it is like to be a free people.

How the Ukraine War Is Affecting the Cultural World Gavriel Heine. The American conductor, a fixture at the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, Russia, for 15 years, has resigned from his post as one of the state-run theater’s resident conductors. He said in a series of interviews that he had been increasingly disturbed by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Valentin Silvestrov. Ukraine’s best-known living composer, Mr. Silvestrov made his way from his home in Kyiv to Berlin, where he is now sheltering. In recent weeks, his consoling music has taken on new significance for listeners in his war-torn country.

Anna Netrebko. The superstar Russian soprano faced backlash in Russia after she tried to distance herself from President Vladimir V. Putin with a statement condemning the war. She had previously lost work in the West because of her past support for Mr. Putin.

Olga Smirnova. A principal soloist at the Bolshoi Ballet since 2016, Ms. Smirnova announced that she had joined the Dutch National Ballet in Amsterdam, becoming one of the most significant Russian cultural figures to leave the country because of its invasion of Ukraine.

Valery Gergiev. The star Russian maestro and vocal supporter of Mr. Putin was removed from his post as chief conductor of the Munich Philharmonic after he refused to denounce Russia’s actions in Ukraine. His abrupt dismissal came three years before his contract was set to expire.

Alexei Ratmansky. The choreographer, who grew up in Kyiv, was preparing a new ballet at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow when the invasion began, and immediately decided to leave Moscow. The ballet, whose premiere was set for March 30, was postponed indefinitely.

To be a free people is something that Russia hasn’t had for a very long time. They will never understand us. And we will never understand them. And it is important to understand that what is happening with Ukraine now — if you will not stop this evil, it will spread to the rest of the world.

What kind of support is DakhaBrakha getting from fellow musicians and fans?

GORBAN All the venues, festivals, partners, musicians we have met at the festivals have sent hundreds and hundreds of messages. People have offered to donate money through the fund we support and to host DakhaBrakha and our families.

You were supposed to be finishing a European tour around now. What will happen to those shows, and the more than 70 dates you had booked for a tour of North America?

GORBAN We are just a month until the start of the tour, so it’s too early to discuss it, because the situation is changing every hour. Of course, we hope that the war will stop in the nearest future. This was supposed to be the first tour after two years of the Covid pandemic. And we don’t want to live in these kind of conditions for months or years. If it stops, we will go, and we will continue our work and show our culture to the world. People are waiting for us.

Full article on «The New York Times»

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