Sunday, July 19, 2015

You're Never Too Old to be a Groupie

A regular reader of my blog approached me at my desk at work on Friday and pointed out in a tone of gentle reproach that I had not posted since July 1st.  The only excuse I have to offer is that I've been laid low by an intestinal infection that won't seem to go away, and although tired and dehydrated, I've been able to go to work, but when I get home, all I want to do is sleep or lie on the couch and watch NetFlixx.  However, I did manage to spend some time at Sunfest last weekend, and saw a wonderful band who inspired this blog post, and reminded me of what it was like to fall in love with a band.

I spent most of my 20's working in new and used record stores, which was considered one of the coolest jobs a twenty-something could have.  I spent my shifts listening to music, and at night, I would go to hear local indie bands play at one of several downtown clubs.   Most of the other staff were music fiends as well (the only real reason for working in such places, as the pay was minimum wage with no benefits) and during my time at one of the cities most popular used record stores,  I frequently would find myself in competition with a colleague over a mint-condition, gatefold-sleeve album from a band we both loved that had been in a pile of records we had purchased from a customer.

For a couple of years, I also had an hour long show on the local university radio station.  The first featured music that had been written for, or featured in, a particular film.   After a year, I switched to the theme of women in Rock and Roll.   I have no idea if anyone listened to my shows, as I didn't take requests, so no one ever called in during my shift,  and the challenges of equipment that failed at inopportune times and fellow volunteers who didn't show up for their shift made the experience nerve-wracking at times, but I had a lot of fun in that booth with just me, my headphones and my records.

Then at some point,  I got a "real" job, and couldn't listen to music all day, or stay out until 1:00 am watching a band, my passion moved to other things. However, every once in a while, I come across a band that ignites that spark again...

DakhaBrakha is a quartet from Kyiv in the Ukraine that began as a theatre project in the Dakh Theatre for Contemporary Arts in Kyiv.  I had seen them perform a couple of years ago at Luminato in Toronto and when I heard they would be playing at Sunfest here in London, I was excited to see them again, as the music they played was unlike anything I had heard before.  The above video is a brief snippet showing off the talented trio of women in the band.
Clockwise from top left:  Marko Halanevych, Olena Tsibulska, Nina Garenetska and Iryna Kovalenko

The band defines itself as "ethno-chaos" and Marko Halanevych, the front-man for the band, has been quoted as saying “We decided to create a new style of music that consists mainly of our native Ukrainian folk motifs, with some African-styles added in. We also combine Arab, Bulgarian and Hungarian ideas. Dakha Brakha collects the components of its repertoire during our expeditions. We go out to villages, pitch our tents and visit local babushkas and ask them to sing their folk songs. We record them and use them in our compositions.”

Each band member plays at least four instruments, and has an impressive vocal range.  I shot the video above while they were playing a very atmospheric instrumental piece that was like a soundtrack for a walk in a strange, dark forest.  They also play percussion-driven songs that got the audience on their feet dancing, and hypnotic, mesmerizing tunes that inspired one to drift into a blissful trance.

Irynya, above, is also an actress, and has played Ukrainian folk music since she was a child.  She is the English-speaking spokesperson for the band.  All three women have

Nina is a self-taught cellist, and at times she plucked the instrument like a bass, strummed it like a guitar, or sawed at it furiously.  At one point she performed what sounded like a Ukrainian rap that delighted the audience and although she was physically small, she had a huge presence.

As much as Marko may be the front man of the band - and a multi-talented front man he is, providing vocals, and playing accordian and tabla - the women are definitely the audience focus.  They have been playing together for many years, and are graduates of the Ukrainian Folklore and Culture Faculty at Kyiv University.  The trio's complex harmonies, combined skill at playing multiple instruments, sense of humour, and the obvious joy they find in what they are doing is captivating.  It's easy to imagine them as characters in a folk tale in which three strong, talented, and beautiful women escape from their respective arranged marriages by running away from the altar in their wedding dresses, and decide to travel together bringing joy and music wherever they go.

Nina has decorated her cello with a traditional Ukrainian pattern and I thought it looked beautiful against the background of the skirt of her vintage wedding dress.   After their first show on Friday night, I stayed and chatted with Nina for a few minutes and we discovered a mutual love of thrift-shopping and unusual clothing.

Members of the local Ukrainian community came out to support the band, some bringing a Ukrainian flag to wave during the performance.  The young woman second from the left was one of several young woman who asked to have their photo taken with the band.

And then there was this not-so-young woman who also wanted a photo with them...

and an obligatory selfie with Nina.  I really need to relax my neck muscles when I smile...

Which all're never too old to discover your inner groupie!  If you get an opportunity to see DakhaBrakha perform,  take it - it will be a musical experience that you won't forget.  Below is a video of their NPR Tiny Desk concert that shows off their unique vocal styles.


  1. I too discovered this band at our Madison, WI "Willy Street Festival" last fall. I didn't have the great opportunity you did to chat and be photographed with members of the band. Groups like this, with their versatility, fabulous creativity and audience rapport just renew my faith in humankind and culture. Thanks for this marvelous post. Now to track them down to see if they'll be in my neck of the woods in the near future! I SO could be a groupie again!

  2. Whoa, this is great!! Thanks for sharing (and taking such great video---mine always turn out so bad!)

  3. Wow, so lovely to hear good music and see those that make it! Such fun! You're looking fetching in your headwrap with hair peeking out :-D xo Jazzy Jack

  4. They ARE wonderful, aren't they? Thank you for introducing us to them.
    And the HATS!
    And your HEADWRAP!

  5. I'm sorry you've been laid low, sending you loads of get well wishes.
    How cool does this band look? The head dresses alone make me want to love them before I've even heard them play! xxx

  6. I looove this band, for the bird sounds alone. Okay, and then there's the hair - don't get me started. Too divine! I'm glad you've had your passion reignited. I think of you in that studio with your show and imagine how good you were at it. You are looking particularly fetching in that outfit.

  7. I am happy to see you back and hope that your return to perfect health soon! What a great band! It's not hard to see why you fell in love with them. I'm fascinated by their hair/ head dresses, their ensembles and their music. You look fabulous too!

  8. I am quite the opposite from you. In my twenties I also had a very cool job: I worked for an agency which organised pop concerts. About 4 a week. If I have seen 10 of them in the two and a half years I was there, it is much. I was perfect for the job but had no real interest for the product haha.
    Glad you made your hobby your work. And that you still so enjoy the music.
    You had me puzzled when you said "they performed here in London". I thought: "what is she doing in England?"

  9. The band are so cool! And it's great to still get excited about music; it might not happen as often as we get older (do we get more discriminating?) but it's still fantastic to discover a new band to love!
    Fab pics, including the ones with you in them!
    Hope you feel back to full health and energy soon, Shelley. xxx

  10. Argh! I can't believe I missed that Dakha Brakha were going to be at Sunfest!! I discovered them when I was in Kyiv a few years ago and think they are just amazing. I agree with you that they are like nothing else :) Looks like you had a marvellous time.