Cultural Collision: the Khmeleva Project

What evolves out of a cultural collision depends on what you put into it.

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DhakaBraka

DakhaBraka and Port Mone‘s Khmeleva Project is a musical collaboration that is at once joyous, ancient, futuristic, tragically sad and euphoric. Lots of adjectives, I know, but this music is so strange to our American ears that it conjures up exotic, surreal imagery.

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At the base of the Khmeleva Project are the incredible harmonies by the art music group DakhaBrakha, performing what they refer to as “ethno chaos.” Their music is rooted in traditional Ukrainian folk melodies with a very modern overlay. The strong, luminous voices of Iryna, Olena and Nina, the women who make up 3/4 of DakhaBrakha, have an ancient keening quality that is at once ethereal and electrifying.

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Here’s a performance video of “Yelena” that shows off DakhaBraka’s dynamic voices and the power they bring to their live performance.

I’ve been entranced with music from that part of the world, ever since I saw Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors many years ago. That film is based on a Carpathian folktale and watching it is like being plunged into an ancient river of dreams.

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Here’s a link to a snatch of music from Shadows – it gives you an idea of the tradition that gave birth to DakhaBrakha.

Beyond a collision of cultures, DakhaBrakha’s music also embodies a collision between past and present. The rural, peasant heritage they mine for their music holds within it traditional ways of thought and action. Yet the group’s experimental flair is also a musical embrace of freedom and an invigorated future. As the winds of change rattle through their nation, they see a larger purpose for their music. From their website:

We are all the citizens of this planet. But for DakhaBrakha, it is of the utmost importance to remain Ukrainian because we want our music to lift the spirit and boost the confidence of our people.

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I sense they see themselves more as a cultural bridge from the past to the future than as a political protest group. The women of DakhaBraka all have an academic background in the Ukrainian folklore tradition and traditional music from the region. Marko, the fourth member of the group, grew up in the Ukraine countryside and came to Kiev as an actor. The members of DakhaBraka came together as an art theater project – their avant garde background plays out in their performances.

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Added to their folk melody stylings is a world music orientation. They incorporate into their music a gaggle of percussion instruments from other ethnic music traditions. From their website:

At the crossroads of Ukrainian folklore and theatre their musical spectrum is intimate then riotous, plumbing the depths of contemporary roots and rhythms, inspiring “cultural and artistic liberation”.

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Marta Sebestyen

The first time I heard them I was reminded of an earlier “cultural and artistic liberation” in a marriage of folk and electronica, via a wonderful collaboration between singer Marta Sebestyen and composer Karoly Cserepes, in their fascinating CD, Apocrypha. Here’s a selection where you can easily hear a blend of the two musical styles, as a gentler version of DakhaBraka:

The other half of the Khemleva Project, Port Mone is an instrumental trio from Belarus, with accordion, bass guitar and percussion, providing the instrumental base that support DakhaBraka’s flowering tree.

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Port Mone

To find common ground, the two groups huddled together in the village of Khmeleva, working jointly to create the musical experience. DakhaBraka’s Marko writes:

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We have to rethink and modernize our folk culture. In fact, as a post-modernist band DakhaBrakha is trying to give new life to our grandmas’ songs.

 

Here’s another selection from the same concert that begins with a quiet mood, at once controlled and intimate, and slowly evolves into something wild and strange.

Marko writes:

We want our sounds to create certain visual images in people’s minds, and emotional experiences. Our main aim here is to open up to people, and encourage them to open up to us so that we part as friends at the end of the concert.

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Without the web, it would be difficult to encounter the musical collaborations taking place all over the globe. But now, all you have to do is move beyond the confines of pop to discover a whole world of new sounds out there.  So, what you think, is this music to the ears or just too alien to enjoy. Leave a comment and let me know.

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About Dan Bailes

As a writer and storyteller I explore the creative process and how we understand ourselves and our place in the world. For my blog, The Vision Thing, I write on creativity, innovation and vision – with a focus on pathfinders and the inspirational moment. I also consult and write for clients, play drums in a blues band, practice yoga and enjoy photography.
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