DakhaBrakha has found the Holy Grail in world music. The Ukrainian band of multi-instrumentalists — Nina Garenetska, Olena Tsybulska, Iryna Kovalenko, and Marko Halanevych — performs traditional Ukrainian songs in nontraditional ways, making compelling tunes by stitching together its native folk melodies with a grab bag of unexpected styles from all over the globe.
The quartet layers its sound with otherworldly harmonies and fills the space with a wide variety of acoustic instruments. The result is both robust and minimalistic, and connects with audiences on an emotional level.
DakhaBrakha has performed all over the world, including a celebrated show at Bonnaroo in 2014 where it was named "Best Breakout" performance by Rolling Stone. The band's visual presence, like its songs, is powerful in its simplicity — the group's roots as an avant-garde house band at the Dakh Theatre in Kyiv has shaped the image of the four costumed, seated performers, creating a mesmerizing expression of musical unity.
DakhaBrakha is currently touring in support of its latest album, "The Road," with a date at Kilbourn Hall on Monday, November 20. CITY sent out a few questions via email, and Halanevych replied back. An edited version follows.
CITY: What's something you would like people to know about Ukrainian music?
Marko Halanevych: The first thing is that it exists. And at this moment it is going through a tremendous rise. Almost all forms of modern Ukrainian music are being renewed with new, talented performers. I'm absolutely sure that the world will come to know a lot of interesting music from Ukraine.
How does your music reflect your ideals?
We are inspired by the musical culture of our planet, and use musical instruments and motives from all over the world. Therefore, we are cosmopolitan in certain ways. At the same time, it is important for us to save and cultivate our own traditional culture. We try to balance these ideas together.
What was the origin of your group wearing hats and your costumes?
DakhaBrakha has a theatrical origin. Our costumes were created precisely for performances in the Dakh Theater in Kyiv. Our costumes are a mix of different ethnic styles, like our music.
Is DakhaBrakha only a musical group, or are you trying to re-create Ukrainian folk music?
The folk music that we use was created a long time ago — some of these songs have a pre-Christian nature. Our creativity is more like an experiment with an old music. This gives a new life for old songs in synthesis with world music. We have no ambitions to create new Ukrainian folk music, but if this happens, I think we would not be ashamed of it.
Can you describe your songwriting process?
We do not have a general recipe for creating music. Sometimes we are inspired by old Ukrainian songs that we discover; sometimes by a simple sound of an unusual musical instrument or new musical impressions. And then we sit down together and try to make some experiments.
When writing, how do you know you are on the right track?
It is important that the finished composition satisfies all four of us. If someone does not like it, then this song will have no future.
What are some musical styles that blend well with Ukrainian music?
Ukrainian music feels good in all modern genres. But it was rather interesting and productive for us to embrace the principles of classical minimalism. That has worked pretty successfully, in my opinion.
What are some styles that don't blend well?
There are no such styles.
Where has been the most interesting place DakhaBrakha has performed?
Once our speleologist friends invited us to perform a concert in Viola's Cave in the Crimean Peninsula. To get there it was necessary to go down 25 meters with the help of ropes and special equipment. And our instruments were delivered the same way. There were incredible acoustics, humidity, and it was pretty cold. But the experience was interesting.
Where, would you say, are DakhaBrakha's best audiences?
We are happy because DakhaBrakha has very good audiences all around the world. We are welcomed in places including New Zealand, Malaysia, and the United States. However, we are very glad to perform in Ukraine, in front of our friends and relatives.
What would you say has contributed to your group's success?
An important key of our group's success is the strong folk foundation — that was taught to the female members of this group by their university lecturers and from teachers during their stay in children's musical groups. Equally important is the work at the Dakh Theatre in Kyiv under the leadership of Vlad Troitskyi. He was the person who gave us the enthusiasm and courage to experiment with folk material. Up to this day he remains our spiritual advisor and guide.