DakhaBrakha at Aga Khan Museum Auditorium, Toronto: Event Review

Courtesy of lazerhorse.org
Courtesy of lazerhorse.org

The start of the concert was very simple. Three women and one man entered the stage, sat down and proceeded to blow the minds of the audience – in a good way.

DakhaBrakha creates music that is impossible to categorize. Most of the lyrics sung are in Ukrainian, rather than English. And yet, not knowing Ukrainian is not a hindrance to being overcome by their music. The music is overpowering and compelling. It is an amalgam of Ukrainian folk tradition mixed with African, Middle Eastern, Asian, European, and Blues. None of the mix is strained or seems false – it is a sound that comes from the earth itself. The music dwells on emotions with humour and pathos, both parsed out in equal dollops.

The quartet’s stage presence is powerful in its simplicity. The band’s name means “give and take” in an older Ukrainian language. The three women and one man provide an aural cacophony that works on many levels.

There is no leader on stage, as all performers play intrinsic roles to create their sound. All of them sing. Nina Garenetska is the always-smiling cello virtuoso who also bangs a bass drum, Olena Tsibulska provides percussion and accordion accompaniment, Iryna Kovalenko plays the djembe, piano, zgayelka, bugay, accordion, and percussion, and Marko Halanevych works on the darbuka, accordion and harmonica, for the most part. While there are many instruments used, percussion and vocals are the key elements in the music.

They played many songs from their five albums. Their setlist included “Tatarky,” “Sho z-pod duba,” “Oy za lisochkom,” “Horokh,” “Karpatskyi rep,” “Vesna,” “Tarilka,” “Sukhij dub,” “Divka Marusechka,” “Specially for You,” “Yagudky,” “Dibrova,” “Yanky,” “Do sto lit,” “Yanky,” “T’on,” “Konoplya,” and “Baby.”

The Theatre at the new Aga Khan museum in Toronto was fine venue for the band that stretches ethnic, cultural, and musical boundaries. The atmosphere grew more intense as each song concluded. The audience was more enamoured by the band as the show progressed and the reaction was quite telling. DakhaBrakha reacted by playing each forthcoming tune more passionately.

They are ending their month-long tour of North America. They will still have performances on December 1st at the Dirty Bourbon in Albuquerque, NM, December 2nd at Taos Mesa Brewing in El Prado, NM, December 3rd at the Macey Center in Socorro, NM, December 5th at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, AZ, December 6th at the Rialto Theatre in Tucson, AZ, December 7th at the Theatre Raymond Kabbaz in Los Angeles, CA, USA.