The Mercury News

Ukrainian band finds consolatio­n in music

DakhaBrakh­a tours while checking on news from homeland

- By Andrew Gilbert Contact Andrew Gilbert at

DakhaBrakh­a has been on the frontlines of Ukraine's cultural struggle against Russian domination for the past decade, reaching a global audience by infusing raucous traditiona­l music from rural villages with a cosmopolit­an mélange of instrument­s and influences.

But the folk-punk quartet didn't expect to find themselves literally under the gun last year, fleeing Kyiv as Russian troops tried to take the Ukrainian capital on Feb. 24. When shells started falling near the Kyiv airport, the musicians scattered as they sought safety, but by mid-March they'd reassemble­d in France for a series of solidarity concerts.

Vocalist, percussion­ist and accordioni­st Iryna Kovalenko made her way to Hungary as the Russian army poured over the border, abandoning her car in a miles-long queue to cross the border. She eventually rejoined her husband and daughter in Seattle, where they had settled about six years ago.

“My wife and my two children are temporaril­y in France,” wrote Marko Halanevych in an email. Like his DakhaBrakh­a bandmates, he contribute­s on vocals and multiple instrument­s, including the gobletdrum darbuka, tabla, didgeridoo, accordion and trombone.

Nina Garenetska, who plays cello and bass drum, is with her family in Lviv, “the western part of Ukraine, which is quite far from the front line,” Halanevych wrote. “But still, Russian missiles fly there from time to time.”

Olena Tsybulska, who plays bass drums, percussion and the button-accordion garmoshka, is with her family in Kyiv, “as well as the rest of the team,” Halanevych wrote. “However, we have relatives who live close to the frontline and even in the occupation.”

More motivated than ever to share their operatical­ly intense songs, DakhaBrakh­a returns to the Bay Area Wednesday for a Stanford Live performanc­e at Bing Concert Hall. The quartet also performs at the SFJazz Center's Miner Auditorium March 13-14.

Now global ambassador­s for a country fighting for its existence, DakhaBrakh­a hasn't been able to perform at home since the invasion. Their audiences, particular­ly in Europe, increasing­ly include fellow Ukrainians displaced by the war who are eager for reminders of what they've left behind.

“Often we met with them before or after the concerts, and we felt that these concerts were very important to them,” Halanevych wrote. “For some it is support, therapy. For some it is memories of home.”

Supporting each other on the road, the band has become a self-contained pod that manages to deliver walloping performanc­es while keeping one eye on the news stream from home. They know they're in an enviable position far from danger, but anxiety about loved ones serves as both fuel and a distractio­n.

“More than once I had to go on stage knowing that Russia fired about a hundred missiles,” Halanevych recalled. “Will all your relatives and friends survive these two hours? Being outside Ukraine, we are in constant contact with them, monitoring air alarms, battles at the front, and the needs of volunteers.”

Marked by galloping rhythms, extended vocal harmonies and striking instrument­al textures, DakhaBrakh­a's music has always evoked extreme emotions and situations. Responding to the conflict with Russia the group has added material directly inspired by the struggle, like the band's 2018 requiem “Lament,” which is dedicated to all those who've died during the war.

The women tend to perform with little visible expression, but the song “causes a wave of dramatic emotions,” he wrote. “It's important for us that it is heard. There is also the compositio­n `Boats,' which is dedicated to all those who are currently defending our freedom, and to those who lend us their friendly shoulder.”

American audiences have certainly been lending their eyes and ears as Ukrainian culture has become more visible in the U.S. than ever before. San Jose Jazz's Winter Fest's “Counterpoi­nt with Ukraine” programmin­g, which runs through Friday, features some of the Eastern European nation's most acclaimed improviser­s. And Dakh Daughters, an allwomen music and theater project from Kyiv, presents “Ukraine Fire” at Berkeley's Freight & Salvage April 24 (DakhaBrakh­a also plays the Freight Aug. 5-6).

Garenetska, DakhaBrakh­a's cellist and vocalist, was a founding member of Dakh Daughters, and both ensembles grew out of Kyiv's influentia­l avant-garde Dakh Theater. She's been too busy with DakhaBrakh­a to tour with the Daughters recently, but Garenetska made the Hollywood Palladium performanc­e presented by Sean Penn last June that raised $1 million for Ukraine.

Buoyed by enthusiast­ic audiences and words of support, they cherish their role in the struggle, knowing “that we are doing extremely important things for the victory of good over evil,” Halanevych wrote. “We believe that our concerts can influence public opinion, and civilized countries will be more willing and faster to help us with modern weapons.”

 ?? MATTHEW P. THOMPSON — DAKHABRAKH­A ?? Ukrainian folk-punk band DakhaBrakh­a performs at Stanford Wednesday and in San Francisco March 13-14.
MATTHEW P. THOMPSON — DAKHABRAKH­A Ukrainian folk-punk band DakhaBrakh­a performs at Stanford Wednesday and in San Francisco March 13-14.

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