By Svyat Nakonechny ’14

On my way to the DakhaBrakha show, as the cold and lonely after-rush-hour Chicago swam by, the band’s solemn “Nad Dunaem” (“Over Danube”) came on in my headphones. Between the pauses of the melodic vocals and the distant hums of the harmonic, I zoned out, only to come back to the far less pacific cannons of the Red line. And such was their concert – an alchemy of familiar tones spiced with crafted peaks of DakhaBrakha’s brilliant voices.

By the time Marko Halanevych thanked the generous audience for the first time (after the opener), the room was theirs. Then came “Oi za lisochkom” (“Far by the creek”), a fine crescendo of vocals and tender bass, a composition in the realm of its own. Iryna Kovalenko poured her sharp Old Ukrainian dialect into Nina Garenetska’s somber cello, then Marko’s resonant vocals stole our ears, all to Olena Tsibulska’s colorful drum tone.

Then there was a jazzy twist, a rhythmic tune about how to plant Ukrainian beans, but what DakhaBrakha sang mattered far less than how they did it, how they organically merged their poised voices and skillful multi-instrumentalism with the unknown to most of us ethnos, a mystical land that has seen much agony and far less joy, peoples firm in their melodies and witty in their tongue. Spontaneously all this cliffs back to Marko’s echo, back to a bizarre bag pipe-sounding flute, to the vivid atmosphere of the show.

Like true Ukrainians still hibernating after their late Eastern Orthodox Christmas, DakhaBrakha produces a schedrivka, a traditional well-wishing and celebratory tune, one I’ve never heard before. Again, splendid. Even my Peruvian neighbors agree.

In my conversation with Marko after the show (I admit, I pretended to have recorded it – “Can we do an interview for our listeners?” sounds substantially less preying than “I just want to talk about this music of yours”), a colleague interviewer asked about the environments in which the group prefers to play. The truth is that this journalist-y query fades behind DakhaBrakha’s virtuous performance, regardless of the venue or the quantity of hands clapping. With this band comes some strange ambiance, one that no mic can amplify and no record can reproduce. To an unfamiliar ear it’s all a beautiful sound contraption – mysterious, profound, virgin. To this humble servant, it’s a summer’s trip into the dense Ukrainian woods my six-year-old self used to make; it’s my grandmother’s painful but sweet lullaby, one I will never fathom hearing but will always shiver when I do.

All that’s left to do is pick up our jaws from the ground, for DakhaBrakha’s diapasons and vocal ranges are second to none. And all I can do is convulse in the ecstatic rhythm of “Carpathian rap.”

At some point I put my phone down and stopped taking notes. It’s shameful, but I couldn’t rack up bits and pieces of this mosaic. It’s unjust. To the quartet, to the audience, to the reader. I zone out again, then wake up to “Howard is next, doors open on the left on Howard.”


DakhaBrakha Official Site

I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas (Columbia, 1953)

Track of the Day will be on hiatus for Northwestern’s winter break (Dec 16-Jan 5), but to tide you over, here’s a wacky Christmas track picked by Freeform producer Jamie Lee.

In my experience, this Christmas novelty song is very divisive; first-time listeners either can’t stand the song and label it as “annoying,” or absolutely love the song for its blatant and intentional goofiness and inherent humor in its subject matter. Even among radio stations that play Christmas music during the holiday season, the likelihood of hearing the familiar trumpets of “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” is extraordinarily low due to its obscurity. Although Gayla Peevey is the original, and perhaps most recognizable, artist behind the song, the song has been covered by a few others, including Captain Kangaroo (Bob Keeshan) and The Three Stooges.


Happy Holidays from the WNUR family! See y’all in January!

I’ve Lived the Life b/w Nothing I’d Rather Be 7″ (Forte Records, 1975)

Today’s track was picked by Freeform DJ Isaac. Let it warm you up inside.

A Kansas City native, Marva W. Taylor (formerly Marva Whitney) opened for many soul and funk groups passing through the Midwest, and in the process, turned down offers to tour with both Little Richard and Bobby Bland before agreeing to become a featured vocalist with the James Brown Revue. On this track, Taylor lays down just a flat-out tasty, smooth, gliding description of her love for her man. Hot damn is it powerful!

[Buy the single for a lot of money on Northern Soul 45s]

Warm (Gem, 2013)

Happy hump day! Get down with this track from Streetbeat DJ Jamez Bluntz:

An interesting track off Dutch techno producer Egbert’s new LP, Warm. This track fuses progressive-house inspired melodic elements with techno-inspired rhythmic elements, but it’s not just an intellectual exercise. Egbert keeps it cohesive and groovy, a testament to his production chops. Hemelpoort is (unsurprisingly) all warm vibes, but fans should check out Naar De Ruimte En Terug, the next track on the album, for a more melancholic take on the same concept.

[Gem Records]