This year we're asking our musically and culturally inclined friends to write our evening programs. Here's Jordan Peimer on DakhaBrakha and Carmen Rizzo.
If you’re reading this blogpost, you rank among the most adventuresome audiences in the city. Friday, September 5th’s shared program between CARMEN RIZZO, L.A.-based electronic musician / producer and Ukraine’s DAKHABRAKHA, a behatted folk quartet, will be one of the most musically memorable evenings which you’re likely to encounter. At first glance, you might not think electronica and folk would have anything in common, but I expect that tonight’s musical dialogue will be rich and exciting.
Los Angeles audiences hardly need an introduction to CARMEN RIZZO. His work as part of Niyaz ranks among the finest world fusion projects to come out of this or any city. His solo career has only recently been his major focus and he has released a handful of albums and an EP, each strongly compelling. In addition, he has produced, engineered, programmed or remixed artists as diverse as Alanis Morissette, Coldplay, A.R. Rahman, Paul Oakenfold, Perry Farrell, and Michael Nyman. I personally love his effortless mix of acoustic and electronic sounds, and feel that he is one of the few musicians who can make the acoustic sound electronic.
Less well known in Los Angeles are DAKHABRAKHA whose name we are told means Give/Take in “Old” Ukrainian. How does one describe their sound? I’ve seen the words Trance, Jazz, Chaos, Punk, and dozens more used to describe them. Nothing really prepares you for their unique sound. Or their hats.
Their mixture of ethnic and contemporary sounds is absolutely singular, and comes from a region which is not widely represented on the traditional world music circuit. Just about two years ago, DakhaBrakha took WOMEX (World Music Expo) by storm. Since that time they have barely stopped touring. This particular edition of WOMEX was held in Northern Greece and was filled with music from Central, Southern, and Eastern Europe. From Roma to polyphonic singing, I think my coterie of programmers and music aficionados, including Grand Performances’ esteemed Leigh Ann Hahn, and I all felt as though we knew what to expect as we moved from concert to concert. But with a voice that could only have come from Rocky & Bullwinkle’s Arch nemesis Natasha Fatale, a young woman pushed me a flyer for a Ukrainian band at me and ordered, “You zee diz!” I said that we planned to see little bits of everything. She said, and I will never forget this: “Goh urhly. Iz bezt to azk provezional.” For the next hour we laughed about this strange encounter.
When the three women and one man walked on stage, it wasn’t clear whether they were wearing hats or whether they had Bride of Frankenstein hairdos. We kept making snarky jokes until they started. It was like NOTHING any of us had ever heard. Their sound was an almost shocking mixture of tribal music, polyphonic singing, and a relentless driving rhythm. I can still remember that Slavic sense of sadness propelled by both the singing and the folk-painted cello sweeping us all away. Somehow both melancholic and uplifting, DakhaBrakha music is mystical in an almost religious way. Frankly, I felt that the sounds could have felt at home around a fire in a gathering of pre-Christian hunter/gatherers on the steppe. Their show brought me to a state in which I felt that I had witnessed something absolutely primal and tears were streaming down my face.
After just a few songs we made a mad dash to go get their albums before those all disappeared. Since that time, I have seen DakhaBrakha twice more in other cities and found a fourth album. I even sat through Prairie Home Companion (my least favorite public radio show) in order to hear both their sets. One wonders what the fine folk of Lake Woebegone thought of the Ukrainian wonders and their unique headgear. Wikipedia tells me there is a fifth album, and I hope they have it with them on tour. Considering just how much they have been on the road, they might be sold out. Maybe they even have hats! Run now to the concession stand —“Iz bezt to azk provezional!”
Jordan Peimer is the Vice President & Director of Programs at the Skirball Cultural Center hosting a wide range of roots and world music, including the Sunset Concert Series, now entering its 18th summer. Beginning on October 6, 2014, Peimer will be the new Executive Director of Art Power! in San Diego.