DakhaBrakha band brings together sophistication and flavor of Ukrainian culture. They get a full house in Europe and the USA, but still “are very nervous” before every concert in Ukraine. Opinion talked with musicians during the sound check for the concert in Odesa to learn their idea of “music for overseas countries”, development of a national cultural community and reasons for their optimism on the future of Ukraine.
Their busy schedule let them come to Odessa only for a day (they have arrived at 12 a.m and leave for Kyiv at night the same day) – their concert dates are settled for 2 years ahead. We managed to speak with them only during the sound check. Marko, Nina and Olena (the fourth bandmate Iryna is having a baby soon) look surprisingly chipper, though, frankly speaking, it was strange to see them without their traditional hats and costumes.
They used to say that DakhaBrakha is “Ukrainian music for export”, meaning that Europeans know you better than Ukrainians. But you’ve come to Odessa for the concert. I know that there was a sold-out about one week before your concert (1 500 people came), which is rare for the city where all matters are settled at the last moment. You’ve gained a great popularity here and abroad for recent years. In your opinion, what are the reasons for that?
Marco Halanevych: When we were only beginning, fewer people were attending our concerts, of course. Ukrainian audience could often accept a band only if it was popular somewhere abroad. In Moscow, for example. This problem appeared because Ukraine didn’t have musical critics of Artemii Troitskii level. That’s why people took cue from overseas countries. Now we have many online musical communities, magazines, and it’s great. Of course, when we create music, we don’t divide it into ‘only for overseas countries’ and ‘for Ukraine’. We do as we feel. We used to think that Ukrainian songs need to be translated, so foreigners could appreciate them better. We did it. But it was artificial and didn’t catch on. It didn’t stick. We sing in Ukrainian and people appreciate us there and understand here. Or don’t understand us there nor here (smiling). We have many songs with dialectic or old Ukrainian words, not everybody in Ukraine can understand them.
But the “Baby” song.
There are only two words (laughing).
Nina Harnetska: We mix much of folklore. We have also Russian words in a folklore song from an Old Believers village.
You said you feel the difference between overseas and Ukrainian audience. What is it?
Marco Halanevych: You can make it out only looking at a crowd, not at one person. The most of the audience in America is still Americans. It is important to perform for our diaspora and keep contact with them, but what more important for us is to tell the world about such a cultural entity as Ukraine. However, sometimes you can see a Ukrainian from miles away – it is one who drinks the third glass of beer and chants “Slava Ukraine” (Glory to Ukraine), disturbing others. And I think, “Thank you for coming of course, but let’s not make a fuss.” Most frequently, these are people who have just moved on and they’re thrilled with their patriotic feelings and want everybody to know that “These are my guys.”
Nina Harnetska: We are just irresponsive in such cases. Nobody needs problems. As usual, they disturb the first 10 minutes and then they disappear.
You say that you represent the whole Ukraine. Don’t you feel the burden of responsibility?
Marco Halanevych: We don’t bother about that. We just play our music. We try not to think that this particular concert is crucial. Absolutely every concert is crucial. It doesn’t matter, whether it’s Odesa, Kyiv or Mariupol.
Nina Harnetska: We are very nervous before every concert.
“Most of the Ukrainians have rather bad musical taste. Naturally, there are historical reasons for that,” it is your quote. Has anything changed at recent years?
Marco Halanevych: Obviously, the audience has been changing. Its level of perception has been growing, taste’s been developing. In 2012 we presented our album with Port Mone. This album was significant for us. But there was only one review in Ukraine.
Nina Harnetska: After the tour and many concerts.
Marco Halanevych: Port Mone even showed us 4 or 5 reviews from Belarus. They also received some award for that. We seemed to live under a rock and couldn’t realize: does anybody need all that? We had the audience that knew us, but there was a feeling that we were locked inside. However, after the Euromaidan everything seemed to get unlocked. People realized on some subtle level that everything was in their hands and they could change the situation. It was no more like a morass, which swallows everything up, and no one will recall. Like our album and us then.
Culturally Ukraine is heading the right way. This is because of many reasons. After the Revolution of Dignity, I’ve noticed a strong wave and strive among musicians. The same with musical critics. People have started to discuss our music. And we’ve started to exist in some environment, not only as a part of “Dakh” theatre.
Nina Harnetska: For real, now we have a hope for a bright future.
Marco Halanevych: We have a huge cultural environment now. It’s like borsch (national Ukrainian soup): it’s boiling, you add some ingredients, and it depends on you what it will be like. Anyway, the fact that the process has started encourages a lot.
Last year you had 4 concerts in Ukraine and about 20 only in the Northern America, and even more in Europe. Why is that so? Did you intend to work for export from the beginning or is it a management approach to make your music conquer an overseas audience?
Marco Halanevych: We have no secrets nor recipes how to make music attractive for overseas countries.
Nina Harenetska: There are problems with management as well. Little have contacts with Western colleagues, as for bands, they don’t know how to present themselves and their music.
Marco Halanevych: Yes, once a German agent found us. Now she arranges our concerts in Europe. We’ve always been showing her some Ukrainian bands, and she became interested in Dakh Daughters, then in Panivalkova, then in Onuka. She comes from the USSR but she already has a European mindset. She liked this music, we’re not embarrassed and we’re very happy with that. Every project holds promise to be successful abroad. They just should continue to make good music.
You were developing at the “Dakh” theatre, which is headed by Vlad Troitskii. Apart from this project, he is involved in thousand others, particularly in “HOHOLFEST” project. But he has claimed that this year festival which was held in Mariupol this spring is the last, because it’s very difficult to find funds for the development of Ukrainian culture. You attend dozens of similar events in Europe every year. How are they financed: by a state or personal investments?
Marco Halanevych: It depends on a country. For example, France allocates lots of money for festivals. It is a very social country: people pay huge taxes there, but they know what their money is spent for. As for the USA, the country doesn’t have the Ministry of Culture, but businessmen who support cultural projects receive good benefits from the government. We should find some balance: we have the Ministry of Culture, and big business cares for social responsibility as well, but it’s all only at a fledgling stage. It needs developing. We do hope for better, because there is an Ukrainian institute now, which will promote our culture in the world. We’ve been very optimistic and encouraged lately.
Nina Harenetska: It’s kinda win! (laughing).
You’ve been often telling that Americans come up to you and say that you and the war are the only what they know about Ukraine. In your opinion, what should we do to make Ukraine (the biggest European country, in fact) more recognizable and popular in Europe? To make people come here to learn about the country and people, have a rest and, finally, invest money?
Marco Halanevych: It’s pretty basic: people should buy CDs, attend concerts. It’s a huge support for Ukrainian music, in fact. The problem is Ukrainians are used to stealing music – they download it for free. When we meet our audience, their eyes, their emotions – this is what give us energy.
Nina Harenetska: For real, I’ve even bought online an album by “Kurhan and Aggregate” (underground hip-hop band). A half-empty hall at a concert would disappoint any artist. We want people to be more active. Why should only Oleh Vinnyk (a famous among middle-aged women Ukrainian pop star) get a full house? (laughing)
Marco Halanevych: It’s impossible to change a soviet mindset. There are people who moved from the USSR to the USA a long time ago. They live in the country with the biggest democracy, they could prove themselves in any way, but they are still stick in the Soviet Union. Some Ukrainians are the same. It is a generation issue. You can’t combat it. They used to attend Stas Mihailov concerts (a Russian pop star), now they love Oleh Vinnyk. They touch the beauty via such music. As for us, we just must do our job and offer an alternative music. The more vivid the music will be – the better for all of us. There are many opportunities and we feel that we will win.
Interview by Kostyantyn Rul
Photo by Sasha Naselenko