From Ukraine with love: Musical shape-shifters DakhaBrakha join range of bands at Millpond Live

  • The Ukrainian band DakhaBrakha, which mixes traditional sounds from their country with a variety of world beats and rhythms, brings their theatrical approach to Millpond Live on Sept. 16 in Easthampton. Photo by Matthew B. Thompson

  • The Ukrainian band DakhaBrakha has been reminding people of Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine as the band tours widely across the U.S. Photo by Matthew B. Thompson

  • Estonian neo-folk duo Puuluup plays Millpond Live on Sept. 16 during its debut U.S. tour.  CONTRIBUTED/LAUDABLE PRODUCTIONS

  • Soul singer-songwriter Judith Hill, a collaborator with Prince and a backup singer with Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson, plays Millpond Live Sept. 10. CONTRIBUTED/LAUDABLE PRODUCTIONS

  • Son Rompe Pera mixes Mexican folk traditions with a punk sensibility; they’ll play Millpond Live Sept. 16. Gazette file photo

  • Piya Malik, Nya Gazelle Brown, and Sabrina Mileo Cunningham lead the seven-piece disco-soul band She She She from Brooklyn, N.Y. Image from Laudable Productions

  • The Netherlands as an old-world, new-world melting pot: The Mauskovic Dance Band, from Amsterdam, blends Latin and Caribbean sounds with European pop stylings. Image from Laudable Productions

  • The crowd at Millpond Live in 2018 settles in for the show. Gazette file photo

Staff Writer
Published: 9/8/2022 4:27:00 PM

The visibility of the war between Ukraine and Russia may have faded somewhat on the world stage in the past few months as the conflict has settled into an attritional grind, with other news, such as a long string of weather-related disasters, grabbing attention.

But for the members of DakhaBrakha, a Ukrainian band with a devoted following at home and abroad, the destruction Russia has unleashed in their country since invading in February is still a huge part of their lives.

Now DakhaBrakha, whose name translates as “give/take” in old Ukrainian, will make an appearance in the Valley as part of Millpond Live, the free concert series staged at Millside Park in Easthampton that’s dedicated to a wide range of music, from funk to world beat to Latin to just about everything in between — including the “ethno-chaos” that DakhaBrakha specializes in.

Produced by Laudable Productions of Easthampton, Millpond Live, now in its seventh season, takes place on consecutive weekends, Sept. 9 and 10 and Sept. 16 and 17, from 6 to 10 p.m. Gates open for picnicking at 5 p.m., and though the concerts are free, donations are encouraged.

Because of lingering concerns about COVID-19, attendance will be closely monitored, and attendees are required to reserve a place in advance at the concerts of their choice, which can be done by visiting millpond.live. Face masks are optional.

Each night of the series will feature three bands, and there will be an emphasis on movement at all the shows, according to Laudable.

“The lineup is a total dance-fest … which is what everybody needs right now,” Edo Mor, a key organizer of the concerts, said in an email. “We wanted this season of Millpond Live to feel especially upbeat, as we put aside concerns about the pandemic and head into the future.”

DakhaBrakha, which performs Sept. 16, is very much part of that vibe. The four-member band, started in 2004, mixes traditional Ukrainian folk music with sounds from all over the world: Indian, Arabic, African, Russian and Australian.

From the Indian tabla to the Australian didgeridoo, the group incorporates a slew of instruments, including the trombone, piano, cello, accordion and varied percussion, all of it primed to get an audience dancing.

“They’re a quintessentially global artist,” says Mor, one that makes music “through experimentation, collaboration, and through challenging tradition.”

“We love their sound,” he added, “and the visual projections during their set create a deeper experience for the listener that we think is perfect for Millside Park.”

Indeed, DakhaBrakha — composed of three women and one man who have links to avant-garde theater in Kyiv — has performed for years in costume, with a range of theatrical backdrops. But this year they’ve taken on a broader mission as cultural ambassadors for their country: Their stage sets now can include images of the destruction in Ukraine, and they’ve called on audiences to help support the country.

DakhaBrakha could not be reached for comment. But in an interview earlier this year, member Iryna Kovalenko, who left Ukraine with her family for Seattle five years ago because of fears of Russian aggression, said she was in Ukraine this February when bombs started falling. She made a harrowing escape from Kyiv to Hungary and was forced to cross the border on foot, she said.

In another interview earlier this year, Kovalenko told PBS that the band’s message to audiences these days, especially during an extended series of shows in the U.S., is focused on her country’s fight for survival: “Ukraine as a country has a place on this earth to exist.”

Russia’s attack, she said, “is a genocide against Ukrainians.”

An estimated 13 million Ukrainians have been displaced in the war, and combined civilian and military casualties in the country may top 15,000, according to some sources, while Russian military losses are believed to be even higher.

Kovalenko says her group will continue to do what it can to help and to keep the war in the public eye: “I believe that our songs, our art will be our weapon.”

A cornucopia of sounds

DakhaBrakha won’t be the only band from Eastern Europe at Millpond Live. Also performing Sept. 16 is Puuluup, a “neo-zombie-post-folk” duo from Estonia that combines the talharpa, a style of Northern European lyre dating back to the Middle Ages, with electronic effects and vocals that can include rap and even an invented language.

Mor says Puuluup, which recently was voted best band in this year’s Estonian music awards, happened to be touring in the area at this time — it’s the group debut tour in the U.S. — and makes a natural complement to DahkaBrakha.

“They are Baltic allies to Ukraine and feel similarly threatened by Russia,” he said. “There is an important solidarity there that knits the evening together. Inviting the two artists to share a bill is a way for them both to express their unique cultural relevance … and to distinguish themselves from their Russian neighbor.”

Meanwhile, the three shows at Millpond Live today (Sept. 9) include the jazz/funk/R&B/soul band led by Amherst native and saxophonist Mtali Shaka Banda, while Sept. 10 will include a performance by singer-songwriter Judith Hill, a former collaborator with Prince who also backed artists such as Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson. A number of Hill’s original ballads were featured in the 2012 Spike Lee film “Red Hook Summer.”

Also on tap over the next two weekends are The Beau Sasser Trio, which specializes in organ-driven soul and acidjazz; the “garage-marimba-cumbia-punk” band Son Rompe Pera from Mexico; the disco-soul band She She She, led by singers Piya Malik, Sabrina Mileo Cunningham and Nya Gazelle Brown; and the Mauskovic Dance Band, from Amsterdam, which combines Latin and Caribbean rhythms with European pop stylings.

For more information, visit millpond.live.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.


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