“If you will take the girl for a long journey…”

On Friday night, we had the great pleasure of attending a DakhaBrakha performance at the York Theater in Vancouver. A few years ago, we tried to get tickets to hear them in Quebec City but (of course) the event was long sold-out by the time we found out about it and realized it would coincide with our time there. When we read somewhere that DakhaBrakha would be in Vancouver, John immediately bought tickets.

Sometimes things happen at exactly the right time. I’m revising a long essay for Euclid’s Orchard. After a few false starts with material that has been accumulating for ages now—well, all my life, to be honest—I’ve chosen to shape it as a sort of libretto. I’ve called it “Polychoral:A Badlands Antiphon in 24 Sections” (though there might be one or two more sections with this last revision I’ll be undertaking today). So it’s a call and response essay, based on my Grandmother’s liturgy (the Latin mass, the decades of her rosary), the story of her first husband’s “homestead” in the Drumheller area, and the various voices that I heard when I was reading archival records relevant to my family’s early history in Drumheller. I write of the distances they traveled, what they left, what they came to. I kept thinking that my grandmother’s family in Horni Lomna never saw her or her children again. And they’re my family too. So those voices, those stories.

Hearing DakhaBrakha the other evening was so revelatory.  They are from Kiev and they sing in Ukrainian. That was my grandfather’s language (he came from Bukovina). I heard it as a child, with Polish and Czech. But the old languages were buried as my grandparents aged, as my family grew away from its origins. DakhaBrakha are often described as an “ethno-chaos” band, but they’re more than a band; what we saw on Friday evening was like opera, like theater, strands of folk and various global musics fusing together in the most glorious way.  Hip-hop, Indigenous drum music, some Roma melodies, the sweet harmonies you hear in lullabies: it was all there.

I bought their latest cd, The Road, and we listened to it on the long coast highway yesterday. So beautiful, the songs, the instrumentation, the voices singing out to us as we passed the familiar landmarks of home. And I thought of my grandmother as I read the translation of “Salgir Boyu” (I can’t reproduce the diacritics here…):

If you will take the girl for a long journey, brother,
Both her father and mother will cry.

And her granddaughter cries too, a hundred years later, traveling back to the place she arrived at. This is what I’ll be listening to today, as I revise, as I find my way to the music that is so coded and dense and also mine.

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