Lost links & Re-ups

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Slinging tuneage like some fried or otherwise soused short-order cook

02 April 2013


Alright kiddies. Huddle around the fireplace while Uncle Nathan tells you all a story. A story about a time long, long ago, when blind beggars travelled the countryside of the Ukraine, singing for their supper & hyping up the Cossacks to righteous battle wrath. Look out, there’s a Steppenwolf hiding in the darkened forest lair.


Kobzars or kobzari are wandering folk bards who performed a large repertoire of epic-historical, religious, & folk songs while playing a kobza or bandura. Kobzars first emerged in Kyivan-Rus. They were popular by the 15th century. Some like the famed Churylo & Tarashko performed at Polish royal courts. They lived at the Zaporozhian Sich & were esteemed by the kozaks, whom they frequently accompanied on various campaigns against the Turks, Tatars, & Poles. The epic songs they performed, called duma, served to raise the moral of the Kozak army in times of war. .


As the Hetman state declined, so did the fortunes of the kobzars. They gradually joined the ranks of mendicants, playing & begging for alms at rural marketplaces. In the late 18th century the occupation of kobzar became almost the exclusive realm of the blind or crippled. These handicapped musician-beggars organized Kobzar Brotherhoods to protect their personal livelihood. They organized themselves into singers’ guilds which imposed apprenticeship terms (generally three years), assigned territories, & spoke their own secret language (lebiyska mova).

In Ukraine, in the late 19th century, these blind singers, these kobzari, still made the rounds of the country fairs & markets. They accompanied themselves on the bandura, a unique stringed instrument combining elements of Central Asian lutes & medieval Kyivan lap harps. They were professional singers performing a repertoire of epic songs that did not have equivalents in the folk song repertoire. There were several cycles of dumy, most dealing with the bloody struggle for the Black Sea steppe between Cossack, Turk & Tartar in the 16th & 17th centuries; laments for fallen heroes, songs about Turkish captivity, a few songs about later Cossack rebellions against Polish rule. As these events receded into the past, new dumy were created that reflected the realities of day to day life. A kobzar’s repertoire also included religious & moralistic songs, lively humorous songs, & instrumental dance tunes (from the Black Sea Winds booklet).

The blind, wandering kobzari often had “guides” to lead them, mostly homeless or parentless children. The old kobzari were to these urchins father, mother, & teacher all rolled into one. The boys were the kobzar’s eyes. When they walked into a village, the villagers, hearing of the kobzar’s arrival on the grapevine, would flock to hear them recite their dumy & play the bandura. When the kobzar played lively instrumental tunes, the young people would break into a dance. On Sunday, after the church service, the kobzari sang religious songs, or recited psalms.

Ukrainian lyre

There was a sort of a kobzari school in Zaporizhian Sich (the very heart of the Cossack land) that trained ’students’ not only in playing musical instruments, singing & reciting but also in the martial arts, foreign languages:Turkish; Polish; & Russian being the most important “majors”, medicine (that is, use of herbs, charms & spells). The “graduates” were believed to be able to prevent bullets from hitting the targets by spells, to knock the saber out of the enemy’s hand with a glance, to draw a winged horse on the wall of a prison cell & fly away, sitting on its back, miraculously passing through the metal bars. They were protagonists of many stories & legends; their portraits could be found in many peasant houses alongside the icons. The pictures of Kozak Mamay, wearing the traditional Cossack garb, handlebar moustache, a long lock of hair on the otherwise shaved head, smoking his pipe & holding the bandura, were painted by folk artists in untold number of copies.

Kobzari knew how to almost literally entrance their audiences with their recitals & music so that the events they were singing about acquired the palpability of experience being lived through. Their forceful presentation of moral & patriotic issues made them dangerous in the eyes of the occupiers & enemies. Attempts were made either “to tame” them & make them sing “loyal tunes,” or to liquidate them.

Kobzari had survived the harshest of times of the millennia only to succumb to the total oppression of the Soviet regime. There is some evidence that suggests that in the 1930s, the remaining kobzari were invited to come to Kharkiv for “a congress”; they were all, blind & helpless, arrested, then thrown into a pit outside of town; water was poured over them & they all froze to death in a subzero temperature. The rest died in the famine of 1932–1933. Even their instruments were either destroyed or they disappeared without a trace. A few that remain & that are claimed to be “authentic instruments” of old, are the subject of heated arguments about which of them is “more authentic” or older. 


Bandura playing & kobzari singing were kept alive though by a number of enthusiasts both in Ukraine & beyond its borders, in the communities of people of Ukrainian descent living in foreign countries. But there are no wandering blind kobzari any more.

At the time when there is a definitely growing interest observed in many countries of the world in music of old times, Celtic is one good example out of many. Medieval & traditional folk music festivals attract large audiences; CDs with recordings of such music are released & bought in hundreds of thousands of copies, but Ukraine does not seem to be involved in this process of ancient music revival. It would be a great shame if these traditions died completely. Ancient music of Ukraine does not have to be reinvented or “reconstructed”, it’s there, it’s alive, & all it takes is some effort to preserve it.

 Тарас Компаніченко (left) & friend

Тарас Компаніченко (Таras Коmpanichenkо) was born in 1969 in Kyiv, Ukraine. He is an influential kobzar, bandurist, lutenist, lira player, composer & singer-songwriter, & he is a recording artists, trying to revive interest in these traditional sounds. He is an active member of the Kyiv Kobzar Guild as well as of the Early Music ensembles Chorea Kozacka & Sarmatica.

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01. Танець (A Dance)
02. Про Bondarivna (About Bondarivna)
03. Заметіль (Snowstorm)
04. Гей на морі, на березі Чорного моря (Hey on the Sea, on the Black Sea)
05. Плач землі (The Lament of the Earth)
06. Полон дівчина (The Captive Girl)
07. До Христа на Хресті (To Christ on the Cross)
08. Не ви виганяти, Сова (Don't You Hoot, Owl)
09. Олексій - людина Бога (щоб Aleksiy) [Oleksiy - a Man of God (To Aleksiy)]
10. Самара брати (The Samara Brothers)
11. Святий Георгій змія винищувач (щоб Джордж) [Saint George the Snake Fighter (To George)}


МенСаунд (ManSound) is a vocal sextet, founded in 1994 featuring: Владимир Сухин (Vladimir Sukhin) – tenor; Юрий Роменский (Yuri Romensky) – tenor; Сергей Харченко (Sergei Kharchenko) – tenor;  Вилен Kilchenko (Vilen Kilchenko) – tenor; Вячеслав Рубель (Vyacheslav Rubel) – baritone; & Рубен Толмачев (Ruben Tolmachev) – bass. 

On ManSound's previous release, Slavic Roots, the group sang Russian & Ukrainian folks songs, but here, on If It’s Magic, the Ukrainian sextet delivers a compact (38 minutes) selection of jazz standards & jazzed-up versions of Stevie Wonder tunes, performed with great skill & energy. The singers have a buzzy quality to their voices that they use to their advantage in creating a phenomenal blend. The bass is buoyant & energetic, the rest of the voices transitions seamlessly from smooth string-like parts to brassy horn parts. The solos are all heartfelt & skillful, with some real standout moments (most notably Yuri Romensky's turn on "Stephanie"). There is also a soulful guest appearance from female lead Gaitana on the Stevie Wonder medley. .

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Tracklist –
Medley of George Benson Songs 1
They Can’t Take that Away from Me
Nature Boy
Medley of George Benson Songs 2
Lullaby of Birdland
Angel Eyes
Medley of Stevie Wonder Songs (feat. Gaitana)


Flëur was formed by two forest sprites who share the singing: Олена Войнаровська (Olena Voinarovska) the dreamer & Ольга Пулатова (Olga Pulatova) the passionate, in Odessa, near the Black Sea, in February 2000. This first album is filled with melancholic pop. The instrumentation blends piano, cello, bass, drums, acoustic guitar & flute. Flёur offer up thick slabs of melancholy on a layer of refined lyricism with a taste for beautiful melodies, starkly contrasting music, dark & luminous, joyful & sad at the same time. Flёur’s music is like a touch to the deepest core, as the title 'Prikosnovenie', which means 'soft touch', implies.

On Priskosnovenie, Flёur are: Olena Voinarovska – guitar & vocals; Olga Pulatova – piano & vocals; Alex Kozmidi – electric guitar; Alexander Didyk – contrabass; Catherine Serbin – cello; Julia Ground – flute; Alexandria Kutsenko – didgeridoo & backing vocals; & Alex Tkachevsky – drums & percussion.

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 Tracklist -

Интро (Intro)
Синие тени (Blue Shadows)
На обратной стороне Луны (On the Dark Side of the Moon)
Укол (Needle Prick - Injection)
Это всё для тебя, танцующий Бог (This is for You, Dancing God)
Печальный клоун (Melancholy Clown)
Карусель (Carousel)
На мягких лапах (By the Soft Paws)
Колыбельная для Солнца (Lullaby for the Sun)
Сердце (The Heart)
Золотые воды Ганга (Golden Waters of Ganges)
Уходи, Февраль! (Go, February!)
Как всё уходит (How it All Goes Away)


1 comment:

  1. Таras Коmpanichenkо