Kobzar – Haydamaky could not have found a better title for their record.
In earlier days these usually blind singers, just like the medieval troubadours, went from place to place, playing the bandura, the traditional Ukrainian zither, and singing their ballads about the glorious and liberal Cossack times. Thus the Kobzar also became a symbol for Ukrainian identity. The national poet of the Ukraine Taras Shevchenko deliberately wrote in Ukrainian, which was still frowned upon as pigeon Russian 150 years ago. Shevchenko is to the Ukraine like Shakespeare to England and the collection of poems Kobzar is his masterpiece – a collection of thoughts and images, which sums up a whole age and the moods of the human soul back in those days.
Haydamaky see themselves in such a tradition – as poets and singers of their people; only just with their (louder) means. Rising to fame in the days of the Orange Revolution, Haydamaky are now one of the most famous and beloved bands in the Ukraine. And they achieved this without many concessions to the radio and TV friendly mainstream. They rather convince by means of working hard on their music. Finally we are getting positive headlines again about the Ukraine.
A lot has happened since Haydamaky released their first worldwide album almost two years ago. Ukraine Calling was followed by countless concerts in Western Europe, invitations to festivals, TV features and contributions to several compilations. Eastblok Music received a Top World Music Label Award – not least because of the constant presence of Ukraine Calling in the European world music charts.
World music though grasps only one side of Haydamaky. What is world music anyway? For Haydamaky it means nothing else but a deep love for their country and its culture. They are especially fond of Ukrainian folk music from the Carpathian Mountains. These wild men have dug deep into the musical heritage of the Ukraine and weave the old melodies into their songs. It is only consequent to add the bandura, the instrument of the Kobzars, to their vibrant folk ensemble of mandolin, trumpet, flute (sopilka) and accordion.
But Haydamaky that’s also rock’n’roll! They can rely on a solid backline of drums, bass and guitar. Their punk roots are still evident. Between these poles they create their magic epics. Sometimes dancing abundantly, other times deeply touching with their subtle and musically complex ballads. Many of these songs are hit tunes without being superficial – honestly emotional or spreading wild joy. But the band doesn’t stop here and on Kobzar again manages to absorb dub, ska and even rap into their spectre. Haydamaky have a sound grasp of contemporary developments. Mario Activator, Poland’s famous reggae and dub producer, who has worked with Adrian Sherwood among others, gave them an up-to-date sound and invited Krysztof Grabowsky of Polish cult band Pidzama Porno as a guest singer on Message. The Jamaican raga toasters Zion Train mix Viter Viye. That’s how world music should sound: a bridge building between past and present.
The kobzars are on the road again. But now they rock.