Myhailo Hai - Ukrainian Lira
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Myhailo Hai
Ukrainian Lira
Koka Records (

cd cover The Ukrainian lira is traditionally a minstrel's instrument, with a history that dates back to the 8th century. A close relative to the hurdy-gurdy, it is a drony, keyed fiddle. On this low-tech (but not low quality) recording, ethnomusicologist Hai presents the instrument in its barest form, as accompaniment to his own voice. He pulls songs from a number of Ukrainian traditions, including prayer songs, moral songs, and epics. His voice is deep and operatic, with the occasional break, sob, or laugh that makes Ukrainian men's singing so distinctive.
The lira itself is a limited instrument in range and dynamic level. The throbbing beats set up between the drone and melody strings give it its swarm-of-bumble-bees sound quality. This makes the album a tough listen, even for the most adventurous ears. A little goes a long way. On the last track, Hai accompanies himself on the plucked bandura. The contrast is as jolting as having the floor drop out from under you, but in a good way. The liner notes, written by Hai himself, are concise and informative, if a little hard to read. Printed on brown cardboard and packaging paper, with a smudgy background, the trifold packaging has a booklet in Ukrainian on one side and another in English on the other. Its rustic quality fits with the sparseness of the recording. While it's not for everyone, as an ethnomusicological document, the album has tremendous value. - Peggy Latkovich

CD available from cdRoots

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