Haydamaky - Ukraine Calling
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Ukraine Calling
Eastblok (www.eastblok.de)

One of the interesting side effects of the continued march of globalization's steady boots is the soundclash that results from regional artists diving headlong into the diverse musical universe, creating a whole potpourri of surprising sounds in the process. The small Eastblok label is devoted to the music of Eastern Europe, and with the signing of the Ukrainian group Haydamaky they may have scored the next big act on the world music scene.

Purveyors of what they term 'Carpathian Ska,' Haydamaky have existed since 1991, originally known as the underground band Aktus. The band members were fascinated with reggae, ska, and punk music, and in the process of exploring these genres the band was determined to create a distinctive Ukrainian identity. Groups that drift into the folk-rock category seem to be motivated by similar desires to find a music that they can call their own, and in a search for inspiration and a stronger tie to their own culture they usually begin to find their muse within the folksong and traditions of their country. The great vocalist Olexandr Yarmola and the accordionist Ivan Len'o, both well-known and respected in the Ukrainian folk world, joined the band in 1993. Aktus changed their name in 2001 to Haydamaky, to acknowledge the 18th century Haydamaky rebellion of Ukrainian peasants and serfs that banded together in groups ('haidamakas') against occupying Polish nobility. The haidamakas killed Poles, Jews, and Jesuits in their uprising; however, the contemporary band Haydamaky states on their website that they are "constantly striving for the sophistication of the souls and music tastes of Ukrainians and the whole humankind." It should also be noted that even though Haydamaky are strong advocates for their culture, the music of Haydamaky draws on numerous influences that are further afield than Ukraine and the band has appeared at numerous music festivals in support of democracy.

Ukraine Calling is quite a bit different than earlier Haydamaky releases, building on the massive statement of their 2004 release Boguslav, which set Haydamaky's love for folk music and folk instrumentation into dub contexts undercut with the occasional buzzing punk guitar. The brilliant packaging of Ukraine Calling indicates the attitude within: a wooden flute sits on a naked shoulder covered with an enormous Ukrainian tattoo. The first track, "Love (To Ada Cytryna)," kicks off with pounding drums, accordion, and snarling rock guitar, the bedrock over which the authoritative voice of Olexandr Yarmola sings. Add a full-on horn section - an essential aspect of the group, moments where the music drops out so that the jew's harp can be heard, and a final crashing wave of sound, and you've got what may be Haydamaky's finest moment. Ukraine Calling piles on musical innovation after innovation; the track "Achtung?!" (also referred to as "Do You Behold?") is all pounding drums and echoing trumpets, with the band howling like wolves, Yarmola spitting his lyrics and once, jarringly, dropping into English: all a prelude to Haydamaky's distinctive fast-paced Carpathian ska on "Sing! Even If You Got No Bread!" Reggae returns on the paean to hope "November," delivered with an absolutely beautiful horn line over a snaking rhythm that ends up sounding uniquely Ukrainian.

Sure, the combination of folk music and modern songwriting has become fairly standard, but Haydamaky make it all sound fresh and, I dare say, exotic and dangerous on Ukraine Calling. Haydamaky have produced one of the most original releases in recent memory. - Lee Blackstone

Artist's web site: www.haydamaky.com

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