Kriwi - Past and Present
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cd cover Kriwi
Past and Present
Orange World (

Kriwi is a progressive folk band from Belarus, a small former Soviet country nestled between Russia, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Ukraine. The band consists of four core members plus guests, who perform ancient traditional Belarusian village music on a collection of traditional instruments such as bagpipes and hurdy-gurdy, tastefully augmented by modern instruments such as guitar, violin and keyboards. The sound is dark and powerful, combining unusual Slavic melodies with creative, energetic arrangements and sensitive musicianship. At its best, Kriwi sounds similar to bands like Hedningarna and Hoelderlin Express.

Past and Present is a compilation from previous releases that offers a wide variety of sounds and styles among its 14 tracks. Most include throaty, soulful Eastern-European vocals. (A notable exception is "Klezmer Minsk" a delightful klezmer-inspired instrumental romp with soaring fiddle and clarinet backed by Indian tabla.) The lyrics, sung in Belarusian, seem simplistic when translated to English but also freakishly bizarre in a medieval sort of way. Embodying classic folk themes of love, death, fate and loyalty, they are often also laced with black humor. For example, the song "Svyakrou" (Mother-in-law) translates to the following:

"We are all topsy-turvy at home.
Mother-in-law fell from the stove,
And was impaled on a harrow.
I don't feel sorry for my mother-in-law,
But I feel sorry for the harrow.
The mother-in-law will lie ill,
And the harrow must work in the field."
Other lyrics seem more impressionistic, for example, from the song "Arrow":
"A mother cries a river
A sister cries a spring
When a wife cries, there is not even dew."
In the song "Vir-Tshoovir" which sounds like a hoedown with energetic fiddle and percussion, we hear this:
"I was walking round the forest
Looking for my dear.
I didn't find my fellow,
But I found an old mushroom.
Hey, mushroom, stop!
Don't drag me into the marsh!"
Whether the meaning is lost in the translation or simply obscured by the mists of time, the lyrics help set a curiously off-kilter mood for the music. The tunes are equally quirky, but possess the kind of power and beauty typical of ancient tunes; presumably a necessary ingredient for their survival over hundreds of years.

The only criticism is of the opening track, which is an annoying combiniation of an inane repetitive melody with a clich´┐Ż disco beat. However, the remainder of the tracks more than redeem the disc.

Kriwi's music exudes a sense of raw excitement and exploration by a very talented and creative group of young musicians experimenting with their traditions. Hey, Kriwi, don't stop! Drag me into the marsh! - Barry Hall

CD available from cdRoots

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