Traditional Ukrainian folk music isn’t exactly a Newfoundland staple. Traditions lie within history, and our overwhelming English, Irish, Scottish, and French colonial lineage has peppered our definition of traditional music. But rich and beautiful music emerges from every corner of the globe, and there’s less of a divide than one might think.
Folk music is exactly what it’s name says: music of the people. And what do people do? They celebrate, they mourn, and they express through song by shaping sounds around whatever instruments they cobbled together and refined over time. In the global world, unhindered by technological barriers, you have a fine line between preserving the original essence of the practice and letting other elements slip in. The Kubasonics playfully dance along that line, parading around with traditional instruments and arrangements but with bits and pieces of more recent styles.
I’ll tell you something: I learned a lot about Ukrainian folk music while writing this and became quite enamoured. I was somewhat familiar with related genres, but mostly through synthesis; you get the balkan Gypsy jazz from some of my favourite Duane Andrews works (by way of Django), and studying religion in grad school brought an affinity for the Klezmatics.
But the Ukrainian tradition is so diverse; it’s truly a relatable, emotional form of folk. It might be my own preconceptions, but its versatility reminds me of the Newfoundland tradition. From acappella ballads with distinctive power, to mile a minute dance numbers, there’s real treasure in the warmth of it all. “Canada”, the opening track, is a haunting, powerful piece that showcases Bilyj holos, a unique singing style that relies on pure power and emotion.
But from there, it turns into a kitchen party (including a unique take on a suite of jigs and reels), full of bouncy, affable songs that use instruments novel to Newfoundland. Driven by a dominant violin and an array of traditional strings, there’s more unique melody here than in almost any other release from this island you’ll hear this year. It twists and turns and has seemingly no shortage of paths for it to take.
Fusion is just a reality of musical life. Transplants adapt and learn, and as time passes you get something that’s still culturally identifiable but dressed up in modern garb. At the turn of the 20th century, Klezmer evolved as traditional Ashkenazi Jewish music became tinged with Jazz during heavy immigration. There was the British Folk Revival in the 1960s, and virtually every type of folk music has been adapted into a punk form over the past 20 years. Newfoundland has seen boatloads of it. The Irish tinged rock bands that populate our pubs are a blend years in the making.
The Kubasonics brand of fusion brings a fresh outlook to the table; something that is engrained in a culture so far from our own, yet so relatable.