DARIA KULESH Live at Cecil Sharp House

Daria Kulesh live
Photograph by Tony Birch

February 23rd is a date that should be known in history.  On this day in 1944 the entire population of the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, those who weren’t away at war fighting for the Soviet Union, were told they were being deported for alleged collaboration with the enemy.  Many were children and resistance was met with death.

Move forward to 2017 and February 23rd was the date chosen by Daria Kulesh to launch her second album Long Lost Home at Cecil Sharp House in London. The location was appropriate because, as Daria said, CSH collects and stores folk memories so that they are available for future generations and Long Lost Home is more than just an album of songs as Daria through her Grandmother, Fatima Akhrieva, is Ingushetian. The evening was a celebration of her journey to find that link to her past.

February 23rd 2017 will also be remembered for Storm Doris, which provided a suitably tumultuous backdrop to the event but unfortunately disrupted travel and meant some audience members were unable to attend. They missed an evening of powerful, moving emotion that was also uplifting with its message of hope for the future.

The evening began with two well received pieces from Timur Dzeytov, People’s Artist of Ingushetia, including a song about the deportations followed by a traditional tune.  He played the dakhchan pandar, a form of the balalaika, and it was obvious even to me that this was not “Russian” music.  There were resonances of the near- and middle-east in the sound.  It was a suitably exotic opening.

Daria then took to the stage wearing a most beautiful dress that had been hand made and decorated in traditional style. She opened, as does the album, with ‘Tamara’ a dark song about sorcery and death.  The simple accompaniment from Timur and Evan Carson (percussion) emphasised the words well.  Evan came in as an emergency replacement but it certainly didn’t look that way, the sign of a very talented musician.

I’ve been fortunate to have seen some of these songs before, at least one on its debut, often with just Daria accompanying herself on guitar or shruti.  For the album launch we were treated to a full backing band which allowed the music to be fully expressed.  At various points during the evening we were also introduced to Jonny Dyer (piano and guitar), Kate Rouse (hammered dulcimer and piano), Vicki Swan (double bass, nyckelharpa and small pipes) and Phil Underwood (various accordions and guitar).

Daria Kulesh live
Photograph by Tony Birch

The evening followed the album so we were quckly enraptured with the ‘The Moon and The Pilot’, the story of Daria’s great-grandparents, Diba Posheva and Rashid Akhriev.  Diba was one of the deportees in 1944, two years after Rashid died a Hero of the Soviet Union in the battle for Leningrad.  It could not save his wife and their two young children, one of whom was Daria’s grandmother.  It was impossible not to be moved by Diba’s story of resilience and love for her children.

My personal favourite on the album came not long afterwards. ‘Amanat’ is the story of a relative even further back in time, Chakh Akhriev, who was born in 1850 and essentially fostered to Russian parents as a hostage.  It’s a story of a different time and place, yet of a man who never quite fitted in.  The song appeals to me, maybe for that reason, and it is also a fine example of Daria’s incredible vocal ability.  There’s so much power, range and control in her singing she entrances a room in the way very few other singers can.

This is not a review of the album so I will only mention one more song, ‘Heart’s Delight’.  This is Daria’s translation of the Ingush ‘Song of Mochkha’.  She also wrote the gloriously uplifting tune.  The first time I heard it I thought it was the Ingush National Anthem, and it possibly should be.

What is yours by right, May you always hold/May your heart’s delight become your fate.

To show how music can cross boundaries this was the tune where Vicki Swan played her small pipes, a suggestion which originally came from Timur Dzeytov.  It worked so very well; the drone of the pipes adding a frisson to the words that raised the hairs on the back of my neck.

For an encore we were treated to ‘Fata Morgana’, the opening track from debut album ‘Eternal Child’ and the start of Daria’s journey to her Long Lost Home in the Caucasus Mountains.  To complete the journey Timur Dzeytov returned to the stage to play a lezginka, a traditional dance from the Caucasus.  In the dance the man (on this occasion Anzor Aushev, who was one of Daria’s hosts in Ingushetia on her research trip for the album) is an eagle and the woman, whose name I don’t know, is a swan.  It was a beautiful insight to a different culture, the dance involved no contact between the partners but the courtship aspect was more than clear.  This is the dance which is also referred to in ‘Like A God’, the story of Daria’s great-great-uncle, and Diba’s brother, Aludin Poshev.  It was said he could dance like a god.

We also had a speech from Khairudin, the leader of the Vainakh (Ingush & Chechen) community in London  and I was left with the impression that Long Lost Home is a folk memory of Ingushetia that will become important to a country and people who are trying to reestablish their identity after many years of turbulence and suppression.

Tony Birch

Artist’s website: http://www.daria-kulesh.co.uk/

‘The Moon And The Pilot’ – official video:

Kara reflect on a year of changes

Kara
Photograph by John Maw
l-r: Phil, Daria, Pete, Kate

Dai Jeffries talks to Kara about their comings and goings

This has been a turbulent year for our friends Kara. It began with the departure of Gary Holbrook and the search for someone who could learn the repertoire in a very short time. It ended – well almost ended – with guitarist and songwriter Ben Honey leaving the band because of work commitments and relocation and another search was underway. In the middle of all this Kara recorded their second album, Some Other Shore. Daria Kulesh picked up the story for me.

“The second album was a make-or-break moment. Replacing Gary was much trickier than we thought – we tried a couple of people and things were not working out – nobody’s fault, it just seemed that the stars we against us – and we knew that we couldn’t lose all that momentum. At the same time we knew that we had to make the album and the album launch tour happen and we only just managed to get the record out on time.”

Kate Rouse, singer and dulcimer player, reflected further. “In the end, the year has turned out really, really well. Gary’s work was building up and up and I think he was always going to be the first person who struggled. His was a tough role to fill but we completely fell on our feet with Phil Underwood. There are lots of musicians round here – Russians – but they want to do something very, very pure and are not so interested in the creative element.”

And then came the enforced departure of Ben Honey. Daria again:

“Hopefully, as a songwriter, Ben will remain very much a part of Kara – that was the first question that we asked him, that and whether we could play his songs with the new line-up. His answer was a resounding yes.

“When we cast our net in searching for a new band member our first approach was to ask the guitarists on the scene because we already had Ben’s songwriting in the bag so how about we find a really, really amazing guitarist? But the problem there is that the amazing guitarists tend to be very, very busy so we thought that sometimes you have to think outside the box and look for another songwriter and once we started asking songwriters the response was much more encouraging. Then I thought ‘why don’t I ask one of my favourite songwriters who, I think, encompasses a bit of the madness of Kara’ [and who happens to live a few miles down the road]. I called him and by the next morning he’d said yes.”

Kate: “Before, Daria kicked herself that she’d known Phil for ages and hadn’t thought to ask him so this time we thought ‘sod it’. I didn’t matter how cheeky it was – if you don’t ask you don’t get. Pete, bless him, practically bit our hand off. The creativity of the project appealed and, certainly, our early rehearsals have gone really, really well. Even when he’s winging it it all goes “whoop” and when he nails it completely it’s going to be pretty special.”

Cue Pete Morton.

“A number of things have come along that make it a perfect idea for me. I do so much of being a front man; predominantly solo and a few other things like the Christmas show, but it’s mainly me and I’m always playing that same role. What was lovely was that I got a phone in the middle of the day from Daria and for the first time in my life someone has asked me to join their band and it was one of the most beautiful feelings I ever had.”

I should say that our meeting was in danger of falling apart at this point in a welter of emotion and hugs but Pete held it together. “I’m not being over-dramatic here, there is substance to this. Being a front person people think that you’re the person in authority and I don’t always see things like that. I like the idea of being in the situation of playing the guitar, being in that different dynamic; it just fits in with everything I want to do now.”

Dare I ask how Pete sees his role in the band developing? “I just like the idea of playing Ben’s songs on the guitar and playing along with the tunes. I’ve played a lot in ceilidh bands and it’s nice to do that. I’m interested in being involved in the vocals but that’s Daria’s role. I like the theatrical aspects and I like the idea of occasional duets but that’s further down the line.”

Phil Underwood arrived – Kara were meeting for a photo-shoot and rehearsal – and chaos almost reigned but I did want to ask Phil how he felt about joining a band, learning the back catalogue and recording an album within the space of a few months, only to find a key member leaving.

“There was a lot of work to get into it but Ben made the decision that was right for him and I think it’s timely in a way. It’s wonderful that Pete has come along and I think we’re going to go in a different direction. Ben saw himself as the engine-room of Kara and that helped me because it settled me into the band and gave me enough leeway to put my mark on the band.”

So was there a feeling of ‘oh, no, what have I let myself in for now”? “Absolutely! It’s that kind of band. It’s a great band. It’s a very quirky and lively sort of band and everybody in it is quirky and lively which reflects in the music. I’m really looking forward to what Pete’s going to bring.”

The light was beginning to go, there were wardrobe decisions to make and Phil was eager to show off his newly-acquired 1963 long-necked Pete Seeger banjo so it was time for me to go. We’ll hear the results of all their efforts when Kara return to live performance next month. I, for one, am looking forward to it.

Artists’ website: http://www.karafolkband.com/

‘Lovers’ Tasks’ – a demo from the new line-up:

KARA – Some Other Shore (Self-Released)

Some Other ShoreFronted by the Russian-born (but quintessentially English-sounding) Daria Kulesh who also plays guitar and bodhran, alongside Kate Rouse on hammered dulcimer, guitarist Ben Honey and latest recruit Phil Underwood on melodeon, the Hertfordshire quartet’s latest fusion of traditional English and Russian folk also features one-off contributions from fiddle player James Delarre and Lukas Drinkwater on double bass with producer Jason Emberton providing any undefined extra bibs and bobs.

For those unfamiliar with the band, such as myself, the first thing that strikes is the crystalline purity of Kulesh’s often soaring vocals, clearly a voice born to sing traditional folk, to be followed by the heady marriage of diverse cultural stylings, characterised by the musical interplay between Rouse and Underwood. This time round, the majority of the songs and tunes are self-penned, opening with the five minute, fiddle-featured ‘Tamara’s Wedding’, Kulesh’s lyric about a woman seduced to hell by a duplicitously consoling demon after the death of the bridegroom inspired by ‘The Demon’, a poem by Mikhail Lermontov, itself drawing upon Georgian folk legend. Next up is the first of Honey’s five contributions, the far more English folk influences of ‘Seaview’ which, in talking about how certain places hold collective memories, may well be about the Edwardian resort on the Isle of Wight.

A similar wistful and whimsical quality informs his second song, ‘Adrienne’, which the notes describe as being about a song fairy, but is essentially about those magical singers who sometimes pop up at folk clubs, dazzle everyone, and are then gone. On a somewhat darker note, the melodeon-led, Drinkwater-featuring ‘Carousel Waltz’ addresses the cycle of addiction with slang references to cocaine and heroin before giving way to the frisky urgency of ‘Stormteller’ with its “pitter-patter” chorus which is all about those dark rain clouds that sometimes seem to hover over only you, although here Honey seems to suggest that such folk warrant having the soul sodden. His final number, ‘Devilry Dance’, is a clarinet-coloured jazzy folk swirl tale of Faustian pacts and metaphorical femme fatales that lead you on, promising to lift you on high only to see you fall.

Underwood makes his mark with two tracks, ‘Leigh Fishermen’, a traditional-flavoured tribute to those who risk their lives trawling the seas on which he harmonises behind Kulesh on the chorus, and the two sprightly- and, as you would expect, melodeon-led – English folk tunes ‘Hollingbourne/Broadhurst Gardens’, the titles referencing the village in Kent and his London suburb home.

Not to be left out, Rouse (who also appears on Ange Hardy’s Esteesee album) is featured, provides harmonies and arranged the six-and-a-half minute ‘Lovers’ Tasks/Black Tea Waltz’ which pairs a gently waltzing Appalachian version of ‘Scarborough Fair’ with her self-penned coda.

Of the three remaining tracks, Kulesh is wholly responsible for the haunting ‘Goodbye and Forgive Me’, its spooked musical box intro introducing a dark murder ballad, inspired by “Lady Macbeth of the Mtensk District”, about a woman trapped in an imprisoning marriage who conspires with her lover to have the husband killed, only for the crime to be exposed and her lover to take up with another woman, the end echoing the novel’s finale where both women drown.

Things are no cheerier on the dulcimer-based ‘Misery and Vodka’, her translation of a lugubrious Russian drinking song, sung in both English and the original, set to a Russian Gypsy tune (known as ‘Two Guitars’) by Ivan Vasiliev, though not the ballet dancer of the same name. The final track is also a traditional Russian tune and lyric, again translated by Kulesh, the title, ‘Ataman’, being the name given to Cossack military leaders, Rouse’s dulcimer solo precluding a mournful Russian and English sung story of a group of soldiers contemplating their fate (“rain will fall upon my bones…crows will feast upon my eyes”) in the coming battle. Not, perhaps, something to send you off into the evening full of the joys of life, but a terrific conclusion to a fine album but a band that deserve much wider recognition.

Mike Davies

If you would like to download a copy of the album or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click on the banner link below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Artists’ website: www.karafolkband.com

The Kara showreel video (with Gary Holbrook on accordion):

KARA live at The Convent

Kara live

The Convent used to be just that. It was bought in a semi-derelict condition a few years ago and is now a hotel, spa, studio and music venue – still a work in progress and delightfully eccentric. The owners have kept the ecclesiastical fixtures and the décor is now a blend of religion and rock’n’roll. Its only drawback is that it is high on a hill accessed via impossibly narrow lanes which were fine when the Poor Clares were in residence but are hardly suited to 21st century traffic.

The theatre itself is the first floor chapel and it was here that Kara chose to launch their second album, Some Other Shore on June 3rd. Because all the Convent’s gigs are streamed live there are no intervals and Daria Kulesh’s decision to be her own support put her under some pressure. She was worried about her voice and, accompanied by Jonny Dyer on guitar and keyboards she began with less upbeat songs from her first solo album, Eternal Child before she hit her stride with ‘At Midnight’. The final two songs are scheduled for her second album. ‘The Moon And The Pilot’ has already been heard and ‘Amanat’ will be heard many times. Both are rooted in 19th and 20th century history and politics which are major preoccupations for Daria at the moment. I won’t even try to explain to intricacies of the songs but the album they are destined for will be a major work.

The band joined Daria on stage to begin their set with ‘Rusalka’ from their debut album before starting on the new one with ‘Tamara’s Wedding’ and James Delarre in a guest role on fiddle. I was very impressed with the new material and the excellent sound balance. No one instrument dominated – except Daria’s voice, of course, and sometimes she was at her most theatrical. This was only the third gig for new box-player Phil Underwood and he has fitted in well: just two CDs and a few other songs to learn in less than six months so no pressure. His predecessor, Gary Holbrook, came from the Irish tradition but Phil is very English as his set of tunes, ‘Hollingbourne/Broadhurst Gardens’ proved. That said, he’s an expert in Cajun and Creole music which could make for an interesting fusion in time to come.

Inevitably, it is Daria that dominates on stage, but the writing is democratic. Even so, Ben Honey has been affected by her mystique. ‘Adrienne’ is a song set in England but which belongs in Kara-land, as does ‘Carousel Waltz’ but Ben pins the blame for ‘Stormteller’ on Douglas Adams. There was one Russian song, ‘Misery And Vodka’, which began with a stunning hammered dulcimer solo from Kate Rouse who also wrote ‘Black Tea Waltz’.  They admitted that their encore ‘Start Wearing Purple’ was un-rehearsed and even un-arranged but it was fun. And then it was down to the bar!

Dai Jeffries

If you would like to download a copy of the album or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click on the banner link below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Artists’ website: www.karafolkband.com

Some Other Shore showreel: