Incorporating a mix of traditional musical instrumentation and cultural style, Ukrainian band DakhaBrakha has been carrying a political message through music since 2004. Recently, they brought their message to St. Louis, Missouri.
DakhaBrakha performed at the Sheldon Concert Hall at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, April 13 as part of the 2022 Whitaker World Music Concerts series. This musical showcase, funded by the Whitaker Foundation, connects locals to a broad range of music from around the world through the “Arts Without Borders” initiative.
Originally, the band was supposed to perform in the 2021 Whitaker World Music Concerts series, but the pandemic forced them to reschedule. Then, the Russian invasion of Ukraine broke out on February 24.
Peter Palermo, executive director of The Sheldon, questioned whether the band would make it to St. Louis for this year’s performance.
“Up until about 2 weeks ago, I was expecting to have to cancel this performance. But, somehow, they found a way out [of Ukraine]. I believe they have left behind many of their loved ones, and the trauma of the war is fresh,” Palermo said.
DakhaBrakha escaped from their hometown of Kyiv a month into the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Now, they are touring the world with the goal of spreading awareness and raising money in support of Ukraine, living by their “Stop Putin!” mantra. The reality of the war in Ukraine enhances the unifying atmosphere of Dakhabrakha’s live performances.
DakhaBrakha’s political messaging has been the focus of the band for nearly two decades, according to the New York Times. Since the band’s formation, they’ve been producing songs from different regions of Ukraine to unite the nation through music. Eight years ago, they began incorporating video footage into their live concerts, showing the violence in their hometown where paramilitary police were targeting protesters following the former President Viktor Yanukoyvch’s broken promise to sign agreements with the European Union.
For the past several years, DakhaBrakha has ended its concerts by chanting “Stop Putin!” and over the past year, the band has dedicated a song to “people who defend [their] freedom” at every concert. They also have a “special requiem devoted to those who gave their lives in this struggle,” which they save for certain occasions and rarely play live.
DakhaBrakha is currently on tour in the United States, and they encourage their audiences to donate to support Ukraine. Their strong political message has not ceased since the violence in Ukraine began, and they have received hundreds of messages and offers to donate to organizations in support of Ukraine.
“It is important to understand that we can’t play our usual program now and it will be rather special without fast funny tracks, no party … and video will be about war in Ukraine now,” DakhaBrakha said on TheSheldon.org. “What is happening in Ukraine now – this war of Russia to destroy Ukraine – is a catastrophe for the whole democratic world, all humanity, not only ours.”
DakhaBrakha advocates for their home country through artistic performance, not only through money and awareness. They confirm their consistent support as they note Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine that had killed dozens of civilians.
“Our performance is a testament to the crime of Russian troops, the humanitarian catastrophe they caused, the horrific deaths of civilians in Kharkiv, Mariupol, Chernihiv, Sumy, Bucha, Gostomel and many other parts of the country. At the same time, our performance is a hymn to our defenders and to the Ukrainian people, who stand courageously and restrain this evil,” DakhaBrakha said on TheSheldon.org. “We are here today because we are musicians and artists. It is very important for us to feel support and solidarity with Ukraine. The Ukrainian people became victims of Russian aggression and heroes of resistance at the same time. Because slaves cannot defeat free people.”
Palermo mentions how his expectations for the performance changed with these political developments and how he predicted a shift in the concert’s climate.
“Their music and performances are not intrinsically political. However, when a powerful army tries to wipe away your culture and you choose to travel the world and sing all the louder, then it does become political,” Palermo said. “Before the war, I was expecting this concert to be lively, fun, with almost a party vibe. Now, I expect it to be moving and heartfelt.”
Palermo said DakhaBrakha has “quite literally risked their lives to be with us” and emphasized the importance of a warm welcome “after what they’ve been through.” He hopes that the band felt the compassion of an energizing audience as they told their stories.
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Molly Foust (she/her) is the Editor-in-Chief for The Journal. She was previously the News & Lifestyle editor in 2022. She is a junior Journalism major at Webster University, but in fall 2023, she will be transferring to the University of Hartford to major in Digital Media and Journalism with an emphasis in Media Studies. She has been writing for The Journal since her freshman year, and she graduated from Seckman High School in 2021. She is also a Writing Coach at the Reeg Academic Resource Center. She loves animals and has two cats named Cisco and Hellboy (and a rat named George), which fuel her passion for environmental journalism. She enjoys studying biology, psychology and feminist literature, and her favorite things to do are listen to music (especially Amy Winehouse), and spend time with her friends at The Journal!