5 Ukrainian-Canadian bands who are building on Ukrainian tradition
Canada has the largest Ukrainian population in the world outside of Ukraine and Russia, so it stands to reason that we’d also have some great Ukrainian bands.
But Ukrainian music has never really had a moment in the sun in the global music scene the way other styles have.
Now seems like a good time to change all that.
Here at Roots Music Canada, we feel as many people do right now: helpless to do much as individuals to help those fighting for their country in Ukraine.
But we can do what we always do here: amplify great music.
So here are but five of the many great Canadian bands drawing inspiration from their Ukrainian roots.
Zeelia, named for the Ukrainian word for “herb,” was founded in 1991 by third-generation Ukrainian-Canadian Beverly Dobrinksi during the cultural revival that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. It was a part of the “golden age” of world music in Vancouver during the ’90s and made a resurgence after the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014.
Its 2016 album Tse Tak Bulo/That’s How it Was is a collection that celebrates Ukrainian tradition by including the voices of the now-deceased elders from whom Beverly first learned her repertoire while also reworking traditional songs with vital new energy.
The award-winning Kubasonics hail from Newfoundland of all places, not a province stereotypically associated with Ukrainian culture. And yet they are a hot commodity on the Atlantic music scene, combining top-flight musicianship with quirky humour, exotic traditional instruments, and an eclectic high-energy stage show. They’ve performed across Canada, Eastern Europe and the Caribbean, have released six albums, and are frequently featured in regional and national broadcasts. Their new album, Kubasongs, is set for release March 4.
Balaklava Blues is a project of Mark and Marichka Marczyk, co-founders of the Juno-nominated Lemon Bucket Orkestra. Marichka is an ethnomusicologist, singer and folklorist who graduated from the National Academy of Music in Kyiv. Mark is a third generation Ukrainian-Canadian who reconnected with his cultural heritage through visits to his ancestral home. Mark and Marichka met and fell in love during the Revolution of Dignity in Ukraine, the events that led to the overthrow of the government of President Viktor Yanukovych. Their experiences of war coupled with their unique knowledge of the polyphonic blues of the Ukrainian plains exploded into an ethno-bass live set in which the duo sing live to original EDM, trap, trance and electro-pop influenced tracks.
Vostok (The East) is an East Vancouver-based vocal trio specializing in music from Eastern Europe and the Balkans. All three founding members are of Eastern European descent and have a deep and lasting connection to the Ukrainian community in East Vancouver, specifically the Association of United Ukrainian Canadians. They share a love of not only their heritage, but the rich and varied, yet often interconnected musical and cultural traditions from across Eastern Europe and the Balkans. Vostok is passionate about learning from the keepers of these folk traditions and sharing music across cultural communities and artistic disciplines. They have collaborated with Zeellia (Ukrainian folk group), Zlatna Mountain (Balkan folk group), Tim Readman (British folk musician), The Dovbush Ukrainian Dancers, Pi Theatre, Veronique West (a playwright of Polish descent), as well as the Serbian, Russian, and Polish Communities in Vancouver.
Celebrated Canadian blues artist Suzie Vinnick, who is herself of Ukrainian descent, turned us on to this Toronto ensemble that she previously did some work with.