Sneak Preview

Sneak Preview: Chornobyl Songs Project: Living Culture from a Lost World by Ensemble Hilka (out 4/7/15)

The Chornobyl (the Ukrainian spelling) nuclear disaster of April 26, 1986, forced hundreds of thousands of people, including those in the rural, musically rich Kyivan Polissia region, to leave their homes and villages. Separated from their homeland and cultural context, communities were broken apart and centuries-old musical traditions were largely lost. This spring, Smithsonian Folkways will release Ensemble Hilka’s Chornobyl Songs Project: Living Culture from a Lost World, an album re-creating these all-but-vanished songs (available April 7 in download, streaming, and on-demand CD formats). Based on earlier field recordings of songs that would be heard during the course of a typical year in a Polissian village, this collection offers an invaluable re-imagination of a traditional culture whose unique sonorous legacy lives on through the project.

Listen to a sneak preview of Chornobyl Songs Project

Uprooted from their homeland due to the nuclear catastrophe, the self-described “Polishchuks” lived for centuries in the region surrounding Chornobyl, practicing both Christian and pre-Christian rituals in which music featured prominently. Their traditional repertoire included songs for winter, spring, weddings, harvests, and other annual celebrations. In the late 1970s and mid-1980s, prior to the Chornobyl disaster, Ukrainian ethnomusicologist Yevhen Yefremov recorded many of the region’s musical traditions. Under his direction, the New York–based Ensemble Hilka formed to perform these songs on the 25th anniversary of the disaster. Ensemble Hilka is comprised of singers from New York City, many of whom came to the project unfamiliar with Ukrainian traditional song, yet committed to learning these vocal repertoires as a gesture toward the global impact of nuclear disaster.

Structured around a calendar year, the album contains nineteen tracks of largely unaccompanied vocal music. Traditionally performed outdoors, many of the songs feature powerfully resonating female voices and pay close attention to dialect and the stylistic intricacies of the Kyivan Polissian tradition. The liner notes, written by ethnomusicologist Maria Sonevytsky with contributions from Yevhen Yefremov and Virlana Tkacz, include historical background, performance methodology, and individual track notes.

Starting with the optimistic carol “Winter Song for the Master of the House,” the album continues with a sacred carol, spring calling songs, a wedding suite, and lyrical ballads. The haunting “Vasyl’, Vasyl’,” meant to be sung in a round dance at springtime, expresses devotion to a beloved, and the powerful “Soldier’s Song” features one of the few male leads on the album. Summer songs, both humorous and intimate in tone, include those for the harvest as well as a song used to chase away resurrected spirits of the dead, the rusalki. The male ensemble of the “Salt Trader’s Song,” which describes the hardships endured by salt merchants, is particularly affective. The album finishes on a celebratory note, with a reprise of the cheery “Winter Song,” bringing the compilation full circle.

The album was produced by Maria Sonevytsky in association with The Center for Traditional Music and Dance and The Yara Arts Group. Ensemble Hilka will celebrate the release of Chornobyl Songs Project: Living Culture from a Lost World with two concerts, one on April 22, 2015, in Bard Hall at Bard College, Annandale-On-Hudson, NY and another on April 25, 2015, at the Ukrainian Museum in New York, NY.

Chornobyl Songs Project: Living Culture from a Lost World
Track List

  1. Oi pan khaziaïn, chy ie ty vdoma? / Winter song
  2. for the master of the house 3:04
  3. Oi na richtsi, na Iordani / Church carol 1:43
  4. Oi dai Bozhe vesnu pochat’ / Spring calling song 0:47
  5. Strila / Spring ritual song 2:58
  6. Vasyl’, Vasyl’ / Spring song 3:04
  7. Kalyna-malyna nad iarom stoiala / Lyrical song 4:34
  8. Oi po horke, po krutoi / Soldier’s song 2:48
  9. Provedu ia rusalochky / Early summer song 1:15
  10. Nasha khata na pomosti / Lyrical song 3:12
  11. Ne kuî, ne kuî, da zezul’ko rebaia / Solo song 2:22
  12. Kalyna-malyna luhovaia / Solo song 2:25
  13. D’oi ty bereza tonkaia, kudravaia / Summer field song 2:29
  14. Av chuzhoho sokola / Harvest song 0:52
  15. Oi z-za dnoï horki... / Lyrical song 3:18
  16. Da kosyv kosar / Salt trader’s song 4:30
  17. Rozpletala mene diadina / Wedding song 0:45
  18. Oi shcho my skhotily / Wedding song 0:44
  19. Kotu, kotu, kotochku / Lullaby 1:00
  20. Oi pan khaziaïn… / Winter song (reprise) 0:48
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