Dálava: We Concentrate on Making the Song Live

29 December 2017, 9:00

Dálava: We Concentrate on Making the Song Live

Julia Ulehla is an American singer, grand-daughter of Vladimír Úlehla, the Moravian musicologist and collector of folk songs and author of the legendary book Živá píseň (Living Song). Together with her husband, the guitarist with Armenian roots Aram Bajakian and former player with Lou Reed and Diana Krall, Julia set up the group Dálava, which works in a non-traditional way with Moravian folk music. They have recorded what is already their second album, The Book of Transfiguration, and we talked about it with Julia and Aram during their recent stay in Brno.

Your second album was given the name The Book of Transfiguration. Did you already have that thought up at the beginning?

J: We talked about it for a while and we even came up with other possible names. But I was fixed on that name, I really wanted it …

A: I had some doubts about this name because the composer John Zorn, who I worked with, often called his works “Book of…” I took part for example in the extensive project Book of Angels, which is a series of about thirty albums. So I said that people would link us with that. It took me a while to realise that the people who would listen to us would not know John Zorn and even less his Book of Angels, and so would not make the association. What’s more it is a beautiful name and suits us, since we really are transforming songs.

J: The title is linked also to the overall conception of this album, framed by a pair of songs which I know from my grandfather Jura. He sings them accompanied by Antoš Frolka and given that our material comes from the collection Živá píseň, it seemed to me a nice way of showing that all of these songs make up a kind of whole. Furthermore each song involves some kind of transformation. I write about it in the booklet. In the lyrics of these songs for example a girl marries and becomes a women. Another women is changed into a bird. A man becomes a soldier …

At the same time there has been a gradual transformation in your music. The new album sounds different to your debut one.

A: It is quite amusing. Not long ago Facebook reminded me that we first played together exactly five years ago in John Zorn’s club The Stone. And we didn’t record it. But I have a recording from the first rehearsal, which took place I think the previous year at Christmas, and that is pretty awful. I think that since that time we have improved a lot. At the very beginning it went something like “Hey, look at this book – let’s play something from it” and we had no idea how deep a tradition was associated with these songs. We had to learn everything, despite the fact that Julia’s family is part of that tradition. We had to immerse ourselves deeply in it until we found a way to make the songs ours.

There is a gap of three years between the albums. How do you see the main difference in them?

J: I think the way that we work with songs has changed. The difference between the first and second albums lies in the fact that we truly immersed ourselves in the work and – I’m not sure how to say it precisely – but here I have a feeling of a certain personal and also collective transformation. I perceive a certain process, possibly a certain change in energy, something going on with these songs when we work with them. I almost have the feeling that I am communicating with the songs and was their disciple. As if I asked: “Songs – how do you want to look?” It is obvious that if you work on something for a long time, then you end up going further and into greater depth. It seems to me that the material we work on now speaks more for itself. Our role now involves more perception and less activity. Everything is flowing more easily. And something else occurs to me. Just yesterday we had a joint concert with Petr Mička and his Horňácko muzika. And for me and Aram it was incredibly powerful, the chance to immerse ourselves directly in their playing, which is different to ours. It seems to me that as we approach the carriers of the Slovácko traditions, our approach to these songs is also transfigured or transformed. I see it as a process and we are looking at the next step.

At the time when you founded Dálava, you did not really know how folk songs are played in Moravia. Lately you have been regularly going to Slovácko or to Brno and playing with Moravian musicians. How does it influence your work?

J: When I work on songs in Canada, they are versions which I heard from Moravian musicians, stored somewhere deep in my subconscious. I do not try to duplicate them directly but my approach is influenced by such traditional examples. I have a video from yesterday’s concert and I can see that I sing completely differently when accompanied by Moravian musicians than when I am just with Aram. But when working together with Aram it is a completely different process. At the moment I don’t have much idea what comes next. Maybe if we work more with traditional musicians we will better understand these changes. For now there is a difference between both approaches which may disappear some time. But for now I don’t know.

You moved to Canada from New York. How does the life of a musician differ between New York and Vancouver?

J: Perhaps I would say that life in Canada is similar to here. People are often outdoors, spending a lot of time in the countryside, which is gorgeous there. Life there is also a little calmer and slower, not as crazy or stressful as in New York. Maybe it also shows on the disc. It was also important that we had a lot more time to prepare the album with other people. While in New York everyone has too much work, in Canada we could really concentrate and record the album in peace and quiet. Actually I am not sure we could make such a recording in New York at all. It seems to me an organic whole and without big-city pressures.

A: And although in New York there are a lot of excellent musicians, each of them has a thousand projects. It is also difficult to agree a rehearsal a come together from various parts of the city. If you live in Queens and the rehearsal is in Brooklyn it will take you the whole day. Before recording the first album we only rehearsed perhaps twice, because everyone was on tour and those were the only two possible dates when we could get together. We recorded the album in a single day and then we only had a few concerts. In Vancouver we have time to really play with the group, work on the songs and discuss arrangements. Furthermore in Vancouver we have the help of the local community. One of the biggest jazz festivals in the world takes place there and they give us great support. I have no idea whether something like that could happen in New York.

J: I would add that our work with Moravian songs has aspects beyond music. For example the Coastal Jazz and Blues Society, which runs the Vancouver Jazz Festival, invited me to run a number of workshops, during which we talked, sang and played music with people. I also work with a group of women who I teach Moravian songs. So music is not played just on stage but I also emphasise its other aspects and its place in our lives. And that is important to me because we don’t only want to give concerts …

A: Exactly. There are groups which just come and play well but it is always the same. I would like it if our listeners had the impression that our performances were different each time. So sometimes we improvise, but primarily we try to emphasise that the songs are still living. It is difficult to explain. Playing technique is of course important, but we also concentrate on the specific moment, on the idea that the song is alive and on how it lives just now. It has happened to us for example that a song that is usually very loud, requires that in a particular concert it should be played quietly. And all at once something happens. And it is precisely in those things that we try to be open.

Returning to your recordings. While on the first album you had a pair of violins, in the second the cello plays and important role …

J: It is connected to how our musical family developed. When we moved to Vancouver, someone advised us to get in touch with Peggy Lee and Dylan van der Schyff. Dylan plays percussion and Peggy the cello. We got to know them at a barbecue and told them about our project. At that time we still hadn’t brought out our first album. So we started to play material from the first album with the new group in Vancouver, and we gradually began to work on new songs.

A: We recorded the first album with two violinists and an excellent double bass player. I have a group called Kef, with which I play Armenian music and many other projects including the previously mentioned work with John Zorn. Our cooperation on the first album arose from my other activities. They are all excellent musicians. I need people that I work with not only to play well but it is also important to me what kind of people they are. For example the keyboard player who participates on the album The Book of Transfiguration, is highly reserved. We really had to work hard on him to get him to loosen up a little. And in the end that is what the album showcases, with incredible power! It is similar with the bass player who greatly enriches the song Dyby ňa moja maměnka stará (with the English title ‘Grass’). We have simply been lucky with the good people around us, with their openness and sensitivity. They understand that my efforts are directed toward the best possible accompaniment for Julia’s singing and they do the same.

What I admire about Dálava is not just the music itself, but also the care you take with the project. Particularly I enjoy reading Julia’s notes on individual songs in the booklet, because many of her observations would never have struck me, and I find them enriching. It is very interesting to think in that way of Moravian folk songs in a broader context. But that way of thinking is peculiar to you, I think?

J: Yes. For example I have taken part in several ceremonies concerning the exchange of cultural heritage with the original native nations. One of the older members of the Cree nation told me that the Moravian songs that I sang greatly reminded him of the songs of the original inhabitants of the western coast of North America, for example Eagle Song and West Coast Anthem. I began to think about how the lyrics influence the melody. Many Moravian songs sing of eagles or swallows. I was singing one of them outdoors as the swallows flew. And I became aware that the melody of the song Lítala vlaštověnka lítala (about swallows flying) was linked to how these birds fly. As if the way they moved showed me how I was to sing. The ethnologist Lucie Uhlíková told me in this connection: “I don’t know, it probably isn’t like that. That connection can’t be there because various lyrics are sung to that one melody.” But I don’t agree. Even if it were true, contact with nature, and perhaps how birds sing, has some kind of meaning for us. In every folk culture relationships and meanings important, and there is certainly also some kind of link with nature. On the album we have the song “Fašanku, fašanku, zabil jsem galánku”, which are very strong words (about killing a girl). In Vladimír’s collection we then find other lyrics to the same melody, for example “Hody, milé hody” (about a feast) or “Má stará mamičko, až já od vás půjdu” (about leaving mother behind). These songs differ from each other, but when you look at them all together, you can see that each describes some kind of borderline state. In one case a girl bids farewell to her parents and leaves them. In the second song a man kills his beloved. And in the third there is a man who has not slept for several nights because of a celebratory feast. In each of these songs I try to find what they have in common.

Dálava/ photo Emma Joelle



No comment added yet..

In the course of four days the Brno Music Marathon offered some 150 concerts with more than 500 participants. The festival brought together local artists and guests from abroad. The Jazz Evening in the Sono Centre opened with Brno’s Marek Kotača Trio, followed by Yaron Herman from Israel and Kenny Garrett from the USA, while on the stage at Špilberk Castle the local hip-hop legends Chaozz and the crossover and world music Dog Eat Dog got the audience moving. The Adicts from England together with the Prague group The Fialky took care of the rock evening at Fléda, while in the Sono Centre it was the Dutch Physical Graffiti paying tribute to Led Zeppelin. Brno was full of rock, with the British alt-J also performing on Sunday evening.  more

After reconstruction the building of Czech Radio Brno has a new studio. Studio VII was figuratively baptised with the concert Living Notes from the series of folk concerts On a Moravian Note on Czech Radio Brno and Zlin. The musical dedication was made by the Horňácko group of Petr Mička, whose bandmaster is also one of the radio station’s editors. As guests they introduced the very talented young singers Anička Mičková and Janíček Pavlík and the Horňácko folk legend Martin Hrbáč. You can see the whole more than hour-long programme on the Czech Radio YouTube channel.  more

To record an album of famous jazz standards translated into Czech and yet not only to not come up short, but even to come across naturally and as much as possible even originally, is extremely demanding. Darek Neumann, “a kind of Brno character” (as stated in the booklet of the album) has managed it. The fact that it successfully balanced on the very borders of sentiment and pure blues, is much down to the lyrics of Ester Kočičková.  more

The mandolin player Martin Krajíček plays in various genres of groups. He has his own acoustic trio, is a member of the Jitka Šuranská Trio, plays in the “Mexican” group Mariachi Espuelas and in Cimbal Classica, plays klezmer and also teaches the mandolin. Since last year he has also been the organiser of the Mandolin Festival in Boskovice. This year it will take place from 8 to 10 June.  more

The group D.N.A. Brno, winners of the final of Porta in 2011, after a gap of four years have brought out a new album. Alongside a new surname for the bass guitarist (but it is still the same Barbora who years ago cofounded the then children’s and girls’ group) there was an important change in the line-up. Ondra Bojanovský (son of Aleš Bojanovský of FT Prima) has become a new member, playing rhythmic instruments. This has made it possible for the former percussionist Lenka Ručková to move over to the piano. Otherwise they remain as they were: D.N.A. is a group of young people, mostly classically trained, who like folk as well as classical. On the musical side they play it masterfully – there can be no objections to their skill, which is made evident in individual songs. The actual repertoire already on the last album has grown up from the childhood years and the innovation is of course, in this respect, a bit more mature. The band has not surprised us with any a sudden shift. But the result is a bit more mature and confident. And what has also been added are serious but at the same time credible themes.  more

This year Miloš Štědroň is taking part as artist in residence at the festival Concentus Moraviae. This was a welcome pretext for an interview. It covered his musical beginnings, his path to a musical education, his artistic development and his famous teachers, his inclination to the legacy of the musical avant-garde as well as why he suddenly kept a certain distance from it, how he dedicated himself to faithful and successful cooperation with the Theatre Goose on a String as well as how he was affected by the political changes of the period, how he overcame their pressure, how he worked with today’s interviewer a banned playwright, how he wrote for the wonderful Due Boemi di Praga, how he taught music and the history of music and worked as a populariser, how he knowledgably interpreted ancient music, but also Leoš Janáček, how he worked as an editor, how he became a significant and famous cultural figure, and not just in Brno, and how all the tasks he set himself in his varied and rich creative life were and are being fulfilled, and the joy he has had from it all.  more

Brno songwriter Michal “cosmonaut” Šimíček has long been seen as a man who knows how to write poetic, often multi-layered lyrics and link them with interesting music. Even the first album of his band Nevermore & Kosmonaut was for me was like a conceptual project. Although the songs lacked direct continuity in small details, lyrics and music, it was as if they were related to each other. In terms of novelty however Bleděmodré město (Pale Blue City) takes the band much further. This time it is a thematically sandwiched whole, dedicated to the city of Brno, worked out down to the last detail. “This conceptual album is our response to the current trend, where it has become a habit to do a single with a video and listen to the songs piecemeal, without order,” explains Šimíček in the album booklet, and this booklet is an integral part of this project and “story”.  more

Yesterday’s premiere in the Mahen Theatre added to the repertoire of the National Theatre Brno (NdB) the opera Così fan tutte by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in an interesting production by Anna Petrželková. In this tale of the imprudent temptation of human feelings will be appearing the soprano Pavla Vykopalová as Fiordiligi, the mezzosoprano Václava Krejčí Housková as Dorabella and Andrea Široká as Despina. In the male roles Ondřej Koplík was on stage as Ferrando, Roman Hoza as Guglielmo and Jan Šťáva played Don Alfonso. Also taking part in the performance were the choir and orchestra of the Janáček Opera of the NdB.  more

Pavel Koudelka, former drummer with the bands Dunaj, Z kopce, Krutnava and Mňága a Žďorp, recently became a member of two new groups. One of them is the drumming duo Zesilovači with Pavel Fajt and the second is Kucharski. In this group he works with musicians known from the Třebíč group FruFru – the vocalist Václav Bartoš, guitarist Vladimír Dudek and bass guitarist Adam Kotrba – and with the keyboard player Víťa Košíček. Kucharski will be giving their first concert on Thursday 17 May in Brno at the Stará Pekárna.  more

There were concerts by big bands at the start and finish of the spring programme of this year’s Jazzfest Brno. And both were supreme musical experiences. The Christian McBride Big Band as one of the three concluding concerts for their European tour for the first time performed in Brno’s Sono Centre. And it was great: crossover, entertaining and light playing, at the same time full of virtuosity and inventive and creative playing. “When we play together it is one big party,” stated the double bass player and bandleader Christian McBride at the start – and both he and his colleagues certainly confirmed that.  more

After a gap of three years Rózinky (which could be translated as Raisins) from the South Moravian village of Kozojídky have recorded their second album. The girls attend elementary art school together and their teacher Kateřina Mičková, who put the group together, still writes songs for them. The girls also perform together on radio and television shows and have played at various festivals from Folk Holidays in Náměšť nad Oslavou to TrutnOff. The question of whether the group will still be viable once its members grow up and mature (and probably have other musical interests and tastes) still hangs in the air. A little doubt already hangs over the disc Cvrkot (which could be translated as Chirp), but not as a threat but rather as a reason for the greater diversity on the album.  more

It never ceases to amaze me when I see the volume of ideas from Martin Kyšperský and his band Květy. Only in 2017, all this happened: Martin received the Anděl prize for his solo album Vlakem (“By train”). With Květy, they played the role of a communist era organisation band brilliantly, singing his “normalisation” period hits in the series Svět pod hlavou (“World under your head”) (which received a well-earned Český lev award a year later). In their new line-up with Ondřej Kyas, Květy released the brilliant album Komik do půl osmé (“A comedian till half past seven”) (it’s sad that it didn’t get an Anděl, but I think the culprit for that is the reducing of genre prizes and a “bit” of chaos in the new category of Alternative). The book Průvodce po albech a historii kapely Květy (The guide to the albums and history of the band Květy) was released and with it also the album Spí vánoční pták (“The Christmas bird sleeps”). In the meantime, Květy started the YM project, in which all three members will present songs in individual unexpected genres. It was begun by once again by Martin Kyšperský with a programme of country songs – the public premiere took place with the guest artist Petr Uvira in a live broadcast of Radio Proglas in December 2017. For 2018, the electronic songs of Aleš Pilgr and hopefully also the folktronica of Ondřej Kyas are in preparation.  more

The temperament and emotion of Roma music are well known. In 2016 the recording studio Amaro records was set up with the same verve and positive energy. The entire voluntary project was set up with support and guarantees from the IQ Roma servis organisation. The guiding spirit and person responsible is Petra Borovičková, herself an excellent singer and member of several bands. The originator of the idea was Gejza Horváth, a top Roma musician who earlier ran courses for young Roma musicians. He saw huge potential in them.  more

The group Billy Barman from Slovakia ended its Czech-Slovak tour at Brno’s Fleda. This series of concerts was interesting not only its purely acoustic form but especially for bringing together five singers from SĹUK (the Slovak Folk Artists’ Collective). This fusion of pop music and folk was originally created for the Tatra Flowers festival. Its unprecedented success, however, made the musicians decide to expand their repertoire and perform not only in the Slovak Republic, but also for their Czech neighbours.  more

“I knew who I wanted to work with and that guided me when I was trying to set up a group with a pleasant sound,” said the French accordionist Vincent Peirani in 2015, shortly after the release of his key album Living Being. At that time he had already completed several interesting acoustic projects including an album with the saxophonist Emil Parisien and he has continued in this style. In 2016 he brought out an enjoyable CD of duets with the pianist Michael Wollny and not long ago he worked with the pianist Stefano Bollani and the Berlin Philharmonic on the album Mediterraneo, inspired by classical music. The Living Being project is however of a completely different character, embodying the accordionist’s conception of electric music on the borders between jazz, rock and other genres. And it was with this programme that Peirani and his group came to Brno’s Husa na provázku (Goose on a String) theatre.  more


Jakub Hrůša will become the fifth Chief Conductor and the musical director of the prominent German orchestra the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra Players – the Bavarian State Philharmonic Orchestra (Bamberger Symphoniker – Bayerische Staatsphilharmonie) in the 2016/2017 season. It was announced today during the morning ceremony, which was attended by Jakub Hrůša himself, by Bavaria’ Minister of Culture Dr. Ludwig Spaenle together with Marcus Rudolf Axt, Chief Executive.  more

The choir at VUT in Brno is seeking new vocal talent. The audition will take place next week.  more

The 21st edition of this competition is being organized by the Musical faculty of the Janáček Academy of Music and Performing Arts in Brno. The competition focusing on young artists playing the violin and on string quartets is being held in cooperation with the Leoš Janáček Foundation.  more

The club, which is starting its 25th concert season, has been reconstructed and is now reopening to jazz musicians from both the domestic and foreign scene. The season will introduce bands as well as individuals such as Ostrich Quartet, Ambrose Akinmusire, Robert Balzar Trio, Vilém Spilka Quartet or Nuf Said.  more

The current 17th year of the festival is divided into two parts. The first part, called Intake of Breath, will take place during October and it will be the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Filigrán dance ensemble. The other part, called Exhalation, will introduce international guests and dance themed movies in November.  more

Old buildings are seemingly silent, but they resonate with memories and lives vanished long ago; this is where they get their distinctive atmosphere from. Watch the video recording of a concert in the former MEZ factory hall in Židenice.  more

The winner of the solo violin category is Amalia Hall from New Zealand while the winner of the string quartet category is a Slovak ensemble called the Mucha Quartet.  more

The new operetta Studio Brno presents the operetta The Cousin from Batavia by Eduard Künneke for the first time.  more

The Brno vocal group Megafon has recorded a debut album full of successful hits and authorial compositions.  more

The Makropulos Affair opera record directed by David Radok and with music production by Marek Ivanovič won two awards at the International Television Festival Golden Prague which took place last night. The recordings won the Foundation VIZE 97 prize and a prize in the category of Performing Arts. The premiere of the opera was on 21 November 2014 during the Janáček Brno festival.  more