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..

On Friday 19 October the big band Cotatcha Orchestra performed in HaDivadlo with an important foreign guest: the trombonist, composer and arranger Ilja Reijngoud. After the review of the concert we are now also bringing you an interview with this Dutch jazzman, holder of a Latin Grammy and other significant awards. Reijngoud answered our questions shortly before the Brno concert.  more

The promising developing contemporary Czech jazz scene, which includes well-functioning festivals and two universities with the teaching of jazz (in Brno and in Prague), is creating the background not just for little ensembles, but also for large orchestras. In Prague there is the excellent Concept Art Orchestra, which under the leadership of the trumpeter Štěpánka Balcarová focuses on the work of contemporary Czech authors in the middle and younger generation (the so-called Prague Six). In Brno the B-Side Band, led by the trumpeter Josef Buchta, sells out big halls and plays at major festivals, cooperating with the popular Vojtěch Dyk, but has not given up on its original jazz repertoire and also cooperates with foreign stars of the calibre of Kurt Elling. Another Brno big band, the Cotatcha Orchestra, under the leadership of (yet another trumpeter) Jiří Kotač, has not yet met with such great success. Despite this the ensemble, put together from students and teachers of the jazz department at the Janáček Academy of Music and Performing Arts, is fiercely and healthily making progress in our scene and given the quality of the musicians it has at its centre, I believe that it will in the coming years win a unique place for itself.  more

The jubilee 25th year of Olomouc’s Autumn Festival of Sacred Music is drawing to a close. Before the finale with Verdi’s Requiem yesterday there was a concert from the Brno chamber group Ensemble Versus under Vladimír Maňas with an ensemble of renaissance wind instruments accompanied by the continuo provided by Capella Ornamentata under the artistic leadership of its founder Richard Šeda in Olomouc’s Church of the Annunciation (Kostel Zvěstování Páně). Both bodies are mainly concerned with the interpretation of the religious music of the 16th and 17th centuries and have engaged in many other joint projects. In 2017 this cooperation led to a CD of the works of the late renaissance composer Nicolaus Zangius, whose works were heard at Sunday’s concert.  more

The Exposition of New Music festival has been confronting Brno listeners with contemporary Czech and world music for thirty-one years. Over this time, the festival’s concerts have gained a devoted audience wishing to experience the non-traditional musical works and experiments themselves. The autumn part of this years’ festival begun yesterday with the vocal cycle Canti del Capricorno by the Italian composer Giacinto Scelsi, performed by solo soprano Lore Lixenberg.  more

This week in Prague and Brno the English singer Chris Norman, founding and long-time member of the popular band Smokie, will be performing. His concert in the Brno DRFG Arena will be on Saturday 6 October and he will perform at the Prague Forum Karlín two days earlier.  more

“Beránci a vlci (“Lambs and wolves”) is my personal vision of Moravian world music,” says Marian Friedl, who is a brilliant player both on his handmade folk flutes and on the jazz bass. It was his experience with different genres, ranging from folk to free jazz, together with the cooperation with style-wise similarly open Jitka Šuranská, that led to the creation of an extraordinary kind of music with roots in the performance Z kořenů k world music (“From roots to world music”) at the Folk Holidays in Náměšť nad Oslavou. Thanks to a grant from the Ministry of Culture, the album Beránci a vlci had the participation of four musical formations of different styles (together comprising of more than twenty musicians and singers) and deservedly won the Anděl prize in the Folk category (newly including the genre of world music). In the meantime, the concert premiere of Beránci a vlci took place in the summer of 2017, again in Náměšť nad Oslavou (with the participation of album publisher Milan Páleš dressed as the sheep grandmother) and other festival performances followed – at the Hradecký slunovrat in Hradec nad Moravicí and at Colours of Ostrava. It was a small dream of Marian Friedl and all his lambs and wolves to bring this music into the aurally clean space of the Brno Sono centre, which was made possible thanks to a successful crowdfunding campaign. The roughly hour-long concert was not only merely the performing of the EP, but mainly a huge celebration and maybe even a new start for the project – a new direction towards greater and greater halls.  more

The buildings of the Brno spa on Rašínova street were filled on Sunday with the new project of the Hausopera art society, which has the target of bringing new and quality productions to places in daily use that wouldn’t have much to do with music and especially opera otherwise. The forerunner is the short opera Poslední pólo (“The Final Polo”) by the composer - conductor Marek Ivanović and the librettist – opera singer Josef Škarka about two friends, a secret love and a guilty conscience. The work was directed by Petr Hašek, the stage set was designed by Ján Tereba and the lighting design was made by Pavla Beranová, Michal Hór and Zuzana Bottová. The main characters were played by Tomáš Krejčí, Aleš Procházka and Andrea Široká. The accordion was played by Žaneta Vítová, the vibraphone and drums by Kristýna Švihálková. It was presented by Lenka Sedláčková.  more

The Jazz Groove Brno festival will take place in several venues in Brno from 2 October to 5 December 2018. With its director Josef Buchta we talk not just about this year’s programme but primarily about the new name and the new content of the event, which you can learn more about at groovebrno.cz.  more

“I play contemporary folk, without other adjectives – raging and gentle, with and without humour,” says singer-songwriter Šimon Peták of himself. He was born at the very beginning of the nineties, “a year after the old times ended” as he puts it. He comes from South Bohemia, but grew up by the Berounka, lived a short time in Prague, which apparently turned sour for him, and finally settled in Brno. “I became a dramaturge here, trained as a chimney sweep,” he continues in his verse biography, which you can find in his profile on the server Bandzone.cz. It is there that you can also not just listen to but also legally download for free Šimon’s songs from the album Homo Habitusmore

In the somewhat untraditional environment of Brno’s Metro Music Bar there was a performance by the musical ensemble with the name Musica Folklorica, a group that needs little introduction for folk fans. These excellent musicians perform mainly their own arrangements of folk songs especially from Horňácko, Myjava and also Romania. They came to Brno to christen what is now their eleventh album.  more

It is a pity to only read an interview with Marta Kovářová, leader of the groups Budoár staré dámy. Marta is such a personality as a speaker that it is better to hear her. Or also to watch her. But on the other hand, as you will learn from the interview, which took place on the occasion of the 20th birthday of the group, a good song should be able to stand up without a pictorial accompaniment. And perhaps a good narrative will still interest us in written form.  more

From 30 August to 10 September the blues guitarist from Texas Jonn Del Toro Richardson will be touring the Czech Republic. One of his performances will take place in South Moravia – 2 September in the Strážničan House of Culture in Strážnice. Further concerts will take place for example on 30 August in Valašské Meziříčí, and 7 and 10 September in Ostrava. Jonn Del Toro Richardson has so far released only one solo album (a second is in preparation for 2019), but as a much sought after studio and concert guitarist he has worked with many of the top blues performers.  more

The first few notes of the first and last songs tell us the most important things about the new album from the group Poletíme? Beginning with sharp guitars, a rock roar and lyrics about how “we sat with the boys backstage” and “we’re good, so we probably need a hit”. At the end a waltz with accordion, sloppy vocals and words about a disgruntled band, of homelessness and of a car “that carries sheep”. Songs full of rock energy of course are part of Poletíme? and this group has a whole range of hits. Nonetheless the move from sharp rock and roll to a comfortable little waltz shows the band with Rudolf Brančovský exactly how I see them after these years: Despite all their efforts to be tough guys they are at their best when telling an ordinary story, with interesting observed details (like that of the sheep in the car) and in an ordinary song. And it is also about the humour which again abounds on the new album. And I have the feeling that this time more than before Rudolf has managed to keep the balance outside the area of awkwardness.  more

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


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