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The Canadian Ensemble Paris to Kyiv  fusion of Ukrainian folk, jazz and Celtic music

 

The Canadian Ensemble Paris to Kyiv came to Ukraine in May 2003 on the invitation of the Kyiv Travnevy Theatre Festival and performed several concerts in Kyiv and in Chernihiv which were thoroughly enjoyed by the audiences that filled the halls to capacity.

 

The music of the ensemble is a highly unusual merger and fusion of Ukrainian folk songs and Celtic music and jazz.

Says Alexis Kochan, leader and producer, and also the female voice in Paris to Kyiv music:

Im from the prairies in Canada, from Winnipeg, and I was born there, and so was my mother, and her father, so I go back a few generations on my mothers side, but my father, and his father come from Lviv, from Western Ukraine, so, in fact, my did (grandfather) was from Sukhay, thats the name Kokhan and my interest, has been, for many-many years, my whole life, to resurrect some of what I consider to be the beauty of Ukrainian culture, which is a folk song. I studied the humanities, and music, but I was actually doing my doctorate in psychology, and I had an opportunity to come to Ukraine, and spend some time researching my hobby which at that time was the old Ukrainian folk song. First time I came to Kyiv in 1978, I was a student, and I guess I fell in love with the culture, but specifically with these songs from the deepest layers of the tradition, and I though there was a particular kind of beauty there that was not being exposed and did not have a voice. My interest is to give this old music a voice in todays culture. In the main stream culture its impossible because its noisy, and theres a lot of pop and the music thats sort of pedestrian music. This is not that, this is very unique, in the sense that it takes this sort of Ukrainian jewelry, and then recreates something new, something fresh, that, I think, can speak to an audience that is ready for that, that is ready to hear that. So its kind of soul music of Ukraine, and done with a Canadian variant, with musicians who have no cultural baggage  most of my musicians are not of Ukrainian heritage like I am. They come to this very fresh. I brought together a number of musicians as I produced a number of recordings, I have a small record label, and the Paris to Kyiv project has evolved. This is the most recent grouping, but the musicians come again with their own music sensibilities, from their own worlds, and essentially their job is to reflect on this work, to give their voice. Julian Kytasty is of Ukrainian descent, he plays bandura and some other instruments. Martin Colledge, formerly a British man and now Canadian, plays the cittern and pipes. Richard Moody, a Canadian of Anglo-Saxon stock, plays the viola and adds a perfect jazz touch, and Nenad Zdjelar of Slavic descent plays the contrabass.

Theres something that is improvisational in our music, something that is more set, but more than that  the musicians comment musically in their own language. Im not asking them to appropriate it, to be Ukrainians here, they are who they are, and that makes a very interesting project where every artist has a chance to speak.

Ive been searching for this stuff, and I have major collections now, and Julian Kytasty is also is of Ukrainian heritage, living in New York, one of the finest bandurists in the world, third generation professional player, and he works a lot on instrumental pieces. Many of his ideas come from the song literature, and Im searching for it all the time, looking for the things that are very unique.

Sometimes I find a four-bar phrase, and I think this incredible, right, it may not have any text, and from that we create a brand-new piece. So usually it may be fragments of things, too, because depending on how old it is, and sometimes we are guessing, but what I do, Im looking for things all the time, and listening to old women sing, collecting material, I have collections of ancient songs of spring, for example, but out of hundreds and hundreds of songs that I may spend hours and hours at, I find two that are extremely special and that I want to take and do something with them. It takes a lot of time and there are certain things that Im looking for and listening for to add to the repertoire. And then I spend some time at the piano and I start thinking about how this could happen, you know I mean one of the reasons I searched out Martin Colledge who came from London many years ago and who plays Northumbrian small pipes because he was a Celtic musician, and there are very few people in Canada who can play these pipes. I knew that some of the music would work so well because of our interconnectedness with Celtic going back way-way deep.

The idea becomes sound and it takes many-many hours of collaborations with members of the ensemble to attain the desired result. Sometimes it takes four years to release an album of recordings.

The name of the ensemble  its a metaphor, to indicate a fusion of cultures. Paris is Western European culture, Kyiv  Eastern European culture.

Its not my job to sound like a woman from a Ukrainian village. My work is to fund the musicians. Ive been lucky to become successful. There were many sponsors, governmental and private, because the project was ground-breaking. My recordings sell quite well. My label releases albums of my music and I want to target Eastern Ukraine. This trip was a wonderful experience and next time we come over, Id like to do a more comprehensive tour of Ukraine, to go to Western Ukraine.

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