Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The first little nibble of ShockolaD

I had been up early that day and in a totally different part of town working on a project taking place out at the Shakespeare Restaurant, owned by another friend of mine, located on Lublinska Street. It had been drizzling on an off all day long, that twenty-eighth day of May. I was a little tired but I had my mind set on getting back into town and heading to meet Markian Ivaschyshyn at Dzyga, and then to head up stairs to the Jazz Club and have a listen to something I had been told was sweet, as sweet as chocolate. After finishing up matters at the Shakespeare, I realized there wasn't a snowball's chance in hell I would make it back downtown using public transit, so I had the restaurant staff order me a cab. As I left the Shakespeare the door man offered to walk me out o the cab with an umbrella. There was a little bit of mist coming down, but nothing that warranted an umbrella. “Forget about the umbrella,” I said, as I gestured with my hand.

Within about twenty minutes I got dropped off by the Dominican Cathedral and made my way towards Dzyga. I found Markian sitting with someone, I didn't recognize her, but he introduced us. “Vasyl, this is Anastasia Lytvynenko, keyboardist from ShockolaD! Nastya, Vasyl Pawlowsky,” said Markian. We politely shook hands as I acknowledged to the waitress that I wanted to drink what I had a few days earlier. A Stare Misto, brewed by the First Private Brewery of L'viv. After a long day I figured I deserved it. Anastasia went off up to the Jazz Club, Markian and I sat under the umbrella at a table on the street and made small talk. Just before eight, Markian said, “Let's go the show is about to start!” I followed him up the same winding stair case, just across from the “Laboratory”, as I recall the bathroom was once called in Dzyga's early years. Markian mumbled something to one of his wait staff who then led me to a table closer to the performance. “Vasyliu, I'll be over in the other room where my office once was, enjoy the show,” said Markian while motioning with his hand towards the other room

The place was quite the buzz, there were few familiar faces but this crowd knew what they were coming out to hear. When the first couple of notes sounded there were a few eager fans in the audience who broke out clapping. I had been seated at a table with an older guy, maybe in his late fifties to early sixties, but looks can be deceiving in this part of the world, who I think I had seen at Dzyga previously. He had small gray goatee, wire frame glasses and a pipe. He nodded at me as if acknowledging that we knew each other, but we both went on to listen to the music. I actually, made some notes during the performance, where they have disappeared to I'm not too sure, but when you write on small slips of paper they are bound to get lost. It's just the nature of the game.

This was the first time I had heard ShockolaD perform, and I was impressed. I could tell by both the smiling faces and the couple of swaying bodies that others in the crowd were also enjoying the show. The interplay of the individual musicians, during each composition, with each of them contributing both to their individual solos and to the pieces as a whole.

From the beginning I recognized nearly all of the songs as being traditional folk melodies, but their arrangements were different. In fact they were something fresh, something that anyone with a taste for music could listen to and find something that they enjoyed in the melodies, the rhythms.

The time just flew by in the close to 90 minute program, but there was one thing that hit home pretty hard. It was somewhere about two-thirds of the way through the program when Dana Vynnytska, whom I had met about five days before at Liviy Bereh opened up the next song with a few statements.

“The entire world thinks that the following song is theirs. From Americans who play this song around the Christmas Holiday season, all the way to the Japanese who have somehow adopted this next song as their own,” expressed Dana. She paused for a moment and continued, “But we all know that Shchedryk, a composition by Leontovych is something that is traditionally ours, and it goes back a long time, long before others started to say it was theirs, and probably even before Leontovych put down the notes. It is ours, it's Ukrainian,” stated Dana, and then another pause. This was followed by round of applause as the first few bars were played of the traditional Christmas Song that is known throughout the world as Carol of the Bells, however, it seems that everyone else thinks that it is theirs. Not so!

Sure it was a little bit out of season, but as a jazz arrangement, it could find its place at any time of the year, in any country of the world. In any little club where people gather to listen to something new and something fresh. Something that is familiar to them, while at the same time being something that opens up a totally new door in their understanding of something that they seem to have known since they were little children listening to the radio in the kitchen on Christmas day, after having opened up all all their presents. Or if it was after a midnight mass, when families also gathered for a Christmas feast. This was a different feast, it was a feast for one's ears.

What followed, was nothing short of some incredibly great music which all present appreciated. But this was music being performed by a hometown group for its fans. I thought to myself, what if they were to perform for an audience of about the same size in Kyiv. I already knew that they would be in Kyiv on June 13 to present their latest album entitled POKOSY. An while this was not being held in a location that I was averse to, it was quite small... I thought to myself, “How to heck are you going to get five musicians in the place and even have an audience.”

Clearly, ShockolaD came back for an encore after their performance, but my thoughts were already focused on what I would be talking with Markian about after the gig, and what questions I would ask them in an interview I would be doing for Ukrainian language and bilingual programming in Canada.

It became obvious after the show that Markian, just didn't want to talk to me after the gig about their performance, but also about introducing me to other people, with other ideas, but nonetheless interesting ones. As we sat in Markian's former office, a couple of members of ShockolaD came to speak to him and who he introduced me to set up a time to meet for an interview the next day. In particular he introduced me to Ihor Hnydyn, the group's drummer and arranger of most of their material. Somehow, we connected, but it became more evident the next day. But in due time I will hit on that topic.

While I have been without a digital recorder since the summer of 2006, when it was stolen in Donetsk, I have always found some way to document things, in a recorded format, whether I beg, borrow or .... In this case Markian had made a particular arrangement with people he knew to make the interview the next day happen.

The conversations that ensued, were interesting to say the least, and there was a sharing of thoughts and ideas about where we should be going with new media. Places that Markian and I had been previously and somehow it had to do with being in totally different countries, where crossing a bridge made all the difference in the world about the society one was in. It took us from states near the Mason-Dixon line all the way up north to the bridge spanning the Ottawa River between Ottawa and Hell, I really meant Hull, but those who have ever lived in Ottawa will understand what I am getting at. Moving from a very conservative community to one that was just a little more liberal.

In any case, it was a great evening, some great conversations and an agreement to meet with ShockolaD for an interview the next morning at 10:00. The time may have been a mistake, but in any case it happened,

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