[Review also published on the Wheal Alice Music blog.]
In a recent review for Folking.com of the excellent CD ‘Shakespeare Songs‘ by the Company of Players, I described the stunning performance by Daria Kulesh of her own song ‘Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk’ as ‘almost operatic in its intensity’. If you’re not a fan of opera don’t stop reading! While I’ve no doubt that Daria has the range and technical ability to sing anything she wants to, her own CD Long Lost Home (released early in 2017, but I’ve only recently caught up with it) isn’t one of those albums where a classically trained singer dabbles in a more popular idiom. Rather, this is a collection of (mostly her own) songs, deeply rooted in her own family history, sung with a grace, skill, and emotional intensity few singers can match. To quote a review of the same CD by Dai Jeffries:
“…the word “operatic” keeps coming to mind but that isn’t right at all. It’s about power and heart and love and melancholy and about telling important stories in a very human way.”
I’m pretty sure he’s a fan too…
That family history has roots in Ingushetia, in the Caucasus Mountains, and most of the songs here relate directly to the region. The arrangements here, while never so obtrusive or flashy as to distract the listener from the singer or the songs, are perfectly executed. It is, perhaps, a measure of how successful they are that the instrumentation – including such relatively unusual instruments as dahchan pandar, doul, nyckelharpa, hammered dulcimer and Scottish smallpipes as well as a wide variety of more familiar instruments – always seem just perfectly appropriate rather than intrusively exotic.
Here’s the customary track-by-track listing.
- The lyrics for ‘Tamara’ come from Mikhail Lermontov (translated, abridged and adapted by Daria), and the music is Daria’s. The supernatural tale of a very dangerous lady “who by a demon was kissed“.
- ‘The Moon And The Pilot’ tells the story of Daria’s great grandmother, whose husband died while trying to deliver supplies to Leningrad in 1942. He was named a Hero of the Soviet Union, but his wife and children were caught up in Stalin’s deportation of the population of the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic in 1944, for alleged collaboration with the Nazis. A terrible injustice, but not without hope: “This is the story of one extraordinary woman’s strength and survival, and it is also the story of her people.” For a taste of Daria’s music, I heartily recommend the ‘official video’ linked at the end of this review.
- ‘Safely Wed’ is a little more upbeat, with bouzouki and accordion lending it a decidedly Mediterranean feel, though the story is drawn from Daria’s family history. And has a happy ending. J
- ‘Amanat’ is the story of Daria’s grandmother’s grandfather, the first Ingush ethnographer and collector of folklore. A sad story, but a beautiful tune.
- ‘The Hazel Tree’ is another story from the deportation, of Aishi Bazorkina and her longing to be buried in her homeland.
- The traditional lament ‘Distant Love/Gyanar Bezam’ is sung part in Ingush, part in English (translated from Ingush by Daria).
- ‘The Panther’ is the story of Laisat Baisarova, “an Ingush NKVD officer who refused to take part in the deportation and genocide of her people.” Despite a startling echo of the ancient ballad ‘The Two Magicians‘ – “Bide, lady, bide/No place you can hide” – this “skilled sniper” was never captured or subjugated.
- ‘Like A God’ tells the story of Alaudin Poshev, “a doctor and a gent/In times when gangsters ruled the roost“.
- ‘Heart’s Delight’ is a song of Daria’s inspired by the traditional ‘Song Of Mochkho’ and, in particular, the lovely thought “May your heart’s delight/Become your fate“.
- ‘Gone’ poses a question that seems all too apposite at a time when English isolationism and xenophobia so often dominates the news. “Will you be hostile or will you be kind” to the displaced and disposed of the world?
- ‘Only Begun’ is a bitter-sweet “song of saying goodbye.” And yet it illustrates how even those of us whose lives are less dramatic than the protagonists of Daria’s stories live on in the memories – and, sometimes, the songs – of those who come after.
- ‘Untangle My Bones’ echoes an Inuit legend, but is framed in an arrangement as fresh as next week’s papers. A great finish to a wonderful album.
This is a lovely and compelling album, and I hope to be listening to it for years to come. Do your ears a favour, and check it out.
Artist’s website: www.daria-kulesh.co.uk
Video of ‘The Moon And The Pilot’.