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Ukrainian folk band DakhaBrakha uses music to bring attention to the war in their homeland


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Geoff Bennett: And finally, tonight, while some Ukrainians are fighting on the front lines in the war against Russia, others have taken a different approach. Ukrainian folk group DakhaBrakha is using a multi city tour of the U.S. to raise awareness of their war torn homeland and fight back in their own way against Russian aggression. Special correspondent Mike Cerre has this report.

Mike Cerre: DakhaBrakha is not their father's Ukrainian folk band with their global rhythms and instruments, theatrical influences and costumes, and mix of blues trance and opera that give old Ukrainian folk songs new relevance.

DakhaBrakha loosely translates into to give and take and they're taking on their generation's greatest threat to Ukraine's culture. The day the Russians invaded the group took what they could and fled like 1000s now millions of other Ukrainian refugees.

They're giving back to the Ukrainian war effort by continuing to tour and perform, drawing attention to the war and assault on their culture.

DakhaBrakha pianist, vocalist and percussionist Iryna Kovalenko, fled Ukraine with her husband five years ago.

Iryna Kovalenko, Dakhabrakha Singer (through translator): He saw that history tends to repeat itself. And he was convinced that it's a matter of time when Russia will start the war against Ukraine.

Mike Cerre: We're not touring with the band. She lives in the Seattle area, where her daughter Sophia was born. Iryna had been working to get her mother out of Ukraine and to Seattle, since they were last together near Kyiv the day the war broke out.

Volodymyr Zelenshkyy, Ukrainian President: Fill the silence with your music! Fill it today to tell our story.

Mike Cerre: While Ukrainian President Zelenskyy was remotely rallying the music community at the Grammy Awards, DakhaBrakha was kicking off their U.S. tour in a series of performances in the New York area. In Seattle progressive rock station KEXP's Darek Mazzone first introduced DakhaBrakha to American audiences with his 2015 Studio performance. It quickly went viral on YouTube, catching the attention major festival bookers from Bonnaroo the South by Southwest.

Darek Mazzone, DJ, KEXP: It transcends many things. It's -- they're definitely representing their culture. They're representing their nation, but they're also a theatrical band. They're also a band for the time where they're not trying to emulate a western style. They have created their own particular vibe.

Unidentified Male: Hello, we are the DakhaBrakha and we are happy to greet you from the theater in Kyiv, Ukraine.

Mike Cerre: Traditional Ukrainian folk singers by training, a theatrical artistic director transformed them into an avant-garde performing arts group.

Randall Kline, SFJAZZ: One of the labels I like most that I've heard is this punk folkloric.

Mike Cerre: San Francisco Jazz Center's Artistic Director, Randall Kline was one of the first U.S. music venues to regularly feature them over the years.

Randall Kline: When you get to the end of the concert, and they're talking very explicitly about, you know, the problem they have, the Russian problem they have, you know, trying to really squash their culture, you're totally there with them. And this time, you really will be there with them.

Iryna Kovalenko (through translator): Our mission is to ask people for help, every country we're going to go to, we're going to ask people to help right now as Ukraine is going through this, but also afterward when we have to rebuild our country.

Mike Cerre: What do you want the audience to feel?

Iryna Kovalenko: That Ukraine as a country has a place on this earth to exist.

Mike Cerre: They've previously performed the soundtrack for this 1930s silent film, memorializing the suffering of an estimated three to 5 million Ukrainian farmers who died during the Holodomor, starting in 1933 when Stalin confiscated Ukrainian food supplies during Russians famine. The now destroyed Eastern Ukraine city of Mariupol was where DakhaBrakha played in the city's annual weeklong Music Festival in venues throughout the city.

Iryna Kovalenko: It's a clear message that it's a war. It's not a conflict, how a lot of places and people still call it. It's a genocide against Ukrainians.

Mike Cerre: They've joined forces with other Ukrainian pop stars in exile, like Jamala from Crimea. She won a Eurovision Song Contest with her song about the Russian forced deportations in Crimea in 1944.

Darek Mazzone: I'm super curious to see how that's going to be part of the arsenal of the Ukrainian culture of Ukrainian people to push against the war that's happening right now.

Iryna Kovalenko: I believe that our songs, our art will be our weapon.

Mike Cerre: The combination of the music, the war, and Americans looking for an emotional release and ways to get involved in Ukrainian causes, has sold out their cross country tour. Each show ends the same as their shows before the war, with a message that Americans could finally comprehend.

Unidentified Male: (Inaudible) peace and love, no Russian aggression. Thank you so much.

Mike Cerre: For "PBS News Weekend" I'm Mike Cerre.

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