The Moravian folk music from the Czech Republic village of Strážnice is emotionally rich and even a little unconventional for Central European ethnic music. We know just how rich this music is, because a century ago a biologist and ethnomusicologist by the name of Dr. Vladimir Úlehla meticulously transcribed the music and preserved it for the ages. All that was needed was for the right musicians to come along and bring it back to life.
Enter Úlehla’s great-granddaughter Julia and her childhood friend, Aram Bajakian, one of the most imaginative and diverse up-and-coming guitarists around. Together they form Dálava with a couple of violin players (Tom Swafford and Skye Steele) and Shanir Blumenkranz, who plays acoustic bass and a sort of bass plucked lute called a gimbri. Their upcoming self-titled album undertakes eleven of Dr. Úlehla’s carefully preserved pieces with not only the requisite knowledge of the music of that place and time but also informed with the here and now.
One of these ancient songs, “Ej, lásko, lásko,” is one of those performances that on the exterior sounds just like some 19th century celebration on the western edge of the Carpathian Mountains. Listen a little deeper and you can pick up things that Bajakian and the younger Úlehla are adding to the song while respecting the original spirit of it. The first thing you hear is what appears to be some exotic strummed instrument. Is it a lute, a banjo or a diddly bo? Nah, it’s just Bajakian’s guitar ‘prepared’ with a couple of bobby pins and an old business card stuck in the strings. Úlehla knows Czech and she can sing the lyrics like a native Moravian should. And yet, she brings a certain mysteriousness in her steady delivery. She eventually gives way to a zesty violin, and before you know it, the tune gains speed toward the end, turning into a jig.
Sure, they have the transcriptions, but Aram Bajakian & Julia Úlehla didn’t get the hear how this music was played back before there were recording studios around to record it. On the other hand, that also freed them up to apply their own interpretation. That’s what makes “Ej, lásko, lásko” fresh despite it’s long-ago, faraway origins.
Dálava, the album, will debut October 14, 2014, but you can pre-order the digital form now from Bandcamp.