Mark and Marichka Marczyk from Balaklava Blues have a real sense of purpose; they are passionate about their music and craft, and they have an important message for Australian audiences.
The day that I chatted to them, ahead of their WOMADelaide performance, dust and debris were settling after another round of senseless bombing of Ukrainian cities and civilians by a brutal dictator with imperialist ambitions.
Mark and Marichka are Canadian Ukrainians and wear balaklavas on stage in solidarity with fellow Ukrainians fighting for their existence and survival in a genocidal war against Ukrainians unleashed by Putin. Marichka pointed out that balaklavas were first worn by British soldiers during the 19th Century Crimean War. The Russian Imperial forces suffered a humiliating defeat in this war; the hope is that history will repeat.
For Mark, the Balaklava Blues project comes after years of fronting the 20-piece award winning world music super band, The Lemon Bucket Orchestra that fuses Balkan, Klezmer, Romani and East European influences. In 2014 he was in Kyiv during the hottest moments of the Ukrainian winter now known as the Revolution of Dignity. This was a revolution that positioned Ukraine as a democratic European country ridding itself of post-Soviet, Russian imperial shackles. History tells us that the Russian-backed Ukrainian president, Yanukovych fled to Russia in the wake of the public anger over the bloody violence that he unleashed when his special forces killed over a hundred unarmed Ukrainian protesters on the streets of Kyiv. Russia’s response to this abdication in 2014 was to annex the Ukrainian Crimean Peninsula and militarily invade the Donbas region.
It was behind the barricades of the Maidan Revolution of Dignity that Marichka and Mark found love. Like many other protesters, they mobilized and volunteered as medics on the frontlines when Russian troops crossed the border into Donbas. Mark points out that during the heat of battle it dawned on him, that this was a war to obliterate Ukrainian identity and that cultural warriors were critically important in this battle for Ukraine’s existence.
And so, the Balaklava Blues project was born. A Canadian Ukrainian band reminding the world that Crimean Balaklava is Ukraine and that their music represents a Ukrainian identity that is deeply rooted in Ukrainian folklore. Marichka, an ethnomusicologist by training who specialized in recording the traditional songs from Eastern Ukrainian villages, including the Donbas region, is passionate about recreating traditional singing and blending these polyphonic sounds with EDM, trance, hip hop and electronica. Mark, a violinist, calls this blending of styles, ‘folk noir – cinematographic, surreal music without skin, just guts and nerves’, while acknowledging that there are similarities to the ethno-chaos that their good friends Dakha Brakha bring to the world music genre. Marichka in fact, performed at the same Kyivan Dakh Theatre in which Dakha Brakha were formed.
Mark and Marichka are more than re-creators and preservers of culture, they position themselves as musical activists in this war that has affected them personally. Both of them lost family members near Kyiv, days after the invasion, and on the frontline. As Mark said in his manifesto, URGNT AND ESSENTIAL Music in Times of Crisis, “We tried to arouse the sleepers and shake the complacent, reminding them – and ourselves that music is indeed an essential service. We need it now more than ever.”
Balaklava Blues will be appearing at WOMADelaide on Friday March 10 and Saturday March 11; as well as with the Belarus Free Theatre production, Dogs of Europe at the Dunstan Playhouse, Thursday 2nd March – Monday 6th March as part of the Adelaide Festival 23.
Sydney audiences can catch them on Friday February 24 at Lazybones Lounge and Restaurant Bar 294 Marrickville Rd., Marrickville.
Interview By Rostyk (Bob) Becker
Catch Balaklava Blues at WOMADelaide, tickets HERE