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Daria Kulesh Daria Kulesh
Album: Long Lost Home
Label: Self Released
Tracks: 12
Website: http://www.daria-kulesh.co.uk

One quarter of English folk outfit Kara, singer Daria Kulesh provides the Russian element of their sound, she herself, now living in Kings Langley, being of Russian-Ingush descent. For those whose knowledge of Russian history may perhaps be slightly lacking, the Ingush Republic, or Ingushetia, is located in southern Russia, deep in the Caucasus Mountains, a stark but beautiful land rich in history and tradition, but also scarred by tragedy. During the Caucasus Wars of the early 19th century its was conquered by and absorbed into Russia, in 1944, falsely accused of collaboration with the Nazis, it was subject to genocide and, in 1992, ethnic cleansing.

It is the home of her ancestors and, in much the same manner as Katy Carr's songs about her Polish roots, this, her second solo album is a journey, both historic and personal, through the past in tribute to and celebration of her grandmother and her family. With guest musicians that include Jonny Dyer (variously contributing accordion, bass, bouzouki, guitars and piano), Vicki Swan on pipes, flute and nyckelharpas and Kate Rouse on hammered dulcimer, it opens with the brooding 'Tamara', a translation and setting of a poem by Mikhail Lermontov, which, opening with drone, tells of a ruined tower near her grandmother's ancestral village, which., legends has, comes to life at night, illuminated by a thousand candles, from which comes unearthly music and the siren voice of the titular immortal queen, luring men to their doom.

A piano-accompanied lament that also features Lukas Drinkwater on double bass, 'The Moon and the Pilot' steps back a generation to recount the story of Dibra Posheva, her great grandmother, a famous Ingushetia beauty, and her pilot husband, Rashid Akhriev, who, killed in 1942, was posthumously named a war hero, the song underlining the irony as it tells of the brutal deportation of the people in 1944.

Moving on, accompanied by bouzouki and accordion, the gentle 'Safely Wed' is about 'Auntie Nina' and how, after a disastrous arranged first marriage, she eventually found love with a Russian doctor, while, etched on acoustic guitar 'Amanat', meaning hostage, tells of her gran's grandfather, Chakh, one of many male children taken from their homes and fostered by the Russian military going on to become her people's first ethnographer and folklore collector, a tradition that clearly runs in the family. His story spills over into the slightly more strident 'The Hazel Tree', following the lineage to his and his wife's daughter, Aishi, Kulesh's grandmother's grandmother. A respected family elder, the title references the actual tree over her grave while the song itself finds Daria reflecting on the branches of her family tree and her own roots in the land that helped shaped her.

Sung in her native tongue 'Gyanar Bezam' is a traditional Ingush lament about a girl forced into marriage, taught her by the People's Artist of Ingushetia, Timur Dzeytov, who accompanies on the equally traditional Ingush dakhchan pandar.

Also departing from family history, 'The Panther', which has the feel of a Cohen narrative ballad, concerns Laisat Baisarova, a native officer who, refusing to take part in the deportations, became a vigilante sniper, wreaking vengeance and evading capture to the end of her life.

It's back to the relatives for the scuffling percussive rhythms of 'Like A God', the dramatic story of Alaudin Poshev, her grandmother's maternal uncle, a doctor, gentleman and dancer who, dared to defy the Kremlin gangster, Joseph Stalin, to find and reunite his displaced family.

Kulesh has a beautifully pure and emotionally tremulous voice which, at times, has a Celtic air to its tones (she started out singing in an Irish pub in Moscow and subsequently immersed herself in Scottish folk music), as heard to superb effect on 'Heart's Delight', a stirring anthemic number with pipes and military drum beat that offers an English lyric to a traditional Ingush song of blessing.

Likewise, John Maw on fingerpicked cigarbox guitar, and Dyer on piano, English folk influences percolate the acoustic 'Gone', a song which extends to the personal theme to the wider issue of the current refugee crisis and the blind hate it often engenders towards the 'other'.

Echoing this, the penultimate track, the rippling, circling guitar pattern of the waltzing 'Only Begun' returns the narrative to her grandmother , dreaming of her days - and the market fruit - as a deportee in Jambyl, in Kazakhstan, Kulesh noting how the stories she told provided the genesis of the album as she sings "her life in your songs has begun".

The album ends on a repeated jazzy blues guitar and piano riff with 'Untangle My Bones' retelling an Inuit legend about a fisherman catching human bones in his net that transform into the woman who becomes his wife, here serving as a metaphor for bringing the past and its stories back to life, something Kulesh and this remarkable album accomplish to magnificent effect.

Mike Davies