Turning the Prairie Upside Down.
Zrada is rooted in an ironically culture-embracing counter culture, whose mission is to break away from decades of Ukrainian kitsch, both in the diaspora and in Ukraine. While the very sense of Ukrainian-ness has been distorted and downplayed for so long, Zrada proves that the Ukrainian psyche is as energetic, edgy, diverse, and forward-thinking as ever.
The driving baselines, catchy vocals, wild drumming, and echoing horns, dive right into what it means to be Ukrainian, no less in the diaspora. It’s a pulsing need for community and free expression that begs to be danced to, leaving all cares behind for just a moment.
The band’s frontman, Andriy Michalchyshyn, says the band’s origins were friends coming together from various zabava-style bands who were looking into that very hunger.
“Were sick of playing that sort of music,” says Michalchyshyn. “You know, because when people ask about Ukrainian music they think polkas and waltzes – that’s all that people on the Canadian prairies know.”
We justified it as playing music that is consciously the opposite of what people think Ukrainian music is going to be, so it’s somewhat treasonous against the established norm of what Ukrainian music is supposed to be like
Ukrainian for betrayal or treason, the band’s name has caused a stir among the bands they have shared a bill with from Ukraine. But as Ukraine faces turmoil today, its youth are actually counting on a certain betrayal – and fervent energy – against the establishment, its corruption, and old ways of thinking. Much of that upended energy finds an outlet through Zrada.
“[The name] has strong symbolism and it does suit some of our music. It’s a name we liked, and it makes sense with what we do,” says Michalchyshyn.
Because of their unique sound, they’ve been billed with Ukrainian rock stars from the Haydamaky, TNMK, Tik, Oleh Skyrpka, and are gearing up to perform alongside Mad Heads later this summer.
Michalchyshyn has been in and out of the recording studio with fellow band members since their last visit to Chicago for Uketoberfest 2013. They’re taking fusion to a whole ‘nother level with ska and reggae-themed party songs, and a Black Sabbath-inspired Arkan, a type of Ukrainian mountain dance.
This kind of mix in musical styles, though original, makes Ukrainian music relatable to a crowd that might not be so familiar with it.
“We like playing music to non-Ukrainians, and I think we’ve had a lot of positive reaction from people who don’t know a lot about Ukraine, or the culture, or the music. A lot of it is original, but our style incorporates traditional melodies,” says Michalchyshyn.
“Obviously, we’re ultra-niche, but we like being there. We’re not there because we’re looking for fame and fortune, we just like doing what we’re doing, and we like the reactions, and we like playing that kind of music.”
Often times, Michalchyshyn says, people from Ukraine wonder why Zrada won’t ditch the 100% Ukrainian-language repertoire for an English one. But for him, it’s the core of the band’s identity, despite all having grown up in Canada.
“We’ve had the experience of people just not understanding, saying, ‘wait a minute, you’re all born here, are second or third generation, and are still bothering to do this in Ukrainian,’” says Michalchyshyn.
We are stubbornly, consciously refusing to do any music in English , because that would negate the purpose of our band. If we started playing English songs, we would not be a Ukrainian ethnic punk fusion, world music band
Zrada does get a certain energy unique to partying with Ukrainians. While they lacked some musicians during their last visit to Chicago, they’ll have a full group and some new music to share at Uketoberfest in August.
“I know two years ago in Chicago, when people saw us at first, they didn’t know what to expect, but by the end, people were dancing, and that’s always fun. It was a great crowd. We totally build off of that,” says Michalchyshyn.
Though people have gotten to know Zrada, they will continue knocking people’s perceptions of Ukrainian identity, culture, and sense of mission upside-down – and that’s a good thing.
“New songs, full band, and some surprises. We love Chicago! How could you not?”
By Julian Hayda