TheWholeNote: Nov. 2016 by Anna Pidgorna
Tse Tak Bulo/That’s How It Was Zeellia
Chickweed Productions #ZL003
With its mix of field recordings and original arrangements and compositions, Zeellia’s new album Tse Tak Bulo/ That’s How It Was explores pre-Soviet Ukrainian migration to Canada. Containing snippets of interviews and songs from elderly migrants, which the ensemble founder Beverly Dobrinsky collected in Alberta and Saskatchewan in the 90s, the CD is both a historical document and an artistic statement. Zeellia’s approach to these traditional songs lives firmly in the realm of artistic re-interpretation, rather than an ethnographic recreation. With her mixture of vocal and instrumental textures, Dobrinsky takes great liberties with the found materials pushing them into the realm of original compositions rather than mere arrangements. The most striking track is Oy byv mene cholovik (My Husband Beat Me). In my own explorations of Ukrainian folk music, I have found that domestic abuse is, unfortunately, a common theme and I commend Zeellia for not shying away from it. Dobrinsky’s recomposition of the tune is a highly effective combination of playful rhythms and dissonant a cappella vocal harmonies punctuated by woodblock knocks. As I Walk across Canada is a gorgeously mournful song steeped in loneliness and nostalgia for the homeland left behind. Among other instruments, the album features the hurdy-gurdy, known as lira in Ukraine. Dobrinsky’s approach to the instrument both nods towards its traditional role as accompaniment to spiritual minstrel songs and reframes it in a new light.
The Georgia Straight: 2004
Rootsy Zeellia Plays Up Music of Ukraine
Georgia Straight: Nov. 25th – Dec.2 2004
By Alexander Varty
It’s a sound that’s as old as the fields and as wild as the forest; a woman’s voice, raised in exultation, answered by a chorus of similar voices. Although the words are foreign to these ears, it's obviously a song of celebration, and of community; it rises up like green shoots in the spring, yet it speaks also of the plenty to come.
"Zelene Zhytto", the title of the piece in question, translates as "Green Rye". It's a traditional Ukrainian song of welcome that might be sung at a wedding feast or harvest-time party; it signifies that the table has been set and the wine has been poured, and it makes a perfect opener for Willow Bridge, the new CD from local Ukrainian-music specialists Zeellia. Appetizing though it is, however, it's not entirely indicative of the banquet that follows. Zeellia—which hosts a CD-release party at St. James Hall on Saturday (November 27)—started out as an all-female vocal group but has since morphed into a coed ensemble that incorporates accordion, violin, upright bass, and percussion, in addition to some very accomplished singing.
The mix is fabulous. All over the world, young musicians are looking for ways to combine their grandparents' culture with modern forms of expression, and Willow Bridge is as accomplished a back-to-the-future move as anything that's come out of such cultural hotbeds as Scandinavia, Ball, or Brazil. The disc is sweet and fierce, deeply moving and eminently danceable, passionate and smart, and that it is all these things is no doubt a tribute to its founder and leader, Beverly Dobrinsky.
A UBC music-department graduate and Kodaly teacher, Dobrinsky could easily have pursued a career in opera or art song but has instead spent the past two decades researching her Ukrainian heritage—and, especially, its musical component. As she explains it, music surrounded her as a child, but it was only once she became an adult that she recognized its true value.
"I grew up in Winnipeg, and I'm third-generation Ukrainian-Canadian," she explains. "So people sang around me, especially on my mother's side. My mother comes from a homesteading family in Saskatchewan, so when we would visit the Saskatchewan people we'd get together and sing. But I wasn't taught to speak Ukrainian; we spoke English in the home.”
Eventually she became intrigued by this other language, this other culture, and started documenting it. “First I went to the area where my mother grew up, and got people singing, and recorded them and learned a lot of music from them," she explains. "I also did the same thing in Alberta, and then I just got involved a little bit with what's going on within the Ukrainian community here, 'cause I've been living in Vancouver now for about 30 years. So I looked for what was here, but I didn't really see exactly what I wanted. I wanted to do more village roots music—bilij holos, which translates as 'white voice', or 'pure voice'—rather than concertized music. So I started Zeellia in 1991."
Dobrinsky characterizes the bilij holos sound as being "rougher" than the svelte harmonies most people think of when they think of Ukrainian music, if they think of Ukrainian music at all. "The style is more direct; it's coming out of people being able to sing across the fields," she says. "Basically, you can really direct the voice—as though you're going to call somebody from across the street. The more westernized singing is generally lighter."
And it's this rough, immediate quality that makes Willow Bridge so appealing. This is not state-conservatory music, but a sound that's as attention-getting as the blues—even if, as Dobrinsky allows, some of the music's microtonal edges have been smoothed out by exposure to the North American norm. "I have some early recordings of singers from the Prairies, and you can really hear the difference between then and now," she explains. "It's like going from country-eastern to country-western."
Some of that difference can be heard on Willow Bridge tracks like "Zavjazalom Sobi Ochi", which includes such neologisms as hazbend, policemana, and jailyu. Further explanation will come when Dobrinsky finishes her next project, a personal narrative that could wind up part stage show, part musicological treatise, and part travelogue.
"I'm interested in putting it all together," says this self-described product of the Ukrainian Diaspora. "There's this whole roots and reclaiming aspect to it, and then there's all the songs. And to end it by going to Ukraine—which I have not yet done—would be a great story, so that's how I see the big picture."
Having survived a different but no less disruptive passage to the New World, that's a journey I'd certainly want to hear more about—as would many others in this polyglot town.
no. 24 / Winter 2004
Vancouver's Zeellia specializes in Eastern European folk songs in the traditional style of 'bilij holos' or 'pure voice'. They are Beverly Dobrinsky, Carmen Rosen and Bessie Wapp on vocals accompanied by guest singers and a band featuring accordion, fiddle, bass, clarinet and percussion. They deliver Slavic folksongs from Ukraine, the Balkan and Baltic states, and the Canadian prairies with fire and passion. The singing is lusty and has a dark and mysterious feel that goes back to its pre-Christian roots. The harmonies are intensely beautiful. The lyrics deal with Slavic mythology, love, farming, fertility and nature unadorned. The music is skillfully played and well crafted to suit the arrangements and mood, be it mournful or celebratory.
- By Tim Readman
ascent magazine 14 summer 2002
By Juniper Glass
During the performance of Zeellia, a Vancouver-based women's vocal ensemble, I feel connected to people from another time as well as another place. The ensemble brings alive the pre-Christian music of their Ukrainian foremothers. The group's affection for the music radiates. Introducing a song in praise of grain, they explain: "The belief was that the ancestors lived in the fields and orchards helping them to grow. The ancestors live in the songs as well, helping those who sing and hear them to grow."
Amazingly, I find that it is true- the music of these women who lived so long ago, passed on by the women here now on the stage, helps me. As I listen to the songs, which celebrate feminine power and recognize the joy and sorrow in daily life, I feel renewed courage to accept these aspects of myself.
Beverly Dobrinsky of Zeellia says that when she sings, she listens to "the entire sound that is generated." Her animated voice falls silent for a moment. She makes a rounding motion in with her hands, from her heart to the air around her. With this simple motion she conveys unity, a connection among performer, listener, and the essence of sound itself.'
Ukrainian Canadian Congress
Zeellia's 10th year ends on a high note
CONTACT (KOHTAKT)-Ukrainian Canadian Congress-B.C.Provincial Council Winter 2001
By Paulette MacQuarrie
As one of the final acts at the Sacred Music Festival held in Vancouver November 10-12, Zeellia charmed another, new audience with a magical mix of earthy folklore and divine splendour.
The festival was held in three different venues-at St. Andrews Wesley Church on Saturday, the Temple Sholom on Sunday, and the First Nations Longhouse at the University of British Columbia on Monday. It featured a variety of folkloric artists representing a broad cross-section of the world's religions.
The atmosphere at the Longhouse on Monday evening reflected everything that is best about Zeellia; it was warm, intimate, inviting, and utterly professional. The acoustics were superb, and the performance captivating-during the 45-minute set, which focused on the seasons, there were gasps of delight, whoops of laughter and wild applause throughout.
Narration was evocative, often humorous yet always illuminating, making their musical journey through the four seasons smooth sailing. All three singers-Carmen Rosen, Bessie Wapp and Artistic Director and founder Beverly Dobrinsky- took turns regaling the multicultural, multi-faith audience with descriptions of Ukrainian agrarian civilization and the human elements that comprise it.
The trio began by singing acapella in the traditional Ukrainian bili holos (pure voice) style. Gradually, they introduced "the band," a new team of musicians assembled this past spring- Alison Jenkins (accordion), Russell Sholberg (bass) and Sarah Shugarman (violin). Like the singers in Zeellia, they are all professionally-trained musicians with a deep respect and affection for folk music.
To many in the audience, this (Ukrainian music) was a new and unfamiliar sound, but it clearly intrigued them. Starting with Blahoslovy Maty, an ancient song from pre-Christian times about the mother goddess (or perhaps just Mother Nature), spring's focus was on awakening sensuality and the promise of fertility in both agricultural and human terms, while summer's was on the fulfilment of those promises. Songs for these two seasons told stories of romance, betrothal, and the antics associated with Kupalo (summer solstice) festivities. Autumn's focus was on the harvest, with a rarely-heard but beautiful song called Mayalo Zhytachko, mayalo (Rippling Rye). Winter songs, not surprisingly, consisted of Christmas and New Year's carols-koliady and shchedrivky.
An unusual but delightful "audience participation" approach in two carols added an interesting dimension. The phrases chosen were relatively easy for a non-Ukrainian tongue-chudo, chudo po vitayut' and shchedry vechir, dobriy vechir-and closing my eyes for a moment, I could almost believe I was in a Ukrainian church on Christmas Eve
One of the most pleasant surprises for me was Zeellia's rendition of Nova Radist Stala. The addition of instrumental accompaniment to this soul-stirring Christmas carol created a dramatic and awe-inspiring effect that added an element of mysticism, and raised goose bumps. Schedryk had a similar effect, and was one of the loveliest renditions of this New Year's carol I have ever heard.
Since its inception ten years ago, Zeellia has been consistently offering audiences a refreshing and honest musical portrayal of Ukrainian cultural life. They rarely back away from controversial topics, addressing them with sensitivity, respect, and in some cases, even humour.
Asked how she would characterize Zeellia's first 10 years, Beverly explained that it has essentially reached a "coming of age." The relationship between the three singers, who have been working together during most of the past decade, as well as the musicians, is close and harmonious.
"Artistically, it's very satisfying for me," said Beverly. "It's almost like Zeellia has its own life now and I can see it getting more refined and polished. I find it a very rich place and it's a place that feeds my soul."
Zeellia released its first CD in 1998, and is considering launching its second decade with a new CD in 2002, which will include the songs performed at the Sacred Music Festival. The group is also looking at a cross-Canada summer tour as well as a collaborative concert or two featuring local and visiting artists. There is little doubt that with Zeellia's ability to charm audiences in any setting, the next decade has some exciting musical surprises in store for us all.
The Georgia Straight 2000
Dobrinsky Revives Traditions
Local Motion-The Georgia Straight July 13-20, 2000
By Tony Montague
There's a pattern of behaviour that, by and large, repeats itself in immigrant communities throughout the world: the first generation nurtures the language and culture it brought from the old country; the second generation, wanting to be assimilated, turns away from that heritage; and the third generation seeks to reclaim the lost or neglected roots.
Ukrainian-Canadian singer Beverly Dobrinsky sees the pattern in her own family. "My grandparents came to Winnipeg with the first wave of Ukrainian pioneer immigrants, at the turn of the last century," she explains, interviewed in Vancouver. "My father's family stayed in Winnipeg, which is where I was raised. Neither he nor I spoke Ukrainian. My mother's family homesteaded in North Saskatchewan and it was on our regular summer visits to the farm that I experienced Ukrainian culture most strongly."
After moving to Vancouver in the '70s, Dobrinsky studied in the music department at UBC. "Voice was my major instrument, and I was very attracted to Balkan singing because it hearkened back to what I'd heard in my childhood," she recalls. She became the musical director of Razom Sestre, a Balkan women's group, and also sang in two Ukrainian church choirs. "A small amount of the material they performed was in a style known as bilij holos or narodnij holos-both terms mean essentially the same thing: the people's voice. It represents an older layer of Ukrainian music, a rawer village sound, and that's what I really wanted to do."
The centenary of the first large-scale Ukrainian immigration to Canada, in 1991, also marked the foundation of Zeellia-a mainly a cappella group that Dobrinsky put together to explore the music of her Slavic heritage. "We do some pieces from Macedonia, Bulgaria, and Croatia, but most of our songs are of Ukrainian origin," says Dobrinsky. "I draw from my involvement with the community here, from recordings of people like the Veriovska State Folk Chorus and Nina Matvienko in the Ukraine, and also from the researches I've undertaken in the Prairies, around Grande Prairie [Alberta] and Canora [Saskatchewan]. I collected a lot of material, much of which I still have to document and arrange."
In addition to Dobrinsky, Zeellia-which appears at the Vancouver Folk Music Festival this weekend (July 14 to 16)-comprises singers Carmen Rosen and Bessie Wapp, with accordionist Stevan Knezevich providing instrumental support. The women specialize in the two-part folk polyphony still found in eastern and central Ukraine. The beginning of a verse is often sung by one or two of the singers (the zaspiv) and then the rest of the verse is taken up by everyone (the pryspiv). The solo lines are more ornamented and improvised, and the overall style is strong and open-throated.
Dobrinsky and her colleagues in Zeellia (which is a Ukrainian term for a magic potion made with herbs) have carefully arranged their material to respect the tradition while giving it a more contemporary appeal. Songs reflect the strength of rural women, dealing with subjects like marriage, a difficult husband, or the pain of leaving their family for an uncertain future. The lyrics are often poetic. One melancholic and beautiful song from Zeellia's self-titled 1998 album tells of a young man sitting beneath a burning tree who is incinerated when a spark falls on him. His sweetheart, mourning him, gathers his ashes and clasps them to her breast, only to catch fire as well.
A great deal of traditional music in Ukraine was lost in the 20th century through the cumulative effects of war, Joseph Stalin's agricultural collectivization, rural exodus, and rapid industrialization. But the interest shown by a new generation provides hope that what remains will survive in some form. "Things have really opened up since the collapse of the Soviet Union," Dobrinsky points out. "There's much more travel back and forth between North America and Eastern Europe."
"There's a definite revival happening here too, as exemplified by groups such as ourselves or the Kubasonics, who are based in Edmonton," she continues. "When Zeellia performed last year at the Ukrainian festival in Dauphin [Manitoba]-the biggest gathering of its kind, which has been going well over 25 years-it was evident that more and more young people in the community are sharing our passion for this music. But my thing is also to take it beyond the ethnic ghetto, to be an acknowledged part of the Canadian mainstream."
Nelson Daily News
Singing with Slavic Soul
Nelson Daily News Sept. 17, 1999
By Stephen Fowler
Beverly Dobrinsky grew up as a fairly typical third generation Canadian. She didn't speak Ukrainian, the language of her parents. "They wanted me to fit in," she says, "to have a better life than they had."
She formed Zeellia, a Vancouver-based women's quartet specializing in Eastern European folk music, in 1991, the centenary of Ukrainian immigration to Canada. The four women, Dobrinsky, Bcssie Wapp, Carmen Rosen and Marion Rose, will be coming to the Capitol Theatre in Nelson tomorrow at 8 p.m. and the Silverton Gallery on Sunday at 7:30 p.m.
In the mid to late 1980s, as the Soviet Bloc was collapsing, the rest of Europe and North America "discovered" Balkan music. The Bulgarian State Women's Choir enjoyed a lot of well deserved attention for a few years.
Dobrinsky studied and sang Balkan music as the director of the women's ensemble Razom Sestre, but she was interested in searching out the Ukrainian folk music of her own heritage. "It partly drew me because of my roots," she says of in Razom Sestre. "I looked around the Ukrainian community in Vancouver. I wanted an older layer of music, an older style of singing. What I wanted didn't exist." Dobrinsky set off to find it.
Spending time in the Ukrainian-Canadian communities around Grand Prairie, Alberta and in Canora, Saskatchewan, Dobrinsky was able to collect the folk songs that have become the basis of Zeellia's repertoire. "I collected a lot of material," she says, "much of which I still have to document and get ready for performing."
The experiences in Grand Prairie and Canora were quite different for Dobrinsky. "In Grand Prairie I was basically a stranger," she says. "I had to go through the process of introducing myself and getting them to trust me before they'd share their music with me. It was a lot easier in Canora. My grandparents homesteaded there. My mother grew up there, so everybody knows who I am."
Zeellia doesn't just do Ukrainian folk music. In fact, Dobrinsky is the only member of Ukrainian extraction. Carmen Rosen is English and Swedish and Marion Rose, who also plays the accordion, is Czech.
Bessic Wapp is Lithuanian on her mother's side. For the longest time. they believed they didn't have any relatives left in Lithuania. Just recently, a relative in the United States who was doing genealogical research discovered a relative in South Africa. It seems his father, who had emigrated from Lithuania during the war, had died and left a pile of unopened letters. "They were from a woman and her two daughters in Lithuania." says Wapp. "He never even opened them. 1 guess, because of the war, it was just too painful for him. But all three of them survived the war."
Wapp is going to Lithuania for six weeks at the end of September to meet the her long lost relatives. "I'm going to learn some Lithuanian songs," she says, "and bring them back for Zeellia."
They also perform songs from Bulgaria, Serbia. Croatia, and Macedonia.
Zeellia released a self-titled debut album a year ago. which has received regular airplay on CBC radio. They've also done some extensive touring throughout Canada.
This past July, they were part of Canada's National Ukrainian Festival in Dauphin, Manitoba. "It's a tiny little town," says Wapp, "and there were thousands of people there for this festival." Started 33 years ago, the festival was probably one of the first ethnic festivals in Canada.
"The best part for me," says Wapp. "was after the formal performances were over. Later in the evening, a band came on and they were playing polkas. They'd get faster and faster and people all over the fair grounds would hear them and all gather around the stage in a big circle and dance. And people would go into the middle of the circle and do all of those wonderful Ukrainian dances that you see. Young men balancing on one arm and all those kicks. You'd see groups of three or four getting together and deciding what dance to do. It went on and on and on. It was great to see young men and women doing something that challenged them so much and they were so proud of. And you could see they thought this was the best time. There was nothing like that in my growing up."
Wapp did her growing up in Queens Bay north of Ballour and studied voice with Cheryl Hodge at Selkirk College in Nelson. She's also the co-artistic director, along with Carmen Rosen, of Mortal Coil Performance Society, which was in Nelson at StreetFest '98. You may remember the giant T-Rex that wandered up and down Baker Street.
Mortal Coil and Zeellia plan to join forces next summer to create a performance that will explore the history and social impact of immigration in Canada. From the Root Cellar will debut at the Sound Symposium in Nova Scotia.
The word Zeellia is Ukrainian for herb and herbal potion with magic powers.
This powerful mix of traditional folk music with contemporary sensibilities brews up a haunting and powerful experience for any audience.
A chorus of curses from the kitchen
The Flagstone-Denman Island May 1999
By George Oliver
On April 17, Denman Islanders were intoxicated by a Ukranian herbal elixir brewed up by Zeellia, a four-piece women's a cappella mini-choir from Vancouver. The dose was strong enough to transform a tired bunch of fish-fertilizing, seaweed mulching organic gardeners sitting down to watch the usual video into a tired but hearty bunch of peasant farmers, resting on haystacks, listening to three local girls soar to the vocal stars with their weird lamenting, almost yodling, songs.
A delicious banquet of perogies, cabbage rolls, borscht soup and wine was enjoyed by dining spectators before the show. It seems four island women, one of whom was days away from giving birth, commandeered a kitchen for four days to prepare this feast. Elbowed out of the kitchen days ago, one plaintive and hungry-looking husband was elated to be finally getting a taste of something from the gastronomic whirlwind recently endured.
The singing reminded one of wolves howling in unison. First one singer warbled a note, then she was joined by a second just a note below. Then the third caught a note just above to make a mournful chord that could have wafted over the moonlit Carpathian hills.
But not all songs were bittersweet laments. Some were rousing, boisterous shake-off-the-blues tunes that started islanders' rubber boots tapping. Canadian audiences can feel a kinship with this music since many 'coasters' grandparents came overland, having busted some sod alongside Ukrainian Prairie farmers.
In Ukrainian singing, one singer will often end off a line of notes in a high-pitched cry or yelp. Another typical effect is when two voices hold one note while a third holds the note above for a while, then slides back to the same note as the others.
The performers dressed in white blouses embroidered with Easter egg zigzags or swirling flowers, sashes around their waists voyageur-style. They wore traditional peasant dresses, not far off from the loose ankle-length skirts worn by some female islanders.
A male accordionist, filling in for the regular one, joined the trio after the first number, dressed in drag to keep the all-woman choral theme. He clowned a bit in his shawl, cloth skirt and hairy legs to an appreciative audience.
While the primary purpose of this group is to keep Ukrainian culture alive, the second purpose is to let women vent their anger for an evening, pointing out men's flaws and, with humour, letting off steam so that they can face another day's round of clothes cleaning or baby diapering, somehow refreshed. These are women's tuneful complaints about hard times, lost opportunities for love, useless husbands: a chorus of curses from the kitchen.
A joke at my table was, "What do you do when you see your husband staggering in the backyard?" The answer was, "Shoot him again."
One humorous tune from Alberta mixed English and Ukrainian to tell a story about a woman who finds it difficult to deal with an out-of-control husband. She asks a more experienced neighbour for advice, who replies, "In this country you just call the police and they take him away." Two Ukrainian speakers in the audience chuckled heartily over this one.
One sad but weird love song was translated as being about a man who is sitting by a fire when a spark jumps onto his clothes and reduces him to ashes. Some passing women approach, his sweetheart gathers up the ashes, and while carrying them along, a last remaining ember catches fire and burns her up as well.
The second half of the show featured immigration songs composed by Ukrainians as Prairie homesteaders. This is a specialty of Beverly Dobrinsky, the head musicologist in the group, who likely plucks these original tunes from bedridden elders.
A Carpathian mountain lament, much like Appalachian mountain music, contained this line: "Mother, please don't curse me for dying so far away. These foreigners will embrace me so I won't cause you any trouble."
Most of the audience of 50 souls was entranced by the spine-chilling sadness summoned up by this trio. In the back of the hall, two women waltzed slowly in a dark corner. A double bill at the movie hall across the street may have waylaid some Denmanites, but no film could give you goosebumps like these Ukrainian warblers.
Russian Vancouver Magazine
Russian Vancouver Magazine Mar/Apr 1999
Zeellia is a women's professional singing group specializing in eastern European, especially Ukrainian music. Zeellia means herbs, including those used for conjuring magic, and also garden weeds. The name evokes the source of the music in a peasant culture and the magic which occurs in the group's lively and moving performances.
Zeellia recently released their first CD, celebrating with a special concert held September 19 at the Metropolitan Tabernacle. The CD presents traditional and contemporary songs of good wishes, love, work, magic and death. Some of the songs are performed in a traditional way and some in the group's own arrangements.
The group's history and philosophy was summed up in the concert program by it's founder and director Beverly Dobrinsky.
"It has been a long journey to get to this point, Zeellia's premiere CD. Zeellia was founded in the fall of 1991, to honour the centenary of Ukrainian immigration to Canada and to create a musical means of expressing my Ukrainian-Canadian roots. I have spent many summers in rural areas of the Canadian prairies visiting the sons and daughters of the first wave of Ukrainian pioneer immigrants, learning their songs, re-capturing and reviving a once vibrant folk culture that is in danger of extinction. I am proud and honoured to take my place in this lineage, and to be able to contribute directly to the survival of this tradition, attempting to make contemporary sense of it, moving it beyond the ghetto and into the Canadian mainstream."
Zeellia has emerged from what was originally an a cappella ensemble with eight members. Logistical difficulties reduced the group's size to its present four. They have added an accordion plus occasional collaborations with other instrumentalists.
Beverly Dobrinsky has been a member of Vancouver's professional music scene for many years as a performer and composer. She also teaches Kodaly musicianship classes and private singing lessons with children and adults, and is director of the choir at Emily Carr Institute. Carmen Rosen trained in art but has been singing all her life. She is also involved with the theater group "Mortal Coil Performance Society", as is Bessie Wapp, an interdisciplinary performer, involved in music and theater. Marian Rose is well known as a country dance caller, musician and producer. She sings and plays the accordion with Zeellia. For the CD and concert they were joined by: Sandy Fiddes-violin, Mike Hambrook-clarinet, Emry Laird-reeds, dvoyanka, flute, and Melanie Sereda-cello.
Beverly grew up in Winnipeg in a family which came to Canada a century ago. Her relationship with Ukrainian music began with childhood summers in the rural Saskatchewan community, which was her mother's family home. More recently she spent two summers in Northern Alberta and Saskatchewan learning traditional songs from Ukrainian elders. The author-poet Helen Potrebenko was her contact as she traveled to rural communities. There she was welcomed by many older people, some of whom sing in groups for weddings, parties and in church, and others who sing alone. The oldest singer she met was Anna Galah, who, in her mid 80's at the time, had not sung her songs in about twenty years. Beverly recorded them on tape and then transcribed them, returning to the singers when she had questions.
Other songs she has learned from recordings and from people here in Vancouver. Beverly selects material for the group, which she and the other members then arrange. She would also like to publish her entire collection. Not all of the songs are appropriate for performance today, she says, as some are shocking to contemporary sensibilities, expressing the sometimes brutal realities of life. The right context is needed to perform such songs, but the published record should contain the complete texts. Beverly emphasizes the importance of respecting the tradition and of performing the music well.
Although most members of the group are not Ukrainian, they have invested a lot of study and practice in the music and have formed a real relationship with it based on their love for the music and culture. They aim to make this Ukrainian-Canadian music accessible to all Canadians. It is important to realize that "tradition" does not become frozen in a particular time and place, and Zeellia's music, as it continues to develop, represents a real part of Canada's multicultural society. Most important to the audience, however, is simply the fact that the music is performed superbly and tremendously fun to listen to.
Zeellia has performed at the Victoria Folk Festival, Northwest Folklife in Seattle, at festivals in Harrison BC and Port Angeles Washington, as well as on the Gulf Islands, Vancouver Island and in Winnipeg. They sang at the Pysanka festival in Vegreville, Alberta. They hope to tour the prairie provinces next year and would like to go to New York, besides continuing local performances.
The CD, also called "Zeellia" is distributed by Festival Records and should be available in stores. If you don't see it, please ask for it!