ZEELLIA is the Ukrainian word for herb as well as the power of herbs to effect reality, to conjure. Vancouver’s own musical ZEELLIA, established in 1991 by Beverly Dobrinsky as a means to celebrate her musical roots, is a sextet of 3 female vocalists and 4 instrumentalists. They weave a mystical spell singing and playing Slavic folksongs and dances from Ukraine, the Balkan and Baltic States, and the Canadian prairies.
Musical director Beverly Dobrinsky is a 3rd generation Ukrainian Canadian, who grew up in Winnipeg listening to the Ukrainian language sung and spoken amongst her elders, but not to her. Her mother’s experience growing up in Saskatchewan led her to believe that her daughter would have a better life as an assimilated Canadian with no accent and no ancestral baggage to hold her back. Unfortunately this loss of mother tongue led to a sense of dislocation and uprootedness and even evoked a lingering sense of shame rather than a deeper sense of belonging. Despite this confusion, she remained open to the voices of the ancestors as they subtly led her onto the long road of retrieval, reclamation and redemption. She drew upon the memory of her relationship with her maternal grandmother who did not speak English, yet communicated so tenderly and lovingly, nurturing her without common words, embodying a kind of universal sadness, both ancient and foreign, yet fundamentally familiar.
In 2014, Beverly wrote ,*
“This yearning for connection has been a constant companion since childhood; so much so that throughout my adult years I have actively engaged in retrieval of the words of my mother tongue, and sought out elders who would teach me our songs. This act of unfolding relationship with my ancestry has added a dimension of rootedness, which has given me a deeper sensibility regarding my identity, my work and my life. It has been a process of Retrieval, Reclamation and ultimately Redemption.”
*FROM THE HEART OF A CITY, Community-Engaged Theatre and Music Productions from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside 2002-2013
published by Vancouver Moving Theatre 2015
She visited elders in Saskatchewan and Alberta in 1994-95 to learn their old songs, and we hear their voices talking and singing throughout Zeellia’s 3rd CD “Tse Tak Bulo/That’s How It Was “ interwoven with the new songs performed by ZEELLIA with accordion, violin, acoustic bass, hurdy gurdy and female voices. The blessings and the curses, the water, the wood, the fire, the fields, and of course, the herbs, all combine to give voice to a unique Slavic Canadian sentiment which respects its Ukrainian roots and celebrates its Canadian context.
It is SLAVIC SOUL, rooted in the traditional with a contemporary edge, connecting the past with the present and the old country with the new.
Vocalist, composer, and lyrnyk, Beverly Dobrinsky received her B mus from UBC in 1986, and her Kodaly Musicianship teacher training at University of Victoria in 1990. She directed the HUNGRY GHOSTS, a contemporary chamber ensemble, 1983-1986 and RAZOM SESTRE, a women’s Balkan ensemble, 1990-91. In 1991, inspired by the centenary of Ukrainian immigration to Canada, she founded ZEELLIA, a Slavic Soul sextet that specializes in E. European traditional music with a contemporary edge. She has composed and arranged music for all of these ensembles and has produced three ZEELLIA CDs, performing with ZEELLIA across Canada and in New York City. She has also recorded soundtrack vocals for many Canadian independent films including the NFB film BEING CARIBOU, UNCLE EDDIE’S GUIDE TO ART APPRECIATION, and ENEMY ALIENS, for which she created the music. In 2011-13 she worked closely with Vancouver Moving Theatre as researcher, co-writer, and musical director to produce “BREAD AND SALT”, a community play celebrating 85 years of the historic Ukrainian Community in the downtown eastside of Vancouver. Since 2001, she has been the musical director for the Barvinok Choir, based at the Ukrainian Hall in Vancouver. A native of Winnipeg, she has made her home in Vancouver, B.C. for the past 40 years.
Carmen is a singer, visual artist and interdisciplinary performer. She has a long history of initiating art projects and creative community integrated projects that have resulted in enrichment of school programs, community enhancement, and ongoing creative work for many artists and community members. In 2010 Carmen received the Vancouver Mayor’s Arts Award, and in 2012 the Queen’s Jubilee Award for her art with the community. She has an Art History degree from UBC and a diploma from Emily Carr Institute. Carmen is the founder and artistic director of STILL MOON ARTS Society: inspiring vibrant and connected communities by creating art and nurturing a passion for nature. Through STILL MOON and in collaboration with many community partners, she creates the Renfrew Ravine Moon Festival, the Still Creek Stories Art and Stewardship project and many other creative community projects. Carmen sings with ELEKTRA Women’s Choir and ZEELLIA and has toured and recorded with both for many years. She pursues her contemporary interdisciplinary performance in collaborations with artists and musicians. In her studio practice Carmen works with textiles, natural dyes, clay, paper, and found objects.
Tetiana Zaruba was born in Poltava region of Ukraine. A Poltava Institute of music graduate (1992) Tetiana had an extensive career teaching music and singing in folk festivals not only in her home country, but in Poland, Hungary and Czech Republic. Tetiana's acceptance to the Academy of Culture and Music in Kharkiv resulted in a Master Degree in Traditional Arts and Folk Music Studies (2000). In 2008, Tetiana made Vancouver her new home and has become an integral part of local cultural life, taking part as a performer in numerous festivals and exhibitions in Greater Vancouver, and throughout BC. She started performing with ZEELLIA in 2009.
A well-rounded musician, Alison is equally at home performing onstage, recording in the studio, or writing music and lyrics at home on her trusty laptop and accordion. A 2-time Jesse Richardson Award nominee, Alison works as a composer and music director in live theatre, where some of her most recent credits include Chickens(Station Arts Centre, Saskatchewan), Innocence Lost(Studio 58, Vancouver) , Jurassic Parody: The Musical(Vancouver), and five seasons as a performer at Barkerville’s historic Theatre Royal. When she is not on the theatre stage, Alison also plays with several local bands, including REDBOOT, ZEELLIA, SOMETHING ABOUT REPTILES and LONE CROW JUBILEE. She is a piano instructor at the Sarah McLachlan School of Music in Vancouver.
Elliot Vaughan is a composer and multi-instrumentalist based in Vancouver. He holds a BFA in music composition from SFU's School for the Contemporary Arts, where he studied with Owen Underhill and Barry Truax. In addition to his own art music composition and bands THE END TREE and IFFY SOUTH, Elliot has a strong reputation as a musical collaborator in theatre and dance shows, and other music projects. In this capacity he has arranged, recorded, and performed for countless artists including Jay Malinowski and the Deadcoast, Dominique Fricot, Ryan Guldemond of MOTHER MOTHER, and Joanna Chapman-Smith. Primarily a violist, Elliot started playing the accordion in earnest for his own 2013 piece Chernobyl: The Opera, which also provided a crash course in Ukrainian music. He has played both accordion and violin with ZEELLIA since 2014, and has been commissioned to write and perform new accordion music for the last three years at Vancouver's Accordion Noir festival.
Russell has been a committed advocate of creative music in Vancouver for the past fifteen years. His work as a bassist and composer has appeared on Drip Audio releases with the TONY WILSON 6tet, the AEROPLANE TRIO and DIXIE’S DEATH POOL. Positive reviews and articles about his work have appeared in The Wire, Downbeat, The Globe and Mail and MOJO Magazine. He continues to perform regularly at many of Canada's major music festivals including the Montreal, Ottawa, Halifax, Guelph and Vancouver International Jazz Festivals. He has done several live recordings across Canada for the CBC programs: Canada Live and the Signal. Russell was awarded the JUNO for Instrumental Album in 2013 with his band, the Pugs and Crows. He has played with ZEELLIA since 2003.
AMELIA ROSE SLOBOGEAN
Amelia began her violin studies at the age of 5. She studied classical technique with Kenneth Yunke in Vancouver for 8 years, then quit for a decade. In 1998, she formed the raucous, high energy celtic-bluegrass band Fishead Stew. Based in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, they toured extensively over the next five years playing festivals and gigs across Canada, Alaska, and Scotland. Since quitting the band in 2003, Amelia has delved into other genres and has immersed herself in gypsy music, swing, and jazz as well as re-aquainting herself with her classical background. She toured Europe in 2004 for 3 months where she researched and played gypsy music, and has since taken lessons with Romanian violinist Lache Cercel and Serbia's violinist extraordinaire, Aleksandar Sisic. Now based on Galiano Island, BC, she is composing music for her upcoming trio, and loves to play with Zeellia as it gives her an opportunity to get back in touch with her Ukrainian roots and love for Slavic music.
Musician, actor, designer, and stilt performer Bessie Wapp sang with Zeellia from 1995-2006 until she moved back to her hometown of Nelson, BC. Bessie studied visual art at ECCAD, and music at Vancouver Community College and Selkirk College in Nelson, BC. Since 1993 she's been a co-artistic director of Mortal Coil Performance Society, with whom she created and tours theatre for young audiences across North America. She's been nominated for 2 Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards and has performed and designed for Caravan Farm Theatre, Touchstone, Radix, Ruby Slippers, Vancouver Moving Theatre, and Public Dreams. In 1999 Bessie performed new vocal works commissioned for the Songbird Project and then travelled to Lithuania to research the music of her maternal ancestors. Since moving back to Nelson, she has been very active in the Nelson arts scene as a singer, actor, director, artist and teacher, performing with her jazz band, Bessie and the Back Eddies; the Balkan Brass Band, the Oxygen Orkestar; as well as various theatre projects. In 2015 she served as Nelson’s Cultural Ambassador.